Wennely Quezada, 13, is building a name for herself in Eastern Jackson County, having performed at Kauffman Stadium, Missouri Mavericks games, the Independence Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and the opening day ceremonies for the Independence School District.
A couple of years ago, Wennely Quezada begged her mother to let her participate in karaoke night at a restaurant.
Wennely, then 10 years old, even had a song picked out: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” from the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls.”
“What? That is a very strong song. You’re not going to be able to make it. People are going to throw tomatoes at you,” Wennely’s mother, Meryci, remembers as her response.
But Wennely took the microphone anyway. Her mother was left speechless.
Out of a petite girl came the voice of a grown woman. Many in attendance at the restaurant thought the singing was a recording.
“I just started crying,” Meryci said. “Everybody noticed I was surprised as well, and then people came to me and said, ‘You didn’t know she could sing?’”
Now 13 and a seventh grader at Bridger Middle School in Independence, Wennely is building a name for herself in Eastern Jackson County, having performed at Kauffman Stadium, Missouri Mavericks games, the Independence Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and the opening day ceremonies for the Independence School District.
“The first time, at the opening ceremony, I was a chicken,” Wennely said. “I was scared. It was my first time getting up in front of thousands of people, and I was terrified.
“But when I got up there, and I finished, I just let go. I was really proud of myself.”
On Monday evening, Wennely sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the city of Independence’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. program. Before she could complete the song’s final note, those in attendance offered a standing ovation, clapping and whistling.
“They told me she could sing. They didn’t say she sang,” said the Rev. Clarence Newton, the evening’s master of ceremonies, placing special emphasis on the word “sang.”
It's a gift
In subtle ways, music has played a key role in Wennely’s life since her early childhood.
She learned her ABC’s by Meryci singing them to her. Wennely sang songs to family members in Spanish when she was still a toddler. Both of Wennely’s parents immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic when they were teenagers.
“But I never realized the type of voice that she would develop,” Meryci said.
One of Wennely’s teachers at Luff Elementary School encouraged the girl’s parents to further their daughter’s musical gift. Wennely is now active at Music Arts Institute in Independence.
She also got an electronic piano for Christmas and is teaching herself how to play by ear.
Wennely draws inspiration from many well-known names in today’s music industry, including Alicia Keys, Taylor Swift, One Direction and the late Whitney Houston. She’s also a fan of Justin Bieber, who was discovered, by way of a YouTube video, five years ago when he was Wennely’s age.
Page 2 of 2 - She holds the same aspiration. Wennely said her dream is to get a call from a producer one day, offering her a record contract.
Meryci described today’s music industry in one word: Scary. People have already approached Meryci and Odali Quezada, Wennely’s father, at karaoke events, introducing themselves as producers and expressing interest in Wennely’s singing.
Those business cards get thrown away, Meryci said. If Wennely ever did receive a legitimate record contact, Meryci said she’d need some time to think it through and research.
“I’ve told her, ‘It’s a gift. What you have is a gift,’” Meryci said. “I’ve told her, ‘Enjoy it now, because if it becomes a job, you’ll hate it. Right now, enjoy it because it’s your passion and people are inviting you and you like it.’”
At home onstage
College is still a ways off, but Wennely hopes to one day study music and acting, in addition to learning more languages. She said she wants to succeed, but even at 13, she knows some distinction between success and fame.
“I want to become a singer,” Wennely said, “not just for the money and the cars and the fame, but I want to be a singer because I like it. I don’t want all that stuff. I just like it. I enjoy it.”
Last spring, Wennely did audition in Kansas City for “The X Factor,” a TV music competition show. She advanced through the first two auditions, but a family trip to Nebraska, with little cellphone reception, prevented Wennely from finding out if she made it further.
Being onstage, Wennely said, “feels like home.”
“When I’m sitting down, I start sweating,” she said, “but when I get up onstage, it’s ‘bam.’”
Wennely has been teased and bullied in school because of her tiny frame, but when she sings, her mother says, the frustration is let out.
“She wants people to see that it doesn’t matter how tiny you are,” Meryci said. “You can still be you and you can still have a talent.”