Spotlight on the Brown: Monibee Henley
San Bernardino's own musical queen of the Inland Empire
Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor
¡Orale, Mi Gente!
Published on LatinoLA: February 14, 2017
...it's been awhile since I've put the spotlight on one of our own for accomplishments in overcoming adversity and succeeding in a hostile world ... but it's not for lack of heroes!
One of my heroes continues to be our very own Roberto "El Betoman" Tijerina, who overcame late onset blindness to finish his University Education, become a published author, successful lecturer, accomplished musician, and is an active Radio DJ at KUCR FM in Riverside, as well as on the World Wide Internet Radio Station East L.A. Revue, representing the Gente of the BROWN persuasion with an enviable passion.
His latest piece here on LatinoLA is inspiring & enlightening, indeed! ¡Gracias Betoman!
Our spotlight today is on another inspiring talented member of the RAZA:
Ms. Monica Bernice Flor Henley
Born in Juarez, Mexico, to a Mexican mother and Irish American father, Monibee remembers hard times and music growing up while her father served in Viet Nam.
"My mom was a widow with two young daughters before she met my father, and she was hard-pressed to make ends meet while he was in Viet Nam, so we became Migrant farm workers/Campensinos in the early 1960s after my brother and I were born, traveling up & around Northern & Central California working the fields ... times were tough!" Monibee tells LatinoLA.
"My father didn't come back from Viet Nam till 1968 ... it was then that I first met him, at Travis Air Force Base. I was so excited that I was finally going to meet and be hugged by my father for the very first time ... so can you imagine my shock & surprise when I saw people spitting on him and cursing him WHILE HE WAS HOLDING ME IN HIS ARMS? I didn't speak English then, and didn't know what they were yelling at him and the other Veterans ... but I will always remember the hurt look on his face while he wiped the spit off his cheek so he could kiss mine ... my poor Daddy."
Monibee's parents eventually married and her father was stationed at the U.S.Naval missile Base at White Sands, New Mexico, where he moved the family ... and Monibee was soon to face another undeserved hardship: Her first experience of emotional abuse and racial discrimination ... at the hands of her paternal grandmother!
"My father's mother hated my mother, me, and my brother with a passion. One of the first English words I learned from her was 'wetback' , as she made efforts to make us feel unwelcome in her home. She was an evil white, Irish Catholic woman with no feelings for us. While my father & mother were away at work, she would lock me and my brother in a room and feed us by slipping food plates under the door so she wouldn't have to look at us....another thing I will never forget."
"She made my father miserable by haranguing him everyday to get rid of us. Because my mother was older than my father, my grandmother always felt my mother had seduced him and took advantage of him to get military benefits .... she even tried to get the base commander to have my parent's marriage annulled. This really hurt my mother, and the marriage suffered greatly ... my mother and I cried frequently."
When her father was discharged from the Navy, and having become tired of his mother's attempts to destroy his family, Monibee's father moved the family to the Corona-Norco area of California where Monibee received yet another heartbreaking experience.
"I was in the 3rd grade, and still could not speak English. Here I was, a poor, skinny, red-haired, freckled faced little girl who looked white, and I was made fun of by both the white kids and Mexican American kids because I couldn't speak any English. I got bullied and beat up on the schoolyard a couple of times, and I felt so alone and helpless.
"On top of that, my father began to have very severe PTSD symptoms from his war experiences, and he became a heavy alcoholic who became emotionally distant from me & my brother. My mother in turn, became very angry and disillusioned with life as she was forced to take two jobs to support the family ... and she began to take it out on me, becoming emotionally & verbally abusive towards me for no reason .... I used to cry everyday because I could never understand what I had done to make my grandmother, my mother, and the kids at school hate me so much and treat me so badly ... I couldn't even think about committing suicide because I was the main person taking care of my little brother."
As the years slowly and painfully moved forward, Monibee immersed herself in her studies, athletics, and music ... and she excelled in them all!
"My English improved, and I became pretty good in sports ... I guess I found a way to work out my aggression ... and I also began singing. I eventually received a full athletic scholarship to Cal State Fullerton playing softball, and picked up singing gigs here and there with local bands".
Upon graduating from Cal State Fullerton, a record label executive from LUNA Records heard Monibee singing some of her trademark Mariachi songs and invited her to tour and sing as an opening act throughout Mexico, opening up for several well known performers. She was good enough that Monibee recorded a 45 record that became her "calling card" for many years.
Monibee married, had children, and with the money she had made from singing in Mexico, she returned to her beloved Inland Empire where she bought and operated a small Latin Music Record store in downtown San Bernardino, worked briefly as a 911 dispatcher for the Fontana Police Department, which led to her attending the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Academy and an eventual 29 year Law Enforcement career.
In 1981, her record store enabled her to meet many of the area's top musicians, including John Chacon, band leader for the ORIGINAL SACRIFICE Band. John's father was the manager for the band, and after hearing Monibee sing, they invited her to join the band, and she has been the lead vocalist ever since.
Things started to go sour for Monibee prior to her retiring from the Sheriff's Department around five years ago, as she had sold the store, her husband deserted her, she lost her son, her car, and her home.
"It was back to hard times again," Monibee says.
"But hey! I'm a strong willed CHICANA WHO WILL NOT GIVE UP! With my beloved music and a couple of very good friends, even despite a couple of setbacks & disappointments, I wasn't going to give in or quit."
Monibee continued performing at music shows after she retired from the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department, helping promote other bands, joining ROUND 2 ENTERTAINMENT's Charlie Perez for some successful music shows in the Inland Empire, and recorded a couple of good CD's with the help of music producer Phil Avila.
After a couple of successful shows at the Pechanga Casino, she came west seeking music friends in Los Angeles, and found a bunch!
(Including yours truly).
I met Monibee Henley a little over five years ago at a BB WOLF concert at the "Gladiator Arena for Chicano Music", the renown Santa Fe Springs swap meet.
She simply walked up to my wife and I in the audience and said, "Hi! I'm Monibee! We're friends on Facebook, I listen to your radio show sometimes." Not immediately connecting her with the Inland Empire music scene, I saw her as another music fan & FB friend who came out to hear Hebie Castro & BB WOLF and enjoy the day. She was friendly and smiling,and she joined us in conversation like she had known us for years ... VERY impressive, despite the fact that she was going through some of the most difficult times of her life!
I was enlightened most impressively when BB WOLF called her up on stage to sing a couple of songs ... and all I could do was smile and say "Wow!...she was just sitting here with us!".
Girl "wow'd" everybody with a sensual and well performed version of "Sabor A Mi".
She eventually was introduced to music producer/musician Ray Carrion and others, and was invited to sing at one of Ray's shows at the former Gringo's Cantina on Whittier Boulevard in Montebello, where she made a BIG HIT and a lot of new fans.
From there, she has been invited to perform in the Battle of the Bands at the A MI HACIENDA in Pico Rivera and Steven's Steakhouse in East L.A.with the ORIGINAL SACRIFICE Band, and has been invited to perform at the VFW Hall in City of Industry, Christmas and fundraiser shows in San Fernando (where she was part of a memorable recorded performance with the late BECKY CORDOVA and the Kool Katz's KELLY GALVAN that is still talked about) and other shows in the Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley areas.
She joined TIERRA and PEPE MARQUEZ & The GROOVELINE Band for a killer New Year's Eve Show in Santa Barbara for 2015-16, and the list of her performances just continues to grow. She had a short stint as a radio talk show host, successfully put a faltering San Bernardino nightclub back in the black and on the map, and recently hosted and performed at Jimmy Sterling's sold out "Forever Motown Show" in Colton last month, before taking a well needed break.
Despite her talent and increased popularity, Monibee remains a beautiful, humble, and generous human being with a great sense of humor and engaging personality. She surprised us all one weekend where she was an overnight guest at my home ... and the girl WASHED THE DISHES & CLEANED OUR KITCHEN after breakfast!
...get Beyonce or Mariah Carey to do THAT !
Monibee says her future looks pretty good, where she will continue to perform, help and promote other bands and music events. She has recently been booked to open for he DELFONICS reunion concert featuring Norman Carter.
With all that, LatinoLA.com is proud to open the gates and welcome another CHICANA
music - performing Warrior to the Land of 1000 Dances de Aztlan.
YOU GO, GIRL !! Thanks for being who you are!
Author's Note: Monibee Henley can be found on Facebook.
Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the Al Capone of the microphone and The Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul, heard daily on World Wide Internet Radio Station www.eastLArevue.com and is a regular contributor to this fine web magazine.
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