By day, Cherie Mitchell-Agurs is a devoted wife and mother who hustles between cooking meals for her husband and hauling her children to doctor’s appointments, piano lessons and other activities.
But by night, Mitchell-Agurs is known as “Sweet Cherie,” a keyboard player for Be’la Dona, one of the most popular all-female Go-go bands in the region.
“Motherhood really taught me how to share,” said Mitchell-Agurs, a veteran artist in the area whose life changed seven years ago when she got married and began a family. “I had to really stop focusing on myself and focus on their needs. If they are hurting, if they are crying, their spiritual life everything.”
Mitchell-Agurs is one of the many mothers of Be’la Dona, an award winning local band that has crated a unique sound that fuses funk, jazz and R&B that is driven by a Go-Go beat. The group, which has performed with many national artists from Elton John to Erykah Badu, started in 2007, has toured across the country and has been a staple of many area venues including the Half Note in Prince George’s County, Howard Theater in D.C. and the Strathmore in Rockville.
But one of its distinguishing features is how the all-female band is comprised of many mothers, who raise children and families in the midst of playing the music they love. In fact, Mitchell-Agurs is preparing for two gigs this weekend even she and her husband John Agurs are celebrating their wedding anniversary.
“She is a mom during the day and entertainer at night,” Agurs said. “It is great to know that she is able to adjust from being an entertainer to coming home and having that balance. She is cooking every day even on the nights that she is going to perform.”
As Mitchell-Agurs talked about her craft and the highs and lows of playing in a band on Monday night, she was interrupted by the screams of her children shouting, “Daddy, Daddy,” as Agurs came in the door. But he is clear who runs the house and the stage.
“Everybody already loved and respected Cherie in the industry before I became are part of life,” he said. “I have always tried to stay in the background because there is still time and a place for us to be husband and wife. I have had fans come up and ask for her phone number and they didn’t know that I was her husband.”
Nine women make the group Be’la Dona, which means “Beautiful woman in Italian,” and most are mothers.
As soon as Rhonda Coe, a vocalist in the band, finished performing with the group last Saturday at the Prince George’s County Harlem Renaissance Festival, she came down the stairs from the stage and spotted her daughter.
“My daughter, myself and her dad are all musicians,” Coe said. “It means a lot to me for her to see me perform.”
Stacy Payne, another vocalist, is also mother and an administrator in the D.C. Public School System. Prior to coming to Be’la Dona, she performed with EU, Sugar Bear, and several other groups.
“By day I am educator but this is what I do in my free time,” Payne said. “For me, it is symbolizes part of what I do during the day. We are not just creating scholars but whole people and leading two separate lives allows me to an example of that.”
Etta Durant, leader of a band called Impact Live, is also a mother of two and part of a musical family.
“My son is a keyboard player and my husband played with Jean Chandler,” Durant said. “It is a family thing. When I was growing up my mother made me listen to Ella Fitzgerald and when I went to her concerts I took my son because my mother said I don’t baby and he became a keyboard player for hanging with me.”
Sonja Chichester, lead vocalist for Franwerk, another local R&B group, is a grandmother, whose child plays the keyboard. She said mothers are well represented in groups across the area. “We are proud to partake in this wonderful celebration of our culture with pride embracing our past accomplishments, present expectations and what the future holds for the children.”
The legendary group Midnight Star has been going strong since the early 1980’s and singer Belinda Lipscomb was kicking up her legs at the Prince George’s Harlem Renaissance Festival. “It is a beautiful thing for people to acknowledge you and be able to live long enough to see people love your music still.”
Even though Be’la Dona will be performing at the Half Note on Friday night and Takoma Station on Saturday night, Mitchell-Agurs’ thoughts are never very far from her children.
“My daughter has a piano lesson, I take my son and my daughter to swimming lessons and because I don’t have a fence in my back yard, when they are out riding bicycles, I am outside watching them.”