At the young age of 16, when Tanya Blount made her debut in the film “Sister Act 2,” two magical things happened at once: the world discovered the power of her voice and her soulmate discovered his future wife. Intertwined by their passion for music, love for God and a tragically similar experience with suicide, husband and wife Tanya Blount and Michael Trotter Jr. took their trauma and transformed it into healing, soulful songs as the duo known as “The War and Treaty.” Wildly talented in her own right, Tanya’s single “Through the Rain” reached number 28 on the Billboard charts at the age of 19 and she was nominated as the “Best New Artist” at the Soul Train Awards in 1995. Together, Tanya and Michael were the first African American duet to appear on the Academy of Country Music Awards. Having accomplished all that she has set her mind to, Tanya is ready to continue ascending under God’s wings, saying, “you can’t put limitations on the sky.”
As a young woman, who influenced you the most?
I would have to say my mother, who was from Panama. She and my dad met when he was in the army. They met on the canal. She was just an amazing person. She loved classical music. She loved family. She loved fashion. She was just a beautiful person, and she loved God. She is no longer with us, but she is always watching over us. She left an incredible legacy of love for my brother and my sister and me. I learned love from her.
You are the second born?
Yes, I am the crazy middle child. There is always something going on with the middle child. I thank my siblings every day for dealing with my craziness.
Do you think that your father being in the military spawned your attraction to a military man?
No, because I didn’t know Michael was in the military when I met him. I didn’t find out he served until we were married for three years.
So, you were both solo singers in the Maryland-DC area. What was the first time you saw him?
The first time I saw Michael was at a festival. As cheesy as it sounds, it was called The Love Festival, and he was incredible. He was so very honest on stage, and I loved his lyrics. It was 100 degrees outside, and he had on a sweater, first of all. He was just into the music. There were not a lot of people in the audience, but he was performing as though there were thousands of people. I was listening to the lyrics from the stage. I said, “Who is this guy?” I just had to meet him. I had to.
Love at first sight at The Love Festival. Was it a visceral attraction or an artist-to-an-artist appreciation?
It definitely was love because I tracked him down. I usually don’t give anyone my phone number right off the bat. I said, “Call me. You have to give me a call.” I think it was subconscious. I was coming out of a bad relationship at that time, and he just looked like somebody I had to know as a human being.
At a very young age, 16, you broke through in “Sister Act 2” singing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” Ascending so quickly, you learned about the “takers” of the world. Is that why you were reserved in giving your telephone number?
Yes, I would say that. I would also say my mother was a very private person. She came from a Hispanic culture, which is inward and very family-oriented. So, if someone was around, they were from your family, or you knew where they came from. My dad and his family are still in New Bern, North Carolina. I grew up around my family, and friends were extensions of my family members.
You were raised in a sheltered environment.
Now that I am older, I recognize that I was sheltered. I have 30 first cousins, and they were all my best friends. I have had the same friend since I was in the fourth grade, up through college. It was beautiful because my friends are all different cultures, creeds and races.
Do you trust easily?
Not as much as I want. I am learning and evolving into a person that leads with love. When you lead with love, it opens you up to being able to receive the kind of energy that you really need. Trust is something that people say you earn, but I think love leads you to trust.
Before being discovered at 16 years old, did you know that your voice was a gift from God?
I was 8 years old. My brother was singing on the pulpit at a Black Baptist church. While he was singing “Be Grateful,” people were all over the place, crying and jumping up and down. I remember riding in the back of the car and telling my mom and my brother, who were in the front seat, “Whatever you did in church, I want to be able to do that.” I wanted to be able to make people happy and have that excitement that happened in church, feel that sense of joy and burst. When we got home, my brother said, “We need to practice and get your voice together, so you can do it.” I would say at 8 years old, that was it. I was smitten with music.
You were smitten with performing, but when did you know that you were different? That you had a vocal capacity that was unparalleled?
I was smitten by the idea of being able to change the way people felt. As a kid, I was very observant. I would see people come into church with a somber feeling, emotional and sad. By the time the church service was over, they were hugging each other, happy and joyous. I wondered, “What is this? What is the connection between music and how people feel?” When I saw that connection, I wanted to do it for that reason.
Gospel, R&B, Christian, country. What is your genre, and what do you prefer to perform?
All of them.
Can you describe the feeling of the first time you gave a solo in church?
The song was “Move Mountain,” a good old gospel song. I was about 11 years old, and my choir director, Raymond Brown, said, “You are going to sing this song. You need to go home and practice.” I would go home and grab the mop and practice in front of the mirror and visualize what was going to happen in my choir robe. The same thing happened for me the way it happened for my brother every Sunday. I was transformed at that moment.
Is your brother still in the music business?
Yes, his name is Willie Blount and is a gospel singer in Washington, DC. He is still around making people happy.
Did you have women mentors?
Genobia Jeter was in my church choir. She went on to do R&B and gospel music. She was the first person that I could touch and talk to in person instead of seeing on television. I wanted to do secular music, which she did after leaving our church.
In terms of icons or celebrities, were there people you wanted to emulate?
Yes. There were people in my community, like Stacy Lattisaw, who toured with Michael Jackson. She was the first person. She and my brother were friends. I love cosmetology and doing hair and remember being 13 years old when she came over to our house. She asked me if I wanted to do cosmetology and let me braid her hair. I was 13 years old braiding Stacey Lattisaw’s hair in my apartment. “Oh my God, this is crazy,” I thought. The funny thing is two days later, her braids fell out. I realized cosmetology was not my path. Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Holliday, Dolly Parton, Leontyne Price. The list just started to grow because my mother was also a classical singer in Panama. I would hear Celia Cruz around the house. These were all flamboyant women that had their own flair. They were making their own types of music and using their voices in their own way. I grew up listening to all different styles of music and watching all these women trailblazers’ success in whatever genre of music they were interested in.
Singing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” on screen in “Sister Act 2” was how you were discovered? How did that come about?
That was fun. I had never done any acting on that level before. I was with a company at the time that wanted me to audition for a film that was the sequel to “Sister Act 1.” I went back and forth to New York and L.A. I could sing the song, but I could not act. Lauryn Hill and I spent time together in L.A. We would be lying on a mattress together saying to each other, “You’re going to get the part. No, you’re going to get the part. No, you’re going to get the part.” I ended up getting the part as her best friend in the movie because I was not quite good enough to get the acting lead, but I was the lead in the song. Lauryn is another trailblazer in the art of music, a woman who was standing out there on that ledge alone. I taught her the song, which incidentally wasn’t supposed to be in the film. We actually went over to Whoopi Goldberg’s house because Whoopi took a liking to me. She asked me to teach Lauryn the song and wanted us to do it together. They literally wrote that scene at her house just so I could have a singing feature in the movie.
When did you first sign with a production company?
I was 16 and still in high school. The production company signed to a major label, which was Polydor, when I turned 17.
How was that experience?
It was so exciting. I was in high school. I had just done a show called “Big Break” with Natalie Cole. God rest her soul. She was the host for the show. I didn’t win this competition, but someone saw me perform and called my school. I remember my principal, Dr. Sterling, called me out of the classroom and said that “someone saw you on TV, some big Hollywood person.” He didn’t know who Leotis Clyburn was. “They are calling, and they want to sign you.” I told my principal to have him call my parents. That was how I was discovered. They called my high school after seeing me on “Big Break.” From there, I went on to sign my first record deal.
You then reached 28 on the Billboard chart with what song, and what was the inspiration?
Everything just happened, and nothing was planned. Stacy Lattisaw, who I’ve mentioned, was dating a guy named Kevin Jackson, a budding producer. He had never done any production before. He had a song that I thought would be really cool called “Through the Rain.” As a 19- or 20-year-old, it resonated: being in love, going through a breakup and wanting to keep it together. Both the song and lyrics spoke to my heart at the time. We went to his mother’s house, and we recorded it inside of a closet. I let the record company hear it, and that song ended up being the song that went to number 28 on the charts.
Your musical influences are a complex mixture.
Yes, because I was raised as a Black Latina. My mother was Hispanic and had an accent, so I would get teased in school. My dad was from the country in the South. In the middle, there was church, which is even more complicated because I went to a Catholic school during the week and attended a Baptist church on Sundays. I remember the first time singing in the Catholic choir, and I wanted my Baptist influence to show. The nun came over and said, “No, no, no, no. We don’t do that here.” I said, “Sundays, this is what we do. I just did that yesterday.” My whole life has been a play. It has been theater. I was raised and grew up very differently, with white American or Hispanic American neighbors and all the cultural differences from the South. I was influenced by it all, and it was beautiful. I think that is what makes America what it is.
How old were you when your parents got divorced, and where are they today?
When I was 8, they divorced. My mother passed five years ago, and my father is still well.
Can you tell me about that?
It was extremely traumatic because she was my life and all that I knew. To have that rug pulled up from under you was very traumatic. I have always found music as my one escape; the thing I would do, even Empathy and compassion are cousins to love. Love leads you from the inside. When you look at people, you don’t just see them, but you want to know the backstory behind them because that helps you love them.
What was the largest struggle you faced as a young woman?
It would be having my son when I was 19 and having to make the decision on whether to tour: to spend time with him or to go after a career. I wanted to shelter him, so the last time he was on the road with me was when he was 4 months old. He is in his 20s now, and touring is not a life that he knows.
You had a “village” of support. Who were the “villagers”?
My mother, his grandmother, his father. I had an incredible team of people who saw “me,” even when I didn’t see me. They encouraged me to go for it and told me I could do it. I would not have been able to build the foundation and earlier part of my career without their support.
Your eldest son is almost 26. Where is he today?
He has a degree in finance and is heavy into his profession. He is also drawn to fitness and the wellness lifestyle. He is vegan, and he teaches other people how to do that. That is his world.
You and Michael also have a son?
Yes. For 16 years, the doctors told me that I could not have any more children. When I met Michael, I told him, “I’m going to give you a son.” Six months into it, we were pregnant.
You always knew it would be a son, which is interesting because in the other Inspiring Women’s interview, Kristy Woodson Harvey instinctively knew as well. Your sons are both 9. Now, what is one difference between raising your sons…
I am more present with my second son.
Your 9 year old is in the creative world, specifically into music?
Yes, and he is our biggest critic. He travels with us. He watches other acts perform. He comes to us and tells us what we need to do better.
He will straight out tell us what songs “suck” and what songs are good. He will definitely be involved in music.
Can he sing?
Yes, he can.
Does he have your husband’s voice, your voice, your husband’s lyrics, your lyrics. Is he a complete combination of both?
He’s a complete combination of both.
What is his musical instrument of choice?
He likes the guitar. He really loves film. He wants to do sci-fi films, and he loves horror films. I was petrified when at 5 he was watching “Friday the 13th” dissecting the movie. I said to myself, “I am a terrible parent, and oh God, what are we raising?” But he saw it with different eyes, and he would put music to the art of filmmaking. He would ask, “Why are they using that music? That is not music you use when you’re going to kill someone.” We would ask, “Okay, then what kind of music do you use when you are going to kill someone?” He loves that kind of stuff.
He is very creative.
Yes, very creative.
Twenty-six versus a 9 year old . . . what piece of advice would you give your eldest? Would it be different?
Yes, definitely. It would be because my first son is more like me in a lot of ways. He is very ambitious and a go-getter. I would tell him to take time to enjoy life and not chase after it so hard. He’s such a hard worker. It would be to enjoy right where you are every moment and to be present.
You have taught your sons that there is no “enough”?
I tell my son that he’s more. Enough? What does that mean? I tell them whatever you feel that you can do, go for it . . . whatever your more is, go for it.
Dream big. Did you get that from your mother and your father or both?
Both of my parents and my belief in God. When I look around, I don’t see limitations. There are no limitations in the sky when you are in a plane and you are looking around. If we come from God, when this is all over, we go back into whatever it is. There is no limitation to life because we are ever-evolving.
Did your mother ever remarry?
Is that a sadness for you?
Do you think that the world broke her?
What is teachable from her experience?
To never stop. To never put a period on anything. Love comes in different forms and different people, and you can always find love if you’re open to it. It never ends. My mother had vascular dementia. She struggled many years with her blood pressure. It was just one of those things. She had it, and three weeks later she was gone. She was not sick or anything.
Is that something that affects you daily?
It used to. I was traumatized when she died. But now, I am in a place spiritually where I know she is always around; whether a cardinal or a bluebird appearing.
You have experienced tremendous professional success as well as life hardships; having a child when you were under the age of 20 and the loss of your mother. What was your darkest moment professionally?
When I realized that I did not want to do a deal and I walked away from it. We had just recorded about 50 to 60 songs at Arista Records with Sean Combs. Everyone knows him as Diddy or LOVE now. I remember going to the studio and telling my manager, “I don’t want to do this. I want a different style of music and legacy. Why can’t we blend all these styles of music that I grew up listening to? Why do I have to do this in order to make it? I want to record something completely different.” It was the hardest decision because that was how I was able to provide and take care of my family at the time. It was so hard. It broke me. It really did. I went into therapy with suicidal thoughts and even attempted suicide. But, it shaped me at the same time.
How close were you to suicide?
I was there. I was in a Dallas hospital on a 72-hour watch. I had taken pills. I decided this is it. My son was fine. He would have people to take care of him. I just gave up.
How old were you?
I was 25 or 26 . . . that tender age where you feel like giving up because nothing else is going to work. I have a deep level of compassion for people that go through that.
Depression is evil because of hopelessness. What pulled you out?
God. I am teary-eyed when I think about it. There is a power that is so vast and beyond us. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was in front of a beauty supply store in Florida. I prayed in my car, “God, if you’re real, show up.” I was going inside of the store next door to get some water, and this lady walked outside. She saw me and said, “What are you doing sitting in the car?” I said, “Well, I’m just about to go in there and get some water.” And she said, “No, you were not. Are you new in town?” I was there all by myself in Miami, Florida. She told me her name was Dr. Brown and invited me over to her house for a prayer meeting. She said, “I’m looking at you, and you need to be surrounded by love.” I realized that she was an angel at that time. I didn’t know her, and I did not easily trust others. I went over to her house anyway. The love that I felt from her, all these women, this community, transformed me. I felt God! I felt his presence for the real first time. It was powerful, and it was beautiful. I knew in that moment, that I wanted to stay in that space for the rest of my life, and it is what I did. It brings me a level of joy, satisfaction and gratitude that I can’t put into words. It was such a great moment, and she is still my friend, in her 80s now. She is just a beautiful person.
What resulted from your epiphany?
I started to know God for myself because we can grow up with mama’s idea of God and daddy’s idea of God. But who is God is to you? He is different to all of us. We can sit under the same roof and learn the same Bible verses and learn the same scriptures, but they come to life to all of us differently. I started to see the pages and words live out in practical ways.
When did Michael know you would be his wife?
When he was 9 years old, he saw “Sister Act 2” and says he fell in love with my legs. He told his mother and his dad that I was going to be his wife. When I met them, I learned they sang “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” together to bring happiness into their home. Michael went through his own trauma with his dad at the time.
Can you tell me about the trauma with his father?
His father is wonderful now. And his parents have been married for 30 years, but they had a really rough patch. His dad was an addict, and they ended up going to the House of Ruth to live. He and his siblings were about 12, 13 years of age at that time.
At 19 years old, Michael was in the military and learned to play the piano on one of Saddam Hussein’s palatial pianos. Is his strength his vocals, his music or his lyrics?
His strength is his heart. He leads with his heart with everything. He has taught me to listen to everything. I may not hear from where lyrics and music come, but I hear where the spirit comes. We have a unique way of connecting to one another because everything he does is with his heart. He has one of the biggest hearts ever.
In 2017, he faced the darkness that you faced in Miami. Did he tell you that he was thinking of taking his own life?
He did not. We are so close and were going through therapy together at the VA. I would watch him every day. He is my best friend. I know when he is having a good day or a bad day, and this day was different. He had been struggling for years with really heavy depression. This depression looked different. I just walked up to him and I said, “Look, I know that today is your day. You want to end it today.”
How did you know that? What were the signs?
I’m no expert, but when a person has PTSD, especially a combat veteran, there are levels to it; the stare and the quietness. He is a very joyful guy. He can have really, really dark moments. This was darker than the normal moments where I could help shift the focus, talk to him and say, “Hey, let’s go get some ice cream or watch a movie.” This was different. No movie, ice cream or anything was going to do it. I had to acknowledge that he was in pain, and I saw it. It was deeper than the pain we had dealt with before.
You reached out to the police?
I first called his therapist because I had a relationship with her. She instructed me to call the police. I was going to try to do my thing, which is to talk him through it. The police showed up and said, “We need you here. Just to give yourself five more minutes to process this, to let us talk you through this.” And he did.
Did he tell you how he intended to take his life?
No, I don’t think, from my own experience, when you decide that “this is it,” you have a plan.
Is it a moment that comes over you and is outside of your control?
It is that moment. I don’t think anyone intentionally tries to kill themselves. You don’t wake up thinking this is the day it’s going to happen. Things just happen that flood your brain, and you just can’t control it and ends up with you taking your life.
How are things today?
We are in lightness now. Depression, PTSD is an ongoing journey. You have to acknowledge that it is always there. It is the little pink elephant in the room for us. We watch each other, our team watches for it; we all know that it’s there. That is what love does; love acknowledges their pain. We protect, and we support. There are things that happened that he doesn’t share. If any combat veteran is watching, they don’t share because they don’t want to go that deep and relive what they experienced. Yet, those things are in his mind. And I’m not privileged to the scenes that are replaying from whatever he saw in the war.
The War and Treaty. How did that come about?
My brother and I were working on a duo project, and my brother couldn’t make it to a rehearsal one day. Michael added his vocal, and a friend heard us and said, “You guys are great together.” She invited us to a church service, and Michael wrote this song called “I Am Love,” but it wasn’t a Christian song; the word sexy was in the song. How are we going to get up in front of a church and say the word sexy in front of the pastor? We sang the song.
Did you move the parishioners?
It was unbelievable! We got a standing ovation for our first time singing this kind of song together with our harmonies. We decided that was going to be it. On that particular Sunday morning in a church singing a song with sexy in it, we decided that was it.
How did you come about performing as the first African American duet on the ACM awards show with Dierks Bentley?
We met Dierks at the Country Music Hall of Fame. We were inducting Dottie West, and he was inducting Ricky Skaggs. We exchanged numbers and became friends. He invited us out to his festival, which is called Seven Peaks out in Colorado. Michael, being the person that he is, is always checking up on friends and making sure everyone’s okay. I’m the same way. We would check up on each other during the pandemic. Covid-19 hit artists of all statures, both emotionally and psychologically, and we’re all going through this together. When we can’t do what we were put here to do, it is very hard. We became really, really close friends, just checking up on each other’s families and things. Dierks sent us a text message one day, I guess, about three weeks ago and asked us if we would do the ACM awards show, and we freaked out!
How did that work in a three-week time span?
We had a small rehearsal, probably about an hour. We were all together in Nashville, and we went through the song a couple of times, and that was it.
Were you pleased with your performance?
There’s nothing more magical than being able to sing on stage with your best friend. Whenever I get an opportunity to do that, it is amazing, and being with my husband is at the forefront of my mind. Everything we have gone through together and the barriers God has allowed us to break together, every moment is special. Knowing that we are the first African American couple to do this show, I felt the spirit of all the ancestors, not just people that look like me, but all the people who fought for this moment to happen. I felt it, and it was wonderful.
So what’s next for The War and Treaty and you?
I don’t know because again, you can’t put a limitation on the sky. You can create vision boards, but everything I have ever put on my vision board has happened. Goals that I wanted to reach; I have reached them. Now I take the lid off, I’m here to be used in any way, and anything God wants us to do, let’s do it.
How many songs are in the pipeline?
Michael is a prolific writer with probably 10 songs a day. Songwriting is part of his therapy with PTSD. I don’t write as much, but since we started the writing process, I’ve collaborated with him on maybe four or five songs. We have the vision for the band, and now we are being more intentional with certain songs.
Why do you perform so much?
There is the healing aspect to performing. People need it, we need it. The pandemic taught me I would do this in my kitchen if two people were there that needed to be healed. If it meant us coming back out (which I think a lot of artists are going to have to do) and playing smaller venues, that is fine. You have to know you were put here to do music to heal. If that’s one person, that’s great. That’s why we do it; that’s why we do it all the time.
Do you ever get tired of it?
How do you pick which songs to record?
That’s always tricky because music speaks to people in different ways. You can’t tell until you’re in front of an audience, and you have to watch what’s happening in the world.
Is that one of the reasons performing is so important?
Yes, because that’s the feedback. Every song we’ve ever recorded, we performed it live for like a year, and the audience will tell you if they like it. If they’re quiet, you know. They’re the best test. We have about 25 songs for a new record that we’re working on and will start performing. Once we decide what the audience likes, we’ll go to the record label and see how they respond. We co-produced and produced our last record on our own.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Being authentic. Not being in a box and being triumphant through it all.
Are you ever afraid?
Oh yeah. I’m afraid of heights. The thing that I was most afraid of happening in my life happened when my mom died. My biggest fear was to go through that.
Once you faced that?
I can do anything now . . . Besides losing my Michael and my sons.
What piece of advice would you give a younger woman, a younger you?
Learn all that you can about whatever it is that you want to master. Be the best at it because you’re going to face challenges as a woman in the world that we live in. At the same time, know how to have relationships with men because you’re going to have to work with both.
Do you believe that you can create your future through your thought process?
Yes. The mind is so powerful, and we are all energy. Whatever you think energetically, it will attract itself to you. If you think something every day, something happens where the universe will open up the door, and it just happens. Now you have to do the work. You have to rehearse and practice and do all the things you can physically do in your body. There are two elements of life that are working for you; the physical self and the spiritual self. And when they come together . . . oh, is it a good thing.