MEET TERRILYN DOUGLAS: A music educator & vocalist.
An incredible woman who discovered her path in music through helping others find theirs.
“I think that women, even if it’s subconsciously, are thought of as less than or weaker and it’s just like, I am so not. I’m strong. I’m a strong, black woman.”
After graduating from Indiana University in 2010 with a degree in Tourism, Hospitality, and Event Management, Terrilyn had high hopes of heading off to New York to pursue her dreams of performing on Broadway. That didn’t happen after her potential New York roommate had to back out. She then considered Chicago, having someone willing to be her roommate there. Her plans changed once again, when this person had to back out of the move as well. Disheartened, Terrilyn traveled back to her hometown: South Bend, Indiana. Feeling lost, she didn't sing or pursue any musical outlets for awhile. After participating in the renowned IU Soul Revue in college, this quick shift from pursuing her passions to working retail left her lost. Her participation in IU Soul Revue had allowed her to break out of her shell and share her voice, the stage had allowed her to be confident and proud. Without it in South Bend, she felt like wasn't being her best self. After the move to South Bend, she found herself holding onto music via church & theatre groups. Shortly after being settled at home, she was contacted by a past Soul Revue connection about an internship opportunity with Stax Music Academy in Memphis, TN. After completing her internship and briefly returning to South Bend, Stax Music Academy was calling to offer her a teaching position. Just eight months after coming back, Terrilyn and her husband, James Douglas, moved to Memphis together. Accepting the position with Stax Music Academy, Terrilyn got her first taste of music education and never looked back.
"Who or what inspires you musically? Terrilyn: “Definitely...my mother. She is amazing - have you ever had somebody who is just so good, you can’t find a word to describe them musically? My mother had little training - some from her high school teacher and from our Uncle David and Aunt Delores at church. I think of her as Ella Fitzgerald. Ella Fitzgerald is amazing when it comes to jazz, but she had no training, she just was performing. That’s pretty much how it worked with my mom. Nobody sat down and said ‘I’m your vocal coach.’ She didn’t have that. She has such a powerful voice, but at the same time she is just so humble and sweet to people. She has met so many obstacles in life just as a women, ...you know? She wasn't able to pursue her dreams because of us, and my dad wasn’t there. She had three kids she was raising by herself.” “...My mom would tell me, ‘There is always somebody out there needing something from a musician, whether it’s a song or lyrics or even an experience - but if you don’t share it with them, how can you help them? God-given gifts are not meant to be kept to yourself. It’s not for you.’ When she put it that way, I was like maybe I should go ahead and start sharing."
Why music education? Terrilyn: “That [music education] was my goal when I first came to IU. I tried out for Jacobs a couple of times, and never got in. It’s classical-based and I’m not the best classical singer. I actually got through most of my [Jacobs] pre-reqs, but then it was time to take classes that required you to be a Jacobs student, so after that, I changed my major to Tourism. I went through so many phases in college. At one point, I thought that I probably wouldn't do music for the rest of my life. Now I feel like I can’t breathe without music. If I’m not ..doing something with music, I can’t deal with life. Music is everything. I don’t think I know one person who can’t find a song to help them through a situation. I feel like it’s just advice put to.. music.”
[Even though Terrilyn changed her major away from the music industry, she kept her passion alive by staying involved with IU Soul Revue. That’s where she met Justin Merrick, a grammy nominated music educator and now Executive Producer of Granville Enterprises.]“He was getting his graduate degree in Voice at Jacobs and he saw something in me. He reached out to me after I graduated and asked if I would come and help him teach at Stax Music Academy. When I got there, I was like 'I don't know how to teach,' 'I've never taught before.' He said: 'Trust me, you're a natural. You just don't event know it.' He saw something in me that I didn't even see. ...I have always wanted to help people in some kind of way. That’s always been my goal. At the time, I was putting myself to the side anyway. I was like ‘I’m not putting myself out there, but let me help you put yourself out there’ ‘I’m not ready yet, but I can help you [the students at Stax Music Academy] get ready.’”
What is your greatest success so far? Terrilyn: “I would think being a music educator. I feel like I’ve developed a lot musically, especially technically, because I didn’t have a choice. I had to make sure my students were singing correctly. Now I can go into a classroom and am like: ‘This is how we are going to do it.’ I may not be the best at playing the piano, but when it comes to soul, funk, R&B, music in the black aesthetic, I got you all day.” Terrilyn as a vocalist: “Pursuing my own performance career again. I am getting over my fear of putting myself out there. It’s a big deal for me now that I am doing something weekly.” [Check out @JamesandTerrilyn every Saturday on Instagram and YouTube to see the duo in action. See the buttons below for direct links.]
What is your greatest failure so far? Terrilyn: “Not putting myself out there sooner. Not pursuing my dream of being a vocalist and waiting so long. I was still in a band while in Memphis with Stax Music Academy, but I was singing background vocals, never trying to be in the front. Where would I be if I hadn't taken that long hiatus?”
What challenges have you faced as a woman in the music industry? Terrilyn as a vocalist: “I think that people just want to put me in a box. ...I wouldn’t call myself super overweight, but I’m plus size. A lot of times it’s like ‘Oh, she probably couldn’t move.' ...there are a lot of pre notions about me before people even get to meet me. I have run into instances where people have assumed ‘She can’t do that kind of song,’ just because they heard me singing soul. If they have heard me sing one style, it’s like ‘That’s the only thing she can do.’ or ‘Oh, she’s not interested in rock.’ I mean I love Queen. It’s like my favorite group ever, but no one when they see me or hear me sing thinks that." Terrilyn as a music educator:"...people assume, as a music educator, you are at your peak and that you can’t progress anymore, so when you try to grow you are sometimes faced with backlash. I had someone see me do something outside of what they were used to [singing instead of teaching] and they were like ‘Oh, now I understand why you are here because I never understood before.' I thought to myself ‘Wow, all this time you just thought I was here because I was somebody’s friend, not based off of what I could do.’ ...Also people have thought that I got this or that opportunity because I was dating someone. It’s like seriously? ...I think that women, even if it’s subconsciously, are thought of as less than or weaker and it’s just like, I am so not. I’m strong. I’m a strong, black woman. I really am. I think that society is at fault as well. You can’t just crumble, as a woman, because that’s the way society works. That is how life is, so you just have to pull your big girl panties on and just go ahead and do what you need to do to make it."
What keeps pushing you forward despite these challenges that you've faced? Terrilyn's motivation as an educator: “I not only play the role of the person to help them through songs, I play the role of an encourager and a mentor. It's crazy. I never thought that I would be doing this. I am constantly giving them advice about things that I have gone through. I’ve had all this experience. I’m going to keep on putting myself in situations to help whoever is on a similar path as mine, so that they won’t have to go through nearly as much as I did.” Terrilyn's motivation as a vocalist: “You have to stop caring about what everybody else thinks, because somebody will always have something crazy, bad, or disrespectful to say. Many people in my life have been mean to me for no reason. It helped me to be strong. Now people say all kinds of things and I’m just like ‘Girl, I don’t care.’ I keep on going. I know who I am.”
What has encouraged you to start to put yourself out there again and create content for Instagram and YouTube? Terrilyn: “Once you start, you want to keep going. My teachers have always taught me, especially Mr. Kendrick [my music teacher in high school]. He would always say, ‘The hardest thing is starting. Once you start, you get the strength to keep it going.' People have already started emailing me and commenting on pictures saying that they can’t wait to hear next week’s song or that they have been waiting all day for the next video to be posted. That’s also been helpful; people encouraging you, but I really think the hardest thing is just starting. Just start and that momentum is there.”
Do you have any words of encouragement for someone trying to pursue music or music education? Terrilyn: “There are some things in life that you will go through or that you will face. That’s opposition. That’s discouragement. That's failure at something. Heartbreak. You have to just expect those things, but then...don't dwell on them, so that you can keep doing what you have to do. You have to keep going, regardless of what people say or think. Somebody will always, always, always have something negative or bad to say about you. Forget about the negative. Do it for the people that will receive it. Just like there is always someone who will dismiss you, there is always somebody who will receive it. You can get a million no's. It only takes one yes." Quick Tips:
"See music as a life growth tool.
Don't think you've ever mastered anything. Never stop learning.
Learn from the background of the song. It's so helpful to learn why they wrote the song, see what was happening in the world at that time and what that person may have been going through. Tap into what they were feeling.
Stop caring what people think. People are mean. But it's helped me grow. I no longer question like "who do you think you are?" Instead, I just know who I am.
Just be open-minded. It's an oxymoron...to be a closed-minded musician."
February 17th - Black Girls Rock! by Alpha Kappa Alpha of Indiana University Neal Marshall Grand Hall | Doors at 4:30 PM
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