Malina Moye: The Woman, The Gift, Her Story
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ISAIAH MAYS
Nothing introduces us to ourselves like the trials and tribulations of life. Nothing makes us trust God more than seeing Him keep His promise. No one knows this better than Malina Moye, who courageously left Minnesota in 2004 headed to Los Angeles with twenty dollars to her name and a treasure trove of promises that she would not let God forget He made to her.
Determined that no one would put their label on her, Malina Moye, 36, followed the dictates of her own mind to become one of the top female guitarists in the world. Never mind, she's left-handed. Never mind, she plays upside down. Never mind, it was quite unusual in the industry for a Black woman to hold her own on stage with a bunch of male musicians when she started; this singer, songwriter, actress, and philanthropist put her foot on the gas, created her own lane and drove nonstop in the direction of her own heartbeat.
Born in Ohio but raised in Minnesota by a father and mother who were established musicians who always had different musicians in their home, the vibration of music filled the rooms of Moye's home with the same consistency that breath filled her body. When she started imitating her mother, Scelesteen Moye, who was a singer and a drummer, the question wasn't if Malina would play an instrument, but when. To fast-track when her father, bass player and guitarist, George Moye, also known as Dr. Funk in the music world, put a guitar in his only daughter's hands at eight years old.
Shortly after that, Malina and her brothers joined their mom and dad to start a family band. Things were going well. The band was in demand. The family found themselves traveling from one gig to the next, doing what they enjoyed. Then it happened, the wheels of more started turning. The notion that something else is out there began to command space in Moye's consciousness. And because she knew to respect the voice and longing of her spirit, she knew that she had no other choice but to honor what she heard.
Led by her spirit, Moye visited California the first-time alone courtesy of a plane ticket purchased by a friend to get a feel for things. The second time, her mother, who was not completely thrilled, but also not one to hold her children back, drove to California with her. In addition to wishing Malina well before returning to Minnesota, Mrs. Moye reminded Malina that if times got hard, she could always sleep in the car. Well, times did get hard. Sleeping on a friend's couch ran its course. And Malina did, in fact, find herself sleeping in the car.
“People always put labels on you. Everybody's playing blues and neo-soul. You have to know who you are. I'm the person who has to create my own lane. There is no prejudice in notes. Music has no prejudice.”
Hitting the Road & Creating Own Lane
Interestingly enough, between the knife, the Bible, and the faith she slept with during those daunting nights in the car, Moye never allowed herself to become too discouraged. "I knew what He promised me. God always made a way. I had the kind of luck where a twenty-dollar bill would be laying on the ground at an ATM." And of her sense of certainty about who she was and what she wanted, Moye adds, "My mind is trained to remember the things I read or was exposed to."
Swathed in this training and a boatload of determination, Moye hit the ground running. During the day, she looked for work. Sometimes this meant parking her car illegally or at meters that she couldn't afford to feed. Yet to avoid incurring any unnecessary expenses, her survival nature inclined her to post a sign in the window that read: "BROKEN. DON'T TOW." Because Moye understood that she had to do what she had to do until she could do what she wanted to do, Moye worked a telemarketing job...even as she played her guitar. She took pictures and ended up selling some to a guy for five hundred dollars to test a calendar idea...even as she played her guitar. She then took the five hundred dollars and created a calendar. She used the computer at work to search and download information for stores that would buy calendars. Selling calendars yielded more income. More income yielded more stability.
While meandering through opportunities that were a means to an end and setting herself up to do music full time, Moye stayed true to the roadmap in her head. Within the same year she relocated to Los Angeles, she founded WCE Records. And when asked if she found it challenging to synchronously get acclimated to a new city while starting a record label, Moye said, "It wasn't hard. I always had the foresight of what I wanted to do. I knew so much already because of playing with my family." From the outside, it appeared that Moye came to Los Angeles pretty empty-handed. The reality is that she came to Los Angeles with more than the eye could see. And as it began to be obvious just how much talent she did possess and how much she did already know, the universe put a spotlight on Moye that garnered her attention she didn't even have to go searching for.
The word got out that there was a tiny, left-handed, beautiful Black woman who could sing, write songs, and play the guitar—upside down, mind you—with a stage presence all her own. Then to take the element of surprise to another level, Moye, who was also known to play blues and neo-soul, made Rock and Soul her sweet spot. Why? Because as she says, "People always put labels on you. Everybody's playing blues and neo-soul. You have to know who you are. I'm the person who has to create my own lane. There is no prejudice in notes. Music has no prejudice."
Influenced by Gospel blues singer, guitarist, and queer woman, Rosetta Tharpe, Moye's talent, confidence, and style grew to historic proportions. She became the first African American left-handed upside-down female guitarist endorsee to join the Fender Guitar family. A little over ten years ago, she became the first African American woman guitarist to play the National Anthem at a major sporting event (Vikings vs. Cowboys NFL football game). She was the first female to be invited to join the Experience Hendrix Tour. She had the honor of playing for the Queen of England for her 60th Year Jubilee. And in November 2020, she was selected to be in the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum exhibit, "Right Here, Rock Now," where her infamous jacket and guitar are on display. Gibson TV and Jamie Hendrix also asked her to narrate a Gibson TV piece about Jimi Hendrix's customized 1969 Flying V guitar and his 1967 SG custom guitar.
In addition to these amazing honors, Moye has been lauded by Huffington Post, Seventeen Magazine, and Parade Magazine. Guitar Magazine has dubbed her World's Top Guitarist, and Billboard Magazine calls her K-yotic collaboration with Bootsy Collins "explosive." In August 2020, Moye was named among the “13 Most Iconic Left-Handed Guitarists of All Time.”
What's equally intriguing about Moye's catalog of accolades is with so much life ahead of her, it could be said that she's just getting started. More lanes are opening all the time. As an actress, she has appeared in several movies with the latest films, 10E and Burn, having been released in 2019.
As a philanthropist, she founded the nonprofit Drive Hope Foundation to open the minds of underserved youth and encourage them to follow their passion. And as a singer and songwriter, she recently penned the song Enough, which was inspired by an experience where someone made her feel like she didn't matter, and she didn't count. Moye recalls that after she stopped crying, it took her only fifteen minutes to write Enough. Overcome with hurt; she says of the experience, "It made me feel like my crown fell off. Then I came to myself and realized there is no way I can be playing second fiddle when I know I'm worth so much.”
A Woman & Her History
It was this self-assured Malina Moye that podcast host Clifton Moseley encountered three years ago when he saw her on stage playing an electric guitar with her left hand next to Grammy-winning bass player Stanley Clarke. Never forgetting the uniqueness of Moye, Moseley spotlighted her on the WE LUVV RARE GROOVES podcast in October 2020. Recollecting his conversation with her, he says, "What struck me about Malina Moye is she's a very smart, independent woman who knows the business and knows her history. She knows she has higher ground to achieve."
Moseley believes that the historic election of the first female Vice President of the United States of America all but demands that Women's History Month is celebrated with a stepped-up, more nuanced emphasis on the spectrum of female excellence. To this end, WE LUVV RARE GROOVES will host its inaugural Women's History Month Spotlight of African American Female Artists featuring the likes of guitarist Malina Moye (confirmed), keyboardist Patrice Rushen (to be confirmed), drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (to be confirmed), and completing the lineup with other strings and horns greats.
Represent the House
When asked how it feels to be in her skin right now, Moye responded, "When you leave the house, you represent the house. I just always want to represent the house. My heroes are Prince and Michael Jackson. I just hope that people take [from my music] what they need to understand their worth. God knows my heart, and if tomorrow everything left me, I could always rebuild it. So, it's about appreciating who you are and what you have."
When asked about not being able to perform in person as a result of the 2020 pandemic, Moye said, "I miss the energy. Every venue has its own spirit as well as the people in each city. You don't realize how much you miss it until you can't do it." As the dwelling place for ingenuity that she is, Moye used this time of pivot to her advantage, turning her attention to other projects. In addition to working on a new album coming out in 2021, the Malina Moye Story is in development, and she's currently working with two major brands: Fender and Experience Hendrix, LLC.
I must say that the big, bright, captivating smile that spreads effortlessly across Moye's beautiful face is matched only by the joy of experiencing her beautiful spirit.