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Singing has been a lifelong passion for Tristarr. The R&B/Gospel singer has been performing since the age of 3. Tristarr has auditioned for Star Search, was part of a group that was the opening act at the Rosemont Theatre, and has three albums as a solo artist. The cancer survivor is inspiring others through her music and is politically active in Joliet, Illinois.
Guzman: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today Tristarr. What are some of your earliest musical memories and how did you get started?
Tristarr: I started singing in a group called SBS, Sweetness Begins with Sugar. We were a neighborhood group singing in all the talent shows, and we were winning. I don’t think we were the greatest singers at that time but we were performers. We got known so much in Joliet because we were performing at Joliet East, Joliet Central, and the Rialto Theatre. We were part of the things that made our neighborhood. What I mostly remember is getting together with Cynthia McElarth and my other girlfriend Valerie Brown. That’s how we started; my mother, church, and getting in the choir. We were from a very spiritual Baptist family.
Guzman: You auditioned to be on the popular variety show Star Search in the 80s. How were you able to audition for the show and how did it go?
Tristarr: I remember winning a talent show in Orland Park and that gave me a chance to perform on Star Search. When I went to audition there was a lot of groups. I was singing En Vogue “Hold On”. My time was at 6:30 in the morning. That was the number I pulled and you go in there and perform. That was the most rewarding time. I had never been to Vegas before. I didn’t win but it was a good experience.
Guzman: Can you tell us about Look, But Don’t Touch and the Rosemont Theatre?
Tristarr: How the group became Look, But Don’t Touch is we each auditioned for a group that was for Sean “Puffy” Combs. At that time they were looking for a girl group. I also auditioned for Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire. I would go on all these auditions but meeting him was like…wow…that was Maurice White. I owe all of that to my manager Sean Chaney. When we opened up for the Rosemont Theatre it was with Death Row Records opening up for Adina Howard, Naughty by Nature, and Mary J. Blige. This was back in the 90s. Mind you Mary J. Blige probably didn’t know who we were but just to know she was present; Death Row Records, all those artists made me feel confident. What I most fondly remember is when we opened up for Adina Howard. We were a group that no one knew who Look, But Don’t Touch was. The first song that we sung was a cover tune by Boys II Men called “End of the Road”.
Guzman: Your current record Behind the Lipstick produced by Hiram Grisby of Higgy Diggy Productions is your third as a solo artist. How would you describe your sound?
Tristarr: Rhythm and Blues with a Gospel feel. It’s a little jazzy, but it’s inspirational music. Back in the day Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, En Vogue, all those groups talked about real music. That’s what I call video soul. You have some inspirational soulful music that gives you a little jazz, rhythm and blues, but then it gives you gospel with a twist.
Guzman: You are a cancer survivor and your song “Butterfly” is very personal. Would you like to share your thoughts about “Butterfly”? Do you have any advice for those going through cancer?
Tristarr: “Butterfly” is a song that is dear to my heart and the song that starts the cd. I had 7 different types of cancer. I didn’t love myself. When I wrote “Butterfly” it reminded me that God gave his son Jesus Christ. From him giving his son allowed me to love myself .What I would take from that song is it didn’t matter what people said. It didn’t matter how people talked about you, that you knew that you were loved. Once I realized that I was loved in spite of what I was going through it wasn’t about my physical being. The cancer survivor is not about surviving something that was medical but surviving something that was internal. The advice that I would give is to take time to look at yourself and understand that you are loved. You are loved by someone who is eternal. That eternal love lets you blossom and find joy. Do not dwell on the illness, but rather the rebirth from being caterpillar to becoming a butterfly.
Guzman: Where can you find information about your tour and what artists will be joining you?
Tristarr: The tour I am starting to organize will be sometime in September. There will be artists like myself; gospel and rap artists. I want to put together a tour like we used to back in the day have a bus visiting different cities and enjoying them. It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you have a dream you continue to have it. That’s what I am going to be doing on this Behind the Lipstick Tour. If you would like to know more please visit Facebook, Instagram, Cdbaby, Twitter, and search me Trista Graves Brown Tristarr.
Guzman: Where can fans find your music?
Tristarr: Itunes and Cdbaby. In Joliet Sandy's Boutique on 28 West Clinton and Styles of Brass 1948 Essington Road. I am an independent artist, just Google me.
Guzman: You take great pride being from Joliet and are involved in the community. Can you tell us about Joliet and your involvement in the community?
Tristarr: I’m from a family of 11. My mom was Margaret Graves and she became very active with Ray Bolden, who was one of the first black attorneys in Joliet during the 1960s. She got involved with the NAACP and since I was 5 years old I was involved in politics because of my parents. Joliet is a very historical place. Many people have come from here. I am involved with an organization that I started called We Are Our Brother’s Keepers. I started that in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. My son was one of the victims. I thought Red Cross wasn’t doing enough. Presently I am involved with People United for Change but I also work independently with other artists and organizations trying to make a change in Joliet. This is a City of Champions. Being a City of Champions that means each one of us can be champions by being involved in each other’s dreams. One of the member’s of Sister Sledge is very good friends with my sister Marcia Graves. Hypnotic Ensemble are my nephews, who sing all over the world. I’m from a family that is very musical. Lionel Richie came from Joliet. Lionel and my brother Sam Graves were friends at Joliet East. Coretta Scott King’s family goes to Second Baptist Church, where I have been going my whole life! I am so proud to be from Joliet, Illinois.
Guzman: You are in the early stages of developing a talk show. How is that going and what will it be about?
Tristarr: I feel it’s really important voices be heard. I am trying to get a reality talk show started called the Real Deal. We need hosts, commentators, writers, and the community involved. I will be one of the co hosts and will be collaborating with the Joliet Public Library in getting this together. If anybody is interested please feel free and contact me.
Guzman: Any final thoughts?
Tristarr: We have to continue to have a heart for the people. We have to love one another. I am lead by Christ; I believe in a higher being. We can inspire and should be a part of anyone else’s dream no matter how young, how old. We should be able to express ourselves without question. Be able to stand up for yourself and continue to dream, dream, and dream.