DOMESTIC ABUSE IS NOT A SENTENCE…
Beautiful Instagram photos, smiling faces, women presenting perfect lives, the ones many of us keep dreaming of. This is exactly what they try to present not only through social media, but also while contacting their close ones and other acquaintances. But is their seemingly happy way of life as beautiful as it seems to be?
Unfortunately, it sometimes looks entirely different, flawless make-ups and beautiful outfits hide dark secrets, which are meant to be hidden from the view for good. Domestic violence is a problem affecting not only the poorest and most vulnerable layers of society, but it can happen to any of us at any time.
Of course, sometimes, being domestically abused may be deliberately kept secret, but very often the signs of physical and mental harassment are visible at first sight and despite this not many decide to interfere in those women’s domestic situation to rescue them out of the hands of their abusers. And even though it’s true that the victims often suffer in silence and all alone, it isn’t their conscious choice, it happens that they don’t see a way out of this stand-off for themselves, which in the worst case may result in their death.
Fortunately, there are people who want to change such state of affairs. I’m truly pleased to introduce you to my today’s interviewee – Darla Z – a singer, songwriter and an artist whose faith allows her to create great projects, the ones, which can give at least a little hope to all the victims of domestic abuse, as well as can educate the public to react to any problems without unnecessary questioning.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Darla: I am a wife, stepmother, singer/songwriter, author, legal assistant working at my husband’s law practice (for over 35 years), food critic, wanna be acclaimed chef, advocate for human rights and victims of domestic abuse, and lastly, and definitely the most important to me, I love God.
Passion Piece: You’re an established artist with an angelic voice which can melt hearts of people living in different corners of the world. How did you start your singing/songwriting career?
Darla: Wow. Thank you so much for those lovely compliments, Natalia. I began my professional singing career when I was 42 (now approaching 60 – yikes). My first such appearance was opening in concert for Willie Nelson before a crowd of 10,000 people. I performed about ten songs, including my first song I ever wrote called “Why’d You Go” which is a country song. The lyrics in the song started out as a poem I’d written to my husband. Then one morning, I woke up with a melody in my head, so I put the words I had written in the poem to music. And that’s how I became a songwriter.
Passion Piece: Everyone knows that the USA is a breeding ground for many outstanding artists, including the worldwide known ones. What challenges did you have to overcome at the very beginning?
Darla: Self-doubt is a real deal killer in life so first and foremost, the first challenge I had was I had to believe I could do it. I mean, just going out on stage opening for Willie Nelson in front of that many people was intimidating. Plus, I had people tell me that the “country” crowd might laugh at me. Goodness, that’s not a good thing to hear. So, I had to force myself to believe I could do it, have faith I would not be nervous and then, I had to not listen to the nay-sayers. I had to convince myself that I would perform great because I knew I couldn’t afford to be nervous, otherwise my voice would shake, and I would sound bad. It was an exercise in positive thinking and faith, based on an approach to living which I learned from my parents and by reading a book by Norman Vincent Peale called The Power of Positive Thinking: A Practical Guide to Mastering the Problems of Everyday Living. Another challenge was that I had to get over the fact that I was starting a professional singing career in my 40s, in an industry of mostly younger people in their 20s. I thought to myself that because I was older, I might not appeal to a broad base. But this, too, was an attitude I needed to correct and one which was silly. Who cares how old I am? If I can deliver a message that’s great while at the same time hopefully making someone happy with my music, that’s all I care about. And that’s how I feel today. If I make just one person happy with my music, I’ve accomplished a wonderful thing. Besides, I’ve been told more than once recently that I sound better now than I ever have. Maturity not only brings wisdom, it also brings peace.
Passion Piece: You’ve tried yourself not only in singing, but you’ve also been a food critic, a book author, a board member of the Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum to name just a few. What piece of advice would you give to women who would like to be successful in more than one field of their interests and pursue their passions outside their initial workplace?
Darla: A great question. And it goes back to your own internal belief system. First, you must believe you can do it. Then, time management is critical. In my case, I write much better in the morning. So, if I want to work on a song, story, script, whatever the case may be, I do it in the morning. Starting my day off on a positive note works great for me and sets the tone for the entire day. Then, I’m free to help my husband with the law practice, or whatever else I’m working on. There have been times recently that I have been overwhelmed with work and have not been able to spend any time on my writing. I should not have let work keep me from my real passion, which is writing and singing. I made a mistake. I should have devoted time for it. That’s the key, I think. Setting aside the time every day to do what makes you happy or to do what your heart tells you what you should do. And, if you get overwhelmed one day, make sure you do it the next. None of us can afford to let time go by without living our dreams and passions. Life is too short.
Passion Piece: What do you perceive as your greatest accomplishment a successful career or being a fulfilled woman? Or both?
Darla: At this stage in my life and throughout my marriage, I have made the choice to put God first and then my husband and my family next. If any of my career choices conflict with that choice, then God and my family come first. And as I go through life with that in mind, then I feel as if I am both fulfilled and successful at the same time. Any notoriety I receive as a singer/songwriter and entertainer are gifts for which I am very thankful. Coming into contact with people like you, Natalia, that live your life helping domestically abused women also is a gift.
Passion Piece: Social problems have always been close to your heart. Which one has given you sleepless nights recently?
Darla: Hand down, domestic violence and the women who are suffering globally from this horrible situation.
Passion Piece: How does the issue of domestic violence look like in the USA comparing to the rest of the world? Why do women decide to suffer in silence within four walls?
Darla: Unfortunately, domestic violence in the USA, I believe, is the same as any other country. I had a very sad discussion with a victim yesterday and she enlightened me on a life situation which I didn’t realize existed. She is a woman who grew up in the gang culture. It was the way of life for the males in the gang to abuse their girlfriends or wives. She told me she thought for many years that being abused was “normal”, it was just the way it was. She said every woman in her family had been raped, including herself, her mother and her two sisters. It was heartbreaking to sit there and hear her stories, stories that included her cousin’s murder and that of her cousin’s unborn child. So, for this woman, suffering in silence was a way of life. That is, it was her way of life until her sister-in-law told her she should get out, leave the situation, she didn’t deserve it, that she could do it, she could survive. For those women in countries that don’t have support organizations/services in place, that don’t have the internet to read, learn, and obtain guidance from women such as yourself, it will be a never-ending epidemic. And one that can only be solved by education and having support services available. With the many interviews with victims I’ve been doing lately, I also understand that they suffer in silence because they don’t know where to go. This, too, can be solved with education and awareness. There are “angels” (organizations and people) out there who really, really want to help. All they have to do is seek them out.
Passion Piece: You decided to raise people’s awareness on this topic through writing and recording a song titled “To All the Gabbys in the World”. Who is the titular character of the song? Why can she represent thousands of domestically abused women?
Darla: Gabby Petito was a beautiful young woman who was a social blogger that was traveling throughout the United States with her boyfriend. One day, a 911 caller in Utah, USA, reported that they saw a woman in a vehicle being hit by a man. The two were ultimately pulled over by the police and after interviews were conducted of them during the police stop, they were unfortunately allowed to leave. Within a short period of time, it became apparent to Gabby’s family that she was missing. A nationwide search ensued that led to her body being discovered and, after another nationwide search, a discovery that the monster boyfriend who had killed her, had also killed himself. Though Gabby’s name is in the title of my song, I wrote the song in her honor as well as for every woman I know, including a very good friend of mine, and those I don’t know who are being abused and who, for whatever reason, are trapped in that situation and refuse to leave it or are afraid to leave it, who are wrongly blaming themselves for their abuser’s unconscionable actions, who are excusing the evil behavior with excuses like “he’s under stress” or “he didn’t mean to do it” or “it was my fault.” Through the lyrics I wrote in this song, I wanted to encourage these thousands of domestically abused women to leave their situations and “Don’t look back, walk away, now’s the time, it’s a new day. Take off like a butterfly, it will be a better life.”
Passion Piece: Who did you invite to work with you on this project? Why?
Darla: I was privileged in the past to cowrite and record songs with Ronnie Wilson, founder of iconic Gap Band. He wrote almost all The Gap Band’s platinum and gold selling records. Ronnie has gone to Heaven now but indirectly through knowing him, I found out about Canadian artist Lou Pomanti, an incredible arranger and producer for many great artists, including Michael Bublé, Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray and invited him to collaborate with me to record the song. Lou flew to Las Vegas to record where I always record, that is, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), with my longtime friend Chuck Foley, a terrific guitarist, producer, and engineer. After the song was completed, my husband and manager, Bill, wanted a music video produced. So, I wrote up a script for the video and sent it to Rick Walker, an award-winning Director, with whom I had worked with on my Christmas public television special. Rick and his team then filmed the video in Oklahoma which turned out, in my opinion, to be a great production and one which has already received numerous awards, including being a finalist and being nominated by Indie Short International Festival as Best Original Song, Best Music Video and Best Production Design. We have over 1.1 million views on FaceBook alone, and it was just released on June 2, 2023!
Passion Piece: What difference would you like your project to make in the world? How would you like to expand it over time?
Darla: I’m hopeful, in addition to my entire team of talented people who worked on this project, that “To All the Gabbys in the World” will make a difference by encouraging and motivating women to leave their abusive situations and start a new life. And it would be lovely for artists all over the world to sing and record my song, too.
Passion Piece: Which three words would you tell women who still stay in toxic relationships despite being abused? Why are they so important to remember?
Darla: Get out NOW!
Why is this so important to remember? You might not be alive tomorrow.
Passion Piece: What do you love doing in your free time when you’re not on the stage?
Darla: Spending time in the evening watching the sun set on my back patio listening to vinyl records with my husband, spending time with my wonderful mother, petting my three cats, writing, and cooking gourmet meals.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in the near future? Which projects would you like to work on?
Darla: Making a feature film for children and families and writing the music for that film.
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Darla: Stand up for yourself. Don’t second guess your choices and believe you can be anything you want to be.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I wish you more such great projects in the future!
See you around!
Photos by: Darla Z