SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – Monique Varsames knew she wanted to be a singer ever since she was a teenager.
Growing up in Michigan, Varsames would head to downtown Traverse City and hang out outside Union Street Station, a renowned blues club.
“It had these big windows in front,” recalls the South Salem resident. “When the music would start playing, I’d watch the through the windows and listen and say, ‘I gotta get in there. I can do that.’”
Varsames finally managed to sneak into the club and convinced the band to let her sing.
“Once I did my thing, they wanted me back,” she said.
When she turned 21, Varsames came east to New Haven, Conn. After a brief return to Michigan, she came back to Connecticut where she wound up fronting a band called Funkestra for 10 years. It was during that time she met Sean Harkness, who helped her produce her first album in 2000, which, unfortunately, was never released.
After giving birth to her son, Varsames decided to take a break from the music scene. But after a seven-year hiatus, the urge to start writing and performing came back strong.
“About two years ago, I realized that music was such a huge part of my life,” she said. “I started writing again.”
As Varsames dove headlong back into her music, she received some unfortunate news from back home. Her teenage niece, Chelsea Faith Hayes, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and the prognosis was not good. She needed a double lung transplant if she was to have any hope of survival.
As she teetered on the brink, a donor for Chelsea was suddenly found and she had the operation. Defying the doctors’ dire predictions, the teen is on the way to recovery.
“She is doing amazing,” Varsames said. “She beat every odd. They literally want to use her as a poster child.”
Varsames realized she had written enough songs for a new album, and when she began recording in December 2009, she decided that proceeds from the sale of the first 500 physical CDs would go to charities related to her niece’s medical struggles: the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Gift of Life Foundation, which deals with organ donation.
Once again collaborating with Harkness, the CD, “Sweet Days,” was completed in May.
“Sean hand-picked all the musicians; it’s a real A-List band,” Varsame said. “The bass player played with Steve Martin on his recent bluegrass album.”
Varsames said the album was recorded live in a private New York City studio over the span of two days.
“We wanted to keep an organic, old-school feel to it,” she said. “All the musicians were playing together at the same time. They could look at each other. Nothing is digitally processed.”
Samples of the music can be heard at Varsames’ website, www.moniquevarsames.com, which is where fans can buy a copy of the CD and help out her charitable causes.
“They can click on the ‘Give Back Campaign’ to buy a CD,” she said. “I will accept donations of any amount. I’ve collect about $750, but I still need a lot more than that.”
Varsames still maintains a job in “the real world.” She has a business called Moka Designs where she designs interior finishes for upscale homes.
“Fixtures, paneling, the paint, built-ins – everything but the furniture,” she said. “Once the sheet rock goes up, I come in.”
Varsames said revenue from Moka Designs helped pay for her to record, “Sweet Days.” And now she’s ready to head back to the studio again.
“I’m already working on a new album and have eight new songs ready,” said Varsames, who cites her musical influences as Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, the Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Sade, James Taylor and Annie Lennox.
“Van Morrison is my mentor,” she gushed. “I just love him.”
Have you heard Monique’s music? Do you know any other local musicians who you think deserve the national spotlight? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/TheDailyLewisboro