Twenty-five gigs. That’s how many bookings Lisa Bello has lost in the wake of coronavirus.
Last week, she’d lost 12. Now, with confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Massachusetts climbing past 300, she’s out of work through June. As a full-time singer, songwriter, and voice-over artist, music is her passion.
Born in Jamaica Plain and raised in Hyde Park, Bello was just 10-years-old when she learned this was her dream. On a UMass Dartmouth stage she belted lyrics like, “I wanna stay by your side, be there to call you up, and let you know everything will be all right.”
Bello was singing Brandy’s 1994 hit, “I Wanna Be Down” at a UMass Dartmouth talent show her brother — then a freshman — had invited her to. She has the kind of voice that comes from the spirit world. She sings with her soul.
“My dad would tell me it’s not about me,” she says of her talent. “It’s about the feeling it gives other people. Even on days when I was nervous or I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right, it’s this whole idea of us being vessels. This gift is not mine to hoard like people are doing with toilet paper and food. This gift is to make sure other people get to share in the light.”
Her music has been so steady and successful that in 2017 she was able to leave her 15-year career as a Timilty Middle School special education teacher and focus solely on songs. She moved to New York with her six-year-old son Cassius, released her EP “Tommy Boy,” and only recently returned to Boston last October, still maintaining an apartment in Brooklyn.
From covers of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” to “No Diggity” by Blackstreet to her own raspy, bittersweet originals like “Ain’t it Something,” she sings at brunches, parties, clubs, corporate events, and weddings. At least that’s what life looked like when this month first started.
Over the last two weeks, she’s gone from weekly gigs to live-streaming at-home concerts with her brother and a friend on Instagram to help raise money for independent musicians. The first concert raised $3,500, and they were able to give the money to artists in need, keeping none of the proceeds.
“Here, I live with my mother and father, they are young in mind but over 70. I have a place to stay. I don’t worry about rent," says Bello, 37. "A lot of musicians don’t have money to eat. I would be selfish, it would be that hoarding mentality, if I were not doing this for other people. I am not going into panic mode right now.”
But Bello’s making some changes. She’s giving online voice lessons and teaching general education classes for her friends’ children. She’s teaching her son how to play piano. She’s letting go of bi-state living. And she’s going to start releasing singles for $1 to raise more money for musicians. And next month, she’ll release her self-titled album.
Her mom thought social distancing might force her to get a more traditional job. Bello says that’s not the case. Her next Instagram concert is Monday.
“This has propelled me to never, ever work another 9-to-5 again. I have no idea how short my life is going to be, especially now, so I am going to keep doing my art," she says. "It makes people very, very happy. It makes me very happy. And I really find solace in the fact that we are all going through this together. We all have to climb out of this ditch, eventually.”
Melisa “Meli” Valdez is going to dance up out that ditch of social distancing. For the cardio dance instructor, all this time at home is motivating her to find new ways to move.
“I really feel like I was born with dance,” says Valdez, 34. “At every family party, we danced. I was always dancing and being the center of attention and I couldn’t wait to go to the next family gathering so we could all dance together and show out. It’s just like my happiness, you know what I mean?”
Anyone who has ever seen her dance knows it’s like watching a shooting star or the first set of sunflowers bloom. She’s a burst of golden energy. Before she became lead instructor of Roxbury fitness studio, Trillfit, she taught Zumba. She once toured with Elvis Costello, N.O.R.E., R&B artist Joe, and up until a week ago, was paid to dance at Boston’s Mariel lounge and teach private dance classes.
Coronavirus changed that. Trillfit closed its doors on Sunday for the safety of its clients and staff. Valdez will continue to receive her salary as the studio launches free digital classes, but the coronavirus, Valdez says, has opened her eyes.
“We’ve always been told to have money on the side, to have a stash,” she says. “But you can’t really prepare for a pandemic. All of my side gigs are shut down. I’m aware I am being taken care of but it’s also a small business, a start-up, and it affects everything.”
Days before the city started to shut down as cases climbed into the hundreds and Mayor Marty Walsh declared a public health emergency, Trillfit had celebrated 50 straight days of sold-out classes, a huge feat for the boutique fitness studio just a little over a year old.
Valdez went from teaching one to three classes a day to sitting at home in Back Bay in front of her computer brainstorming Trillfit’s next moves.
Now, they are launching free digital classes on YouTube and live-experiences on Zoom.
“We don’t want to capitalize off the moment,” says Valdez. “I want to make my time in my house useful. I’ve worked so much. I am going to take this time and focus on maintaining my mental health, on reorganizing, on getting to that stack of papers I keep saying I’m going to go through, on planning for the worst case scenario.”
It’s hard to say how much harder things might get. There’s a shortage of tests, a lack of protective gear for hospital workers, the number of coronavirus cases gets higher by the day, and business might not resume in April as expected.
‘“It’s very much out of our control,” says Valdez. “But I can’t stay at home crying and frustrated about what I cannot do anything about. I’m going to stay hopeful and figure out this new routine.”’
“It’s very much out of our control,” she says. “But I can’t stay at home crying and frustrated about what I cannot do anything about. I’m going to stay hopeful and figure out this new routine.”
But it’s a big adjustment. She’s only a few days in of being in isolation, and she misses going to see her mom and grandmother in Milford. She misses being in front of a classroom full of clients or on stage at the lounge. She isn’t used to not having people around.
“I feed off that energy,” she says. “I love it. We’re going to get over this hiccup. We just have to stay positive and stay creative.”
Even when it feels like the whole world is shutting down, we have to turn the music up and learn to live to a new tune. We’re still here.