“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
Winona Wyatt is a multitalented Philadelphian full of charm and gaiety- and some interesting surprises.
PGN: I only know of one other [Wynonna] and she has a “Judd” in her name and a number of Grammys. Two questions: How did you come to have the name, and do you sing?
WW: So Winona is a Native-American name and stands for “first-born daughter,” and I think the story behind how I came to have my name is that when I was born, I was born prematurely, so I was really, really tiny. When he saw me, my father just kept saying, “Wow. Wow” over and over again. So then they thought, OK, we’ll make her initials W.O.W. I don’t know where they came up with Winona but it’s the Anglicized form of the Dakota tribe word Winúnna — “first-born daughter.” My middle name is Odelette, which is a Greek name meaning, surprisingly enough, “Little Singer.” And I’ve also heard that it translates to something like, “The sound of her cries is musical.” And then my last name is Wyatt. And yes, I do sing.
PGN: Winona Odelette Wyatt. WOW. Have you been singing for a long time?
WW: I’ve essentially been singing [for] it feels like my entire life. I started playing piano in second grade and before that, I always enjoyed singing Christmas carols. Once I was able to read music, I loved to play and sing along with them. In middle school, I joined the school choir and have been in choirs throughout my school years. I remember my mother always made me sing something when we had company over. I’d always have to sing a little song for the guests before they left. So I’ve pretty much been singing my entire life.
PGN: Do you remember the first solo you performed?
WW: I do not!
PGN: No? I was a ringer for the afternoon kindergarten class. I was in the morning class, and for the school recital, I played the cat in “Peter and the Wolf” and then did some kind of song. Apparently the afternoon class was lacking talent and they put me in the afternoon performance too, even though I wasn’t part of that class!
WW: That’s amazing. I do remember the first solo that I had, but not singing. It was on the saxophone.
PGN: Look at you, Miss Multi-Talent!
WW: Well, I was in the band in middle school and played the saxophone. We played the song “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys, and it has that great sax solo in the middle, which I got to play during a concert.
PGN: That’s pretty cool. Did you play at football games?
WW: Yeah, I was in the marching band. Well, we were the marching band in the fall and the concert band in the winter. And I’m trying to remember if we also did pep band, but I think that was just in college.
PGN: I went to a predominantly white high school and all of the black kids would sit in one section for football games and we’d spend half the game yelling for the band to play “The Horse.” You know that song: [sings] “Ba dum duh duh duh, ba dum ba dah dah.” We’d lose our minds when they played it.
WW: No, I don’t know that one. Our high school was also predominantly white but we had a nice little mix and even had a drumline, because there was a student who graduated and went to Del State, which is an HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] and they had a drumline, so when he came back to our school to teach, he brought it with him. Our percussion section was a full-on drumline.
PGN: Where did you go to college?
WW: I went to Delaware State University for about two years, and then I took a little bit of a break and then I came back and went to Wilmington University where I got my degree.
PGN: What was your degree in?
WW: So [laughs] OK, my bachelor’s degree was in general studies. The reason for it was that when I was at Del State, I was a computer-science major. I got a full scholarship but it had to be in a STEM field so that’s what I chose. I was completely bored in that major and I thought, The money’s not worth it! I need to follow my dreams! So I changed my major to music education. At Del State, they didn’t have much of an actual music program, so I figured I’d do music education. Turned out I hated the education part. So I thought, OK, I’ll just do music, but since there wasn’t really a music school at Del State, I thought, You know the world is my oyster, just choose something else, so I went into mass communications. I didn’t care for that so I was like, What am I doing in college? And I just stopped. I had computer-science credits. I had music credits. I had education credits [and] mass-communications credits, but when I went back to go to Wilmington University, the only way I could get them all to transfer was to be a general-studies major. And that’s how that happened! And at Wilmington, I took TV production and acting classes, screenwriting and all sorts of creative things. After I graduated, I took a year off and then want back and got my master’s in information technology!
PGN: That’s wild! So are you from Delaware?
WW: I was actually born in D.C. My mother was in the military so I was born in Walter Reed but I grew up in Dover, Del., where my dad was stationed.
PGN: Tell me about the folks?
WW: They’re both originally from Texas. My dad joined the Air Force early on and luckily they did all their moving around before I was born. My mother was 36 when she had me and she had just joined the Army. My dad was a flight engineer working on the C-5s and Dover was the only place they had them, so we got to stay put in one spot.
PGN: Any siblings?
WW: I have a half-brother but he came along later, so I grew up as an only child.
PGN: And you do theater too, correct?
WW: Yes. From early on in my life, I always spoke about wanting to be an actor. I was so busy doing everything else, I never got around to it. I had my music stuff and dance classes and other extracurricular things. And then life and work took over but a few years ago, I finally decided to pursue it. I was living in Phoenixville and auditioned for a show at the Forrest Theater and got a small part, and from that, I was asked to audition for a role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and I got the part of Muzzy Van Hossmere!
PGN: What was the zaniest thing to happen to you on stage while performing music?
WW: [Laughing] So when I was at Del State, I was in the choir and we had the opportunity to do the Christmas show. We were asked to open for Rosemary Clooney — jazz legend and aunt to George Clooney — at Dover Downs. She always asked for a local choir to open for her. We were doing holiday music and I had a solo singing “Silent Night.” Everybody knows “Silent Night” but I don’t know what happened. I guess I was nervous and I COMPLETELY forgot the lyrics … to “Silent Night!” I botched it like no other. I don’t even know what I was singing but I just kept going, singing words at random. Right after, a friend of mine grabbed me and said, “What were you singing?” and I was like, I have no idea. But I got through it. At least I didn’t stop.
PGN: You should have just said you were speaking in tongues!
PGN: Well, I’m sure you redeemed yourself with the amazing all-women’s choir, Anna Crusis. How long have you been singing with them?
WW: I’m on leave right not, but four or five years. They are a great group.
PGN: What’s a song or genre of music people might be surprised to know you listen to?
WW: Country. It’s my mother’s favorite genre of music. She always listened to the country-music station when I was growing up.
PGN: I never liked country until I started dating a woman from Louisiana.
WW: Ah, that’s that bluegrass country.
PGN: Yeah, she was more pop-country, Garth and Reba and the other Wynonna. She has some incredible songs. What’s your favorite Judd song?
WW: I have no idea! I’ll listen to country, but not enough to know who sings what.
PGN: What? She has some great songs. There’s one called “What the World Needs Now.” That’s just beautiful. I’ll send the lyrics to you. Tell me about your own writing?
WW: I write sad songs. I feel like that’s what I always end up writing. But sad songs are the best!
PGN: If I offered you a record contract tomorrow, what would be the first single we released?
WW: The working title is “Release Me” and it’s about being in a toxic relationship and letting it go.
PGN: Any hidden talents?
WW: Well, when I was younger, I did synchronized swimming.
PGN: That’s so cool. Any other hobbies?
WW: I don’t know. I just get into random things. I’m one of those Jack-of-all-trades people. I do web-design stuff. I’ve dabbled in photography. I’ve tried writing. I’m a dabbler.
PGN: Do you collect anything?
PGN: What started that?
WW: I don’t know. I’ve just always been drawn to them. I have a feather tattoo and a little collection of mostly found feathers. [Laughs] Kind of disgusting when you think about it but I enjoy them.
PGN: What’s your most unusual possession?
WW: Oh, I don’t know if I should share it because it’s definitely weird. One day, I was walking down the street in Rehoboth. I was there for a film festival and I found a seagull wing. Not just the feather, the whole wing. I grabbed a plastic bag and took it home for my collection.
PGN: Well, as long as you didn’t try to glue it to your shoulder and fly away. It shows you’re not a squeamish person.
WW: No, no.
PGN: What was the best thing about coming out and what was the scariest?
WW: I came out late, or at least late compared to my peers. I was about 25 years old. The scariest part was admitting it to myself. Like many of us do, I grew up with an idea of what relationships were supposed to look like, what attraction was supposed to look like, and everything else was outside the norm. I always was around a lot of gay people and considered myself very open-minded, but insisted to myself that I wasn’t gay, even though I felt a certain pull. So it was scary to have the self-realization that I was indeed gay. And then it took a while for me to tell my parents. I didn’t say anything until I started dating someone.
PGN: And their reaction was?
WW: They were fine with it. They were worried that I might have a difficult time, because it’s not always easy being a lesbian in this world, but they were fully supportive.
PGN: What’s been the best thing about coming out?
WW: Living my truth and being able to be in relationships where I’ve been truly happy and the sense of community. Now I’ve been in the community for so long, I sometimes forget what a beautiful bubble I live in until I talk to someone not in the community and remember there’s a whole other world out there.
PGN: Ha. I feel that too. Thankfully, I don’t think I have any mean or hurtful people in my liberal little bubble. So it’s hard to understand how people can be so hateful when I rarely deal with those folks. Tell me what else is going on in your life.
WW: There’s a lot in transition. I just started a new job at the Kimmel Center as a digital marketing associate. I work on their website. They’re a great organization to work for and lots of perks like being able to see some great shows. Once I settle in there, I’ll be able to pursue more acting and singing opportunities.
PGN: Totally random question: In the theater, which armrest is yours?
WW: I take a little on each side but I’m good at sharing, so I just take a little part of each armrest.
PGN: Historical figure you’d want to have lunch with?
WW: That’s so hard! I cannot answer that question. I’m fascinated with people so I would be happy having lunch with anyone — famous or not — as long as they were interesting.
PGN: If you could do something dangerous just once with no risk, what would you do?
WW: The first thing that pops in my head is bungee-jumping.
PGN: Strangest date ever?
WW: [Laughs] All of them. There was one time when someone faked an emergency phone call and left right in the middle of it.
PGN: How did you know it was fake?
WW: I could tell they were trying to come up with a reason to get out from the start, and the bad acting job.
PGN: Which actress would you want to do a love scene with?
WW: Again, pick just one? I’m intimidated! I can’t pick just one!
PGN: [Laughing] Well, I’d say pick several but then that would be an orgy, not a love scene!
PGN: The feature I get the most compliments on is?
WW: My smile? It’s probably the dimples.
PGN: What’s on the horizon?
WW: I’d like to start a podcast and write a one-woman show, but that’s a little ways out. I’m also going to be starting a digital-marketing design and consultation company with Ashley Philips called Blerd Bytes Media. We’ll do website design and social media, etc.
WW: No, Blerds, like black nerds!
PGN: Got it! So cute. Sounds like another success coming!