Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

At a show I watched fairly recently (back when live music shows were still a thing), I witnessed a display of flashiness and soul unlike anything I had ever seen. The singer had immaculate pitch—and she created one of the most unique and pleasurable concert experiences I’ve ever experienced.

I got to meet the artist after the show, and her name was Keisha D—this year’s choice, by readers of the Independent, as the Best Local Musician.

I spoke to “Keisha D” Mimms over the phone recently—and had the pleasure of telling her about her win.

“Oh my goodness. That was worth waking up and taking a shower for!” Mimms said. “We’ve had COVID going on, and most people know I’ve been quite ill. Just to be thought of, and not forgotten, after trying to give something to them that they would enjoy—that just means a lot.”

Throughout her career, Mimms said she’s always strived to make her performances positive.

“I started singing at 13, and all I ever wanted to do was perform,” Mimms said. “I’ve been so blessed, because I’ve been able to do it since I was a kid, and travel and give back to communities. I did missionary work where I was a featured vocalist in different spots. It started out with singing ministry, and then I got into the classics and some pop music. It was always a positive spin.”

Keisha D has now been performing in the Coachella Valley for more than two decades.

“I didn’t come here to start a music career,” Mimms said. “I came here to slow down. I had always done real estate; my parents always told me to have a backup. I did commercial real estate with my family’s business. When I came out here, I ran a brokerage firm. I got started singing again through volunteering for a dance-team program. They would do musicals, and I would help with the musicals, and sing. The mothers would always ask if I was a professional, or why I wasn’t singing out here. The next thing you know, one of the mothers told me to do the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call. I didn’t even know what that was, so I looked it up. I got my entry in at 4:45—and it was a 5 o'clock cutoff time. I stood there in the office filling out forms and making sure I got in. I ended up winning for best vocals. That’s what really got me started here, singing those nights and having people go, ’Who’s that girl?’ Once I won, people started calling, and the McCallum asked for my permission to give my phone number out.

“After that, I hit the ground running. I was saying, ‘Sure I can sing for this; sure I can sing for that.’ The mayor of Palm Springs would ask me to sing at an event. I’ve even sung for his own wedding anniversary. I just started booking for all types of functions. Then I started working at a school, mentoring for music, theater and dance.”

Keisha D has kept performing despite struggles with serious illnesses.

“I’m under doctors’ care,” Mimms said. “It’s complicated, because there are so many things going on at once. I have pancreatic issues, and now I’m really suffering terribly with autoimmune disease, and it’s debilitating. I thought fighting with pancreatic cancer was brutal, but this has become outrageous. I’m still plugging away, though! They’re keeping me as comfortable as possible, and hopefully I’ll be able to do what I have to do until it's time.

“I really need all the positives, because I live in pain every day. It’s a bit devastating. I look at footage from last year, and I’m onstage going back and forth, dancing, singing and laughing. Today, I wouldn’t be able to do that. It’s difficult, but I’m positive that I still can do what I can do. I’m doing some virtual concerts, where now I just sit with my band. It’s a little more calm—not as much gyrating.”

The pandemic has not stopped Mimms from using her music as a positive force: Recent virtual concerts have benefited other musicians.

“When I’m asked, I’ll do things at Frankie’s (Old World Italian Bakery and Café),” she said. “They are doing this thing called Project Bread, where they help musicians who don’t have income and are struggling. Some of us other musicians are going in and performing, and people are donating gift cards and money. Any musician can go over there and ask for $50 for groceries, or whatever they need. I’ve been doing shows for that cause. I’ll be performing there again Dec. 18.”

Her Keisha D Scholarship Fund, via the Foundation for the Palm Springs Unified School District, benefits “under-served minority students who are interested in pursuing their education in music and performing arts.”

“When I became sick, I realized I may not be singing or performing that much, so I wanted to leave something that would be ongoing forever,” Mimms said. “That’s when I created the Keisha D Scholarship Fund, when I realized that a lot of these kids in school don’t have the opportunity to get everything they need for college.

“It’s through the Palm Springs Unified School District. Every year, seniors can apply for the music scholarship and are allotted a certain amount of money, as long as they are going to a four-year university and have an acceptance letter. Anybody can go there (to and donate any time they want. We always need to keep funds in there. My first recipient was Oliver Trinidad; he’s a horn player, and he went to Biola University. I wanted to be able to put something out there that will make a difference for young people.”

Keisha D expressed sadness about the way in which artists have been treated during the pandemic.

“It has been really difficult,” Mimms said. “Never in my lifetime would I think I’d see something like this, where we are not allowed to sing out in public—then to be told that musicians, on the totem pole of essential, are last. There are a lot of ways to do this thing safely, and keep us on the mark, especially if you’re doing things outside. I wish they would let us at least set up some Plexiglass and give the musicians an opportunity to get back out there. Then again, I understand, and my doctor just told me I can’t even go out, because it’s that bad right now.

“It’s really funny, because I laugh at some of the artists who said that they couldn’t perform without an (in-person) audience in front of them. They must not be real performers then. It’s like television: How many times have you watched a live concert on TV and had a great time, because you got to see the artist you love performing? If you have the resources to do a virtual show, then get out there and reinvent yourself! There were over 3,000 views at my livestream show at Frankie’s, and I had many people say how great it was to see me, or how happy I made them. That’s what it’s about.”

Both fans and people unfamiliar with Keisha D can look forward to experiencing her talents on an upcoming live album.

“We’ve taken all the different venues I’ve sung at, cleaned up the music, and put it into a CD,” Mimms said. “Part of the proceeds will go to the Kiesha D Scholarship Fund, and another part will go to all of the musicians who participated in it. It was supposed to come out in October, but that didn’t happen, so now we’re shooting for January.”

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Published in Features

Happy Friday! Here’s the latest:

• First, a little good news: Local hospitalizations are beginning to finally move downward, after consistently rising for weeks. You can see Eisenhower Medical Center’s stats here. Now, whether this is a blip or a trend remains to be seen. A key quote from a Facebook post from Eisenhower yesterday: “Today we have only 56 COVID inpatients; a couple of weeks ago we had a high of 85, so a promising sign. We also have 1,533 positive patients that are at home in isolation because they did not need to be in the hospital. We are very worried that they might be spreading the virus to family and friends.”

• After rumblings that some counties where cases are spiking could try to send kids back to school in fall, Gov. Newsom stepped in today and said that, no, that’s not going to happen in counties on the state’s watch list. The Los Angeles Times explains. Key quote: “We all prefer in-classroom instructions for all the obvious reasons—social, and emotional foundationally. But only, only if it can be done safely,” Newsom said.

• From the Independent: The shutdown forced the McCallum Theatre this year to cancel its annual Open Call shows, which showcase amazing local talent. Well, the show must go on—so the theater is showing off these talents in a half-hour show, recorded near The Living Desert, airing tomorrow night on KESQ. Matt King has the details.

• Related and maddening: The White House is blocking officials from the CDC from testifying in front of a House committee next week regarding school reopenings. Why?!

• Similarly horrifying: Federal agents, without agency IDs, have started tear-gassing, shooting (non-lethal ammunition) and detaining protesters in Portland, Ore.—even though city and state officials do not want the federal agents there. According to The New York Times: “The aggressive federal posture has complicated the mission of the Department of Homeland Security, an agency that has spent much of its history focused on foreign terrorism threats and is supposed to build collaborative relationships with local law enforcement partners. And it raises questions of whether it is appropriate for federal authorities to take up the policing of an American city against the wishes of local leaders.” (Spoiler alert: It’s not appropriate.) 

• This weird story broke yesterday: A group associated with Russian intelligence has tried to hack into vaccine-research efforts in the United States, Great Britain and Canada. Needless to say, intelligence agencies in those countries aren’t happy.

Some alarming news out of the Desert AIDS Project: They’re seeing a spike in HIV infections, as well as sexually transmitted infections. “Steadily rising rates of HIV, syphilis, and chlamydia in the Coachella Valley are showing that the last five months of living in the “new normal” has interfered with people taking care of their sexual health,” the organization says.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced today that she’s getting chemotherapy after a recurrence of cancer. Keep the Supreme Court justice in your thoughts, please.

• If you have type-A blood like yours truly, you can breathe a sigh of relief: Further research into whether one’s blood type affects susceptibility to COVID-19 shows a weak link, at best, according to The New York Times.

• I returned this week to the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/videocast, with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr, to talk with Dr. Laura Rush about the fustercluck that is the state of the coronavirus in the Coachella Valley.

• Several days ago, we mentioned that the results from Moderna’s small vaccine trial were encouraging. But how encouraging are they, when put in the proper context? An infectious-disease expert from Vanderbilt University, writing for The Conversation, breaks it down. Key quote: “So they are good results; they are promising results; but they are pretty early in the game, so to speak.

• Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said today that he’s in favor of forgiving up to ALL Paycheck Protection Program loans—and that businesses may not even need to verify how the money was spent. Flexibility is good … but this may go a bit too far.

Is fighting the coronavirus as simple as shutting down indoor bars and getting people to wearing masks? That’s what Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health, said yesterday. Per CNBC: “Being indoors, in close quarters, over long periods of time, is just a recipe for spread,” he said, adding that outdoor seating for restaurants and bars is “probably really safe.”

• Related: Dr. Anthony Fauci has a message for local and state governments: “Be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks.

• Related and good news: The nation’s top nine retailers all now require masks, according to The Washington Post.

The Trump administration appears to be ignoring a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling by rejecting new applicants for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

• Major League Baseball appears to be ready to start its delayed, no-fans-in-stands, 60-game season next week, after its latest round of testing revealed few players had the virus. Meanwhile, NFL players want financial guarantees and all preseason games to be cancelled before their season is scheduled to start in September.

That’s enough news for what’s been a crazy week. Wear a mask! Be safe. Check in with a loved one and see how they’re doing. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep doing what we do—offering quality local journalism, free to all. The digest will return Monday; have a great weekend, everybody.

Published in Daily Digest

Every year, the McCallum Theatre showcases local performers via its Open Call Talent Project—but the series of April shows, like so many other events, was a casualty of the coronavirus epidemic.

However, the show must go on—so Open Call 2020 has moved from the stage to the screen: At 6:30 p.m., Saturday, July 18, KESQ Channel 3 will air a special half-hour video, produced by the McCallum and hosted by Patrick Evans, showcasing the Open Call finalists. The video was filmed in the desert adjacent to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.

Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, the vice president of education at the McCallum, explained how Open Call normally works, during a recent phone interview.

“It’s a competition where people submit, and then we have callbacks; then we get to about 18 to 20 finalists,” Thuresson-Frary said. “The whole thing is a learning process, but there’s also an added competition element. What we always do with our cast is have all of them participate in a big finale number that is inspired by the finalists every year. A big part of the rehearsals for the show is practicing that finale number. That’s a big learning experience, too, because if you’re a vocalist, you’ll get to dance; if you’re a dancer, you’ll get to sing; and if you’re a musician, you’ll get to do both: Every cast member participates in a choreographed experience. It’s created to be an inspiration for the audience members, who hopefully go home and begin some risk-taking of their own.”

Thuresson-Frary said the McCallum announced this year’s Open Call finalists shortly before the theater shut down in March.

“Had it not been for us already announcing our finalists, we probably wouldn’t have done anything this year,” she said. “We had a few cast members this year who have tried out for several years and finally made it, and I really wanted to figure out a way that we could continue to do the show. We also already had the finale number written.

“We started trying to figure out how to do it this year and thought that we couldn’t really include the competition element. We have several large groups and dance companies, and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to practice anywhere. We have a pretty high standard for the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call project, so if we were to put anything out there that wasn’t at a certain level, it wouldn’t feel like a good alternative. We also were looking at how to perform the finale number—while following the (social-distancing) mandates. We really wanted to try to do something a lot more exciting than all the videos that have been appearing of people that are stuck at home.”

Thuresson-Frary and her team started the process by having the finalists record themselves.

“We met with everyone over Zoom and gave them the music and their parts,” she said. “They worked back and forth with Paul (Cracchiolo), our music director, and worked out a good-quality product to send in. While we were doing this, mandates started to be lifted, and we eventually arrived at a time where we felt it was safe to record a good-quality video that we would feel comfortable putting the McCallum name on. We collaborated with Tracker Studios’ Doug VanSant, and A. Wolf Mearns, who are also musicians. All of us brainstormed a way to complete this project in a way that is safe and good-quality.”

Filming inside the McCallum wasn’t an option; Thuresson-Frary and her team wanted a safe, outside location where mask-wearing and social distancing could take place.

“That’s where The Living Desert came into play,” she said. “We wanted to have a wild desert feel, especially under the circumstances, to be able to pay tribute to Mother Nature and the conditions we live in. We reached out to Judy Esterbrook, who is the sales manager of The Living Desert, and she just so happened to be at Open Call last year and was fully on board for helping us out. They were generous enough to let us use the wild desert area behind their zoo and gardens and provided us with shuttle service that transported our artists individually. There were a lot of logistics to work out, and The Living Desert was very generous and became a very lovely partner. That was the same week that the zoo was allowed to re-open, so everything worked out.”

After she saw the first video cut, Thuresson-Frary said she knew they had made something special.

“It’s now been a month of post-production and a lot of back and forth between Tracker Studios and us,” Thuresson-Frary said. “I didn’t really want to reach out to KESQ (too early), because there were so many variables that could’ve easily put a stop to this project at any point in time. Once I felt confident that we had something that was Open Call-quality, I called over to KESQ and asked for them to partner with us. We feel we have something really special that the community will enjoy. I naively thought that they had a little program that they could stick our (seven-minute) music video into, but they actually asked us to provide them with a whole half-hour. That’s mainly what we’ve been working on, and we’re almost ready to hand it over.”

However, transforming a seven-minute video into a half-hour show was not necessarily easy.

“We were able to already film our usual artist vignettes, so we decided to include those,” she said. “… Each performer will be introduced and have their vignette aired. We also had an intern, an aspiring filmmaker, who created a behind-the-scenes movie for us. I thought that many people wouldn’t believe that all of these performers were in the same place at the same time, so he has some behind-the-scenes footage. The music video is the ending of the 30 minutes.”

While Thuresson-Frary said she’s disappointed that the Open Call shows had to be cancelled, she’s proud that the video will give the talented performers their moment in the spotlight.

“We usually sell out our Open Call series, and we put on four shows, so I know there are a lot of people who really love this project,” Thuresson-Frary said. “There are some people who only come to the McCallum Theatre for our show. This music video can be a testament to the kind of work that we’re able to do for the community, as we’ve been doing Open Call for about 20 years now. … It’s designed to showcase all of the art this valley has to offer. All of these artists didn’t really get to work together, but we’re hoping that this will provide them a sense of community across this divide of distancing.”

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Published in Local Fun

Fans of the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call talent project are familiar with Terry S. Larson, 51; he was one of the 2013 finalists in the renowned competition. Regulars at Studio One 11, at 67555 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City, are also familiar with Larson: He works at the LGBT bar as a server and bartender—and wows audiences with his singing voice in concert every Tuesday at 6 p.m., and every other Friday at 8 p.m.; there is no cover. For more information, visit The Inglewood native and Cathedral City resident was kind enough to recently answer The Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

Journey at the Forum in Los Angeles.

What was the first album you owned?

The Carpenters, Close to You.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I mostly listen to new Broadway cast albums, and Sinatra, Linda Eder, and Michael Buble.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Kayne West.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

The Carpenters.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Barry Manilow.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Studio One 11 in Cathedral City (where I sing each week). :)

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“Where is love? Does it fall from skies above?” from “Where Is Love?” in the musical Oliver!

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Barbra Streisand. (I come) from a church background, (and) it was apparent to me they didn’t sing with a lot of sincere emotion. Her voice brought me into the real world.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I would ask Patti LuPone how she could produce a tear while singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” every night during Evita.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I would like Linda Eder to sing “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Barbra Streisand, The Broadway Album.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“With You,” from Ghost the Musical. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13