But, like some artistic reactor of talent, she has been lending her creative energies to some of the biggest stars in pop and soul music for a while. She co-wrote certified hits with the likes of Kanye West and the matriarch herself, Ms. Mary J. Blige.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with a young woman whose name is held in high regard in the eyes of many. After our conversation the sum rose to many, plus one. You may not have known it, but the week of September 9 through 14 is considered Suicide Prevention Week. In fact, that was the initial reason Starshell and I conducted the interview. Not her album, not her clothing line, but Suicide Prevention Week. That fact spoke volumes.
“Starshell is actually my sister’s name,” said Star…um, I meant LeNeah Menzies. “So, after my sister passed away, I took her name as a tribute to her and in honor of her. After I took her name as my stage name I found out that a starshell is actually a beacon of light that illuminates battlefields during a time of darkness and that is kind of my mission. To be a beacon of light. To be bring like to this cause, this industry and this world.”
Suicide has been on the minds of many in the media these days, especially with the recent death of actor Lee Thomas Young (“Rizzoli & Isles”, “The Famous Jett Jackson”). Starshell says she found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention a few years ago, and immediately discovered their cause was one she wanted to help advance.
“About two years ago I had heard about two different foundations,” said Starshell. “I really liked what AFSP stood for and I liked a lot of the programs they were advocating. So, I decided to reach out. The first time we were able to really link up was about two months ago. I told them I was very sympathetic to their cause and that I had lost my sister to suicide. So, I spoke, I performed “Birthday Girl”, I have a song out called “My Star” that is dedicated to my sister. So, it was kind of organic.”
Without burning a hole in Wikipedia, I can tell you with absolutely certainty that most of us have lost family members, be they of the immediate branch or distant, to suicide. My family is no different from yours in that regard. But, despite its prevalence, people tend to not want to discuss such things. If the 21st century has taught me anything thus far it is this, what is taboo today may not necessarily be as taboo tomorrow.
“Suicide is one of those topics that is still very taboo,” said Starshell. “In this day and age we have kind of gotten over everything else. We talk about HIV and AIDS thanks to Magic Johnson coming out and talking about it all those years ago. The gay, lesbian and transgender community has really banded together over the last 10 years on suicide awareness as well. There’s a huge LGBT community that embrace suicide prevention. They also embrace anti-bullying. There’s a lot of programs out there like that. But I say all that to say there aren’t a lot of mainstream foundations that are about suicide prevention , awareness, activation and causes because it’s still taboo.”
“It’s one of those things where people feel like, if you’re popular and pretty and have a job ‘What? Suicide?’ It is a taboo issue for the mainstream. The AFSP is one of the only organizations that is not gay, lesbian and transgender oriented. Through my platform I can talk to young girls and other people who, quote unquote, have no problems. I feel like everyone has been there, knows someone who has gone through it, and we should open this conversation.”
When a family loses a loved one to suicide the emotional blow is devastating, but that affect is largely to be expected. But the psychological trauma could go on for years if not identified. This is especially so when considering the angst and lengths associated with families dealing with or preventing thier business from being “All over the streets”.
“When my sister committed suicide, she was in the next room,” said Starshell. “I walked in the room while she was writing the note and she carried on as if nothing was wrong. She was like ‘Hey, get out of my room!’ and since I was her younger sister I thought nothing of it. Afterwards I was like ‘Why didn’t I recognize anything? Why didn’t she talk to me?’ I didn’t know my own sister was going through something like that right then and there. I thought of things like ‘Why didn’t I hear something when she hung herself?’ I tormented myself and I know everyone else who lost someone to suicide goes through the same thing.I would tell those that it was not their fault. I believe that everybody who has lost someone like that ,especially a sibling, feels as if they could have done something to prevent it. That aspect of it is, basically, they don’t understand why.”
The individual sibling is clearly affected more often than not, but the entire family unit can be emotionally compromised as well.
“Also, for the family it becomes, ‘What’s wrong with their family?’ coming from people from the outside looking in. ‘Why didn’t she reach out to her family for help?’ and it just goes on and on. Then you have to deal with the feelings of embarrassment. It’s not only something for people going through emotional crisis. It’s something that’s more normal than what society thinks. It’s so taboo and you have this crazy problem if you even think about it. Not true! If you take 10 people, nine of them have probably contemplated it at one time or another. Seriously, if you just went by the thought crossing someone’s mind, we’ve all been touched at one time or another.”
“It’s the second leading cause of death for people between ages 18-33 in this country. That is something that needs to be talked about. In the music industry alone we’ve lost three people to suicide within the last two years and no one talks about it. Why? These are the questions I am trying to provoke. Suicidal thoughts are not only for people battling with their sexuality or who come from broken homes. I’m trying to break that stigma and get the conversation started.”
I believe that the AFSP has found themselves an ally for life. Her passion for their cause is palpable. But what good is support when it comes from a celebrity who very few people realize is one? Starshell’s first song off her upcoming album is titled “Birthday Girl”. She released “My Star” co-written by Ne-Yo, in June 2013. While we humbly awaited her opus, Starshell was simply trying to discover exactly what it was she wanted to tell the world.
“That’s the goal because, you know , it’s what I love. It’s my passion. I’ve been signed to Matriarch since 2010, and Interscope since 2011. I’ve been signed for two years and it has not been until now that I really knew what I want to say and who I am as an artist. It’s different writing for other people and kind of being in the background than it is being in the forefront performing. I’m glad I took the time to get groomed and now I’m ready. I think it was a necessary time frame.”
Matriarch Record is owned by Mary J. Blige and one can’t possibly come up with a better name for a label with MJB’s name attached to it. I ask her of some of the benefits of being Mary’s ingenue.
“A lot of people ask me that. The answer is picture perfect. It was a dream come true. When I was younger I looked up to Mary and I still look up to her. I always looked up to those, you know, nineties type of people. They paved the way for us. I’m a huge fan, she was my idol and she still is. But now she’s a great friend and it’s a dream come true because she gives me advice and she’s been in this business for a long time. Musically, our sounds are different and we don’t collaborate a lot. I’ve written a few records for her and she’s always their when I’m recording. But she gives me the liberty to do my own thing.”
It’s not often that I believe 50 percent of whatever anything any of my interview subjects have ever said to me. You absolutely have to take everything you hear with a grain of salt these days, but there are times when the realism of a conversation is unquestionable. It is immediately recognized as being beyond the ephemeral. Such conversations are jewels. This was one of those conversations. Starshell also counts a clothing line among her many endeavors and it is named for her first single, “Birthday Girl”. In addition, Starshell was on an episode of Law and Order SVU earlier this year.