By Noe Gutierrez
She first moved to Palm Springs in 2008 and performed at Open Call at McCallum Theatre where she won ‘Best Vocals’. She was recently honored by Desert Theatre League with the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Desert Star Awards. She was also inducted into the Palm Springs Walk of the Stars on January 17, 2020, and probably one of her proudest achievements, receiving the Shiny Apple Award for her years of service in mentoring high school students throughout Palm Springs Unified School District.
The wonderful human mentioned above will be receiving the ICON Award at the 2020 Coachella Valley Music Awards for her years of dedication to the Coachella Valley and her undying contribution to the world of music and theater. I am, of course, speaking about the undeniable Keisha D.
When you mention the name Keisha D., what follows is a flood of feelings that evoke soulful vocalist, humanitarian, faithful woman and perpetually loving individual. Born and raised in Hollywood, California, she started singing as a child and by her teens was singing in the church and touring with the gospel group Hilltop Faith. She was awarded a full scholarship to Azusa Pacific University where she studied classical music and received another partial scholarship in musical theatre from the California Baptist University. When she had children, Keisha continued to tour Jazz festivals and fairs. Keisha has performed in numerous plays at Palm Canyon Theatre, Desert Theatreworks, and Desert Ensemble.
Coachella Valley Weekly is extremely honored to edify this beautiful soul by presenting to Keisha D. the CVMA 2020 ICON Award. Below is our recent conversation with Keisha D.
CVW: Congratulations on receiving the 2020 ICON Award, I know it comes at a tough time but you are so deserving.
Keisha: “Thank you so much! I’m blown away, this valley has been so good to me. I never thought of all these things, these wonderful accolades. I appreciate it. It’s nice. I don’t know if I’ll go back to entertaining. It looks like probably not, so what a way to go for my career to come to some kind of closure, it’s really nice.”
CVW: What was your reaction when Tracy (CV Weekly Publisher) first notified you and after some time for it sink in, how are you feeling now about the award now?
Keisha: “When Tracy said the words I was just quiet, and she responded, ‘Hello?’ I was crying, I couldn’t get my breath. I was so shocked. It’s just amazing. I was blown away. I hope I represented our community of musicians in a good light. I’m glad that they feel that I’m worthy of something like that. I hope that people will take something from what I’ve been doing in music, that they love it just as much as I do. I hope it gives people a shot in the arm to keep going for their dreams.”
CVW: You started to sing Gospel in your teenage years. What do you remember about your beginnings?
Keisha: “I started this at 14 years old. I sang for huge crowds early on. At 16 I sang at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, CA and it holds thousands of people. I began singing on that kind of scale and meeting all kinds of people and thinking, ‘I love this!’ I don’t know why I never got status like Madonna, maybe God didn’t think I could handle it, I don’t know, but the life He has given me to share music has been phenomenal.”
CVW: I know that when artists begin their passion singing for God, they have a unique understanding of music and performance.
Keisha: “That is all the glory right there. Sometimes people don’t understand that they lose the genuine love for music when money is the motivating force. I never thought about becoming famous, I always thought about giving the best message I could possible give. Even if I’m singing secular music, I’m trying to send the best message I can.”
CVW: After singing for the church you gravitated toward bars and clubs. How different was that?
Keisha: “I got into the secular realm because I was 16 and started sneaking into the clubs. They said, ‘you’re supposed to be 21’ and I said, ‘I just want to sing, just a few numbers’. They said, ‘alright, alright, c’mon’. That was back in the day when they weren’t inspecting or watching. I wasn’t trying to drink or be a grown-up, I wanted to be a musician, I wanted to sing. That’s how I broke into it, once I was of age I started booking my own shows, then I took some time off, went back into the church, raised my kids to a certain age, about junior high and continued to work for the church, once the kids were old enough I went back to secular.”
CVW: Can you tell us about your children and grandchildren?
Keisha: “The kids are fantastic. Everybody’s so close knit. I have three kids, my oldest is 34 and I have a 29 and 26 year old who live in desert. I have grandchildren; a one year old grandson, a 5 and 3 year old, Aiden, who is 13 and Kiah is 17. We have a lot of love and fun times. We don’t know any different. That’s all we know is to be there for each other. It’s not gonna change. They are the most important thing. I told my family, if nothing else, make sure you give love, you treat people with positivity, you treat people with kindness, there’s nothing better. It’s easy. It’s so hard to be ugly. It’s so hard to be mean. Do you know how much energy that takes? Just don’t do it.”
CVW: Some may not be aware of your current health issues. Would you like to share about where you are in your treatment?
Keisha: “I take it day by day, I need prayer. I need love and positivity. They think they may have got the cancer in a state of remission; however, I have autoimmune disease which is worse than the cancer at this point. I suffer from systemic lupus and gastric autoimmune disease. It has formed a band around my chest area and my rib cage, I feel like I’m being strangled by a python, it’s just a tightness in my chest, a tightness in my back, I suffer from very bad stabbing body pain all day every day. Obviously, it makes it difficult to sing, it’s devastating. I’ve recorded a couple of videos this year trying to see what I have stamina-wise and just getting through those few songs took a lot out of me. I’m working with the doctors, they’re trying to see what they can do to see if we can do something that can reverse the damage that is happening, but I have lived with systemic lupus most of my life, 25 years or so. I’ve had a really good run with this disease. It just happens. This is what it is. This is what happens as time goes on. I’ve survived it much longer than a lot of people. And now it’s coming to fruition and coming to a point in my life, this is where we’re at. Unfortunately, these past couple of weeks has been very difficult. Right now I’m kind of holding on to see if we can turn this around and get me better.”
CVW: I understand how difficult this question might be; if you are unable to perform again due to your health, what will you miss the most?
Keisha: “I will so miss all the wonderful people you meet show after show. It’s just incredible when you’re all said and done and it’s all over and people come up to you and they talk to you about their daughter who sings or that they sing. I’ll really miss the people. I’ll miss being able to share with people. I’ll miss people coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, I was having a bad day today’ or ‘I had a bad week and I came out Saturday night to hear you sing and I feel better’ or ‘that song you sang touched my heart’ that all makes me feel so happy.”
CVW: Your husband has been the primary support for you as you have battled cancer, systemic lupus and gastric autoimmune disease. What would you like to share about him?
Keisha: “He’s holding up really well. There are times when I go and stay with my mom for weeks at a time to give him a break. My mom will take care of me, it requires, right at this point, I need help. I’ve been able to at least go and quarantine with her or quarantine here. God bless him, he told me ‘I don’t want to lose my woman’. He needs to rest. In the evening times it’s really hard for me, it’s harder in the nighttime than the day. He gets a chance to relax and sleep and not be up and down with me. He’s been my rock. All these years he’s done the sound for me. When I have a show, he shows up two hours ahead of show time, sets everything up, makes sure the sound is level, even if it’s not us setting up the sound, he’ll still go and say, ‘this is the way she likes for it to sound, this is the way it needs to be’. He’s always had my back.”
CVW: You started The Keisha D. Scholarship, an endowment through the Palm Springs Unified School District that grants assistance to under-served minority students who are interested in pursuing an education in music and performing arts. How did that idea develop?
Keisha: “When I started the scholarship program with PSUSD I wanted to make sure that other kids would have an opportunity to go to a university, and have a chance to study music and buy instruments they would need. I would be able to give back and that could be something that can constantly give every year. It started about two years ago. When I was first becoming ill, I cut back on singing quite a bit. I had been mentoring with PSUSD for almost 16 years. I started watching my kids when they were in high school and I saw that they didn’t have a lot of help in the arts department. I saw the Jazz band teacher with all these kids but no help. So I’m home during the day, I thought, I’ve got the time, hey, if you need me to help work with your kids, I’ll come to the school, use me, tell me what you need. I can take the singer to the side and help her with her diction or help her learn songs. That’s how it kind of started. I decided to mentor and it took off from there. When I realized that I couldn’t really do a lot anymore, I said, ‘well let’s do the scholarship so that every year we can make sure a deserving kid gets help with their classes’. I’m really happy and proud of that.”
CVW: Do you have any messages you’d like to send out to anyone?
Keisha: “I do want to mention the fact that working here with the Hearts of Soul and Philly Joe Littel, my music director and guitarist, made my dream come true of becoming a band. Malcolm Turner, Joel Atkins, Tony Bolivar and Gilbert Hansen, those cats just really turned it around for me. Being able to take music and create it the way I would like to hear it arranged and to perform it the way I feel it and they loved it as well. I just really want to put a huge shout-out, emphasis heartfelt love and thank you to helping my career in this desert and also thank you to Michael Holmes owner at The Purple Room Supper Club. I would like to mention how blessed and honored I am to have performed on that stage. It’s like no other. I would also like to thank the ‘Bella da Ball’ Brian Wanzek.
Ultimately, I thank all the fans, all the people who have come out all these years to support me, hear the music and enjoy the music.”
CVW: Do you have any new music projects currently?
Keisha: “I’m working on a ‘Keisha D. Live’ album. We’ve taken the performances from all the different live venues and we’ll put it into CD form. Part of the proceeds will go to the scholarship. We’re putting that together as we speak. I was at the studio yesterday listening to the music trying to decide what we will include. There will be about 12 songs and they are all recorded at different venues in the desert.”
CVW: You have relied on your faith to endure these difficult times and you are vocal about it. Can you explain more what it means to you to ‘walk in faith’?
Keisha: “That is my umber one that’s carried me through, my faith.
The reason that I feel I have the confidence that I have and the way I operate the way I do is because I know in the ultimate scheme of things, God is in control and not me, that’s the difference. I’ve had a couple of entertainers say to me, ‘I saw you let someone share the stage with you. Man, I would never do that, what if they tried to out-sing you?’ I thought to myself, ‘what?’ Then they said, ‘my ego would never allow me’, I thought to myself, ‘my stage is for everybody, it’s a platform to be able to share and create, and if I don’t let God have control, why am I even up there?’ That’s why I think the way I think.”
Keisha D. asks that you continue to support The Keisha D. Scholarship. Learn more about how to support it below:
Please send any thoughts, prayers and well wishes here: