My Greatest Love of All

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Maria Herz Slovak American

If I remember right, it was the summer of 1985 and I was just a young girl still living behind the iron curtain in Czechoslovakia. Western Pop music was becoming more and more visible to us, communism was beginning to crumble and artists like  U2, Michael Jackson and Prince were ruling the airwaves of eastern Europe. Well, 2 things happened that summer that changed my life and led me on this musical journey.  First, my oldest brother Freddie,  joined a band called AC+ as their bassist and they quickly became famous rock stars in Europe.  Watching my big brother touring, recording original material, playing sold out concerts, their music videos being played on TV and having their songs played on the radio had a huge effect his little sister.

And then,  on a hot night that  summer that I heard the voice of an angel singing out to me on my radio for the very fist time.  I had never heard anything so beautiful in all my life.  I had to find out who this person was and as it turns out, that angel was  Whitney Houston  belting out what would be her first smash hit,  “The Greatest Love of All”.  At that moment, music became MY greatest love of all and Whitney became my musical idol.  On that very night,  I dreamt of being a pop star and started my journey, but the reality of actually one day being on the big stages in America, recording and performing my own songs still  seemed a million miles away.

As beautiful as Czechoslovakia was, it had always been the type of place for which the saying, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” is pretty fitting. Let’s just say that there weren’t many of us walking around with big hair and spandex pants, especially back in the 90’s, and finding people to collaborate with was no easy task.

I found myself in the center of a struggling and very close knit music scene made up of people that were for the most part, much older than I was. This meant that I was often giving assistance loading gear, being a designated driver, or whatever else anyone needed for local musicians who were much further along than I was. Truthfully,  I just wanted to hang out and hoped to sing a song or 2 and be heard.  I wanted to be in the clubs, hang out with musicians  that were more or less rock stars in my eyes, and just soak up the real world of music. I looked up to these musicians and it felt indescribably cool just to be hanging out with them.

Fast forward a decade or so, and while a late bloomer…I never gave up on my dream of writing my own songs, recording, making videos and singing in a band. Our  family eventually emigrated  and I now call Chicago my home and I have to say I love it.  Snowy scenic winters, colorful fall, and hot festive summers and the most amazing food choices anywhere.

The next step in my musical journey  was more like Alice’s trip through the rabbit hole, than climbing a Stairway to Heaven.  Once I got to America I met many so called “producers”, “promoters” and “agents’….all whom gave me the promise of stardom, riches, romance and glory.  I invested so much of myself, my life, my time, my savings into these people, and unfortunately, after several recordings, countless photo shoots, wardrobe buys, makeovers,  empty promises, drained of money and confidence, I almost gave up.  I learned a valuable and heart hardening lesson that gives credence to the phrase, “All That Glitters is Not Gold”.

On one hand, these experiences almost ended  my hopes, but not my dream.  Like every bad experience in life  there is a silver lining and this journey has a fork in the road that led to a better destination.  At the same time that I was trying to become an original artist, I read an ad in the Illinois Entertainer magazine, where female singers were needed for a new all girl pop revue called, “Girls Night Out”.  I auditioned, and made it….this was the first time in my life I felt like I belonged, I could let it all loose, dress like my idols; Mariah Caray, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and sing all their great music….but shortly after joining, the band switched gears and decided to exclusively perform 80’s hard rock…I was asked to play keyboards and sing harmonies, and was slowly removed from lead vocals and this was just not my style, it was devastating to say the least, but I felt the need to hang in there and prove myself.

It was then a new bassist  joined our band and after several rehearsals,  I found out that  he performed all over Chicago as a solo guitarist/singer and was looking to rebuild his show. He complimented me on my voice and asked me to sing at an upcoming  event with him, a huge dance party, with several hundred people in attendance.  I agreed to do it and was so scared…I had never been the feature singer before. Once the show started and I saw all those people, I was re-invigorated, I was finally free to choose the material I loved and focus on developing myself as a singer….shortly after, we formed a music partnership as a duo….“The Romantiques”.   I had  finally found someone who truly believed in me and pushed me to be my best and shortly after, we expanded to a full band. Now,   I am surrounded by great musicians,  performing at resorts and casino’s throughout the Midwest.

Together we co-write my new original material, he produces my recording sessions and I am proud to finally have my dreams, aspirations, hopes and fears…and most of all…my inner self captured in music that I can share with the world, as well as, a great group of musicians to deliver my music live on stage for all of you  to enjoy.

Looking back across all these experiences, it was those defining moments: seeing big brother Freddie on stage and hearing Whitney Houston on the radio for the first time, that defined me and gave me that feeling that I crave to this day when I step on stage, or in front of a microphone at the studio.

I’ve learned another valuable lesson too….never give up on your dreams. When you get knocked down, learn from the experience, get back up, move on, make better choices and be grateful for the people that come into your life.

When it comes to BEING a musician, theres a lot of things that make it a unique experience.  It’s knowing the rest stops along the I-80 and I-55 Interstates by memory because you’ve toured that stretch of the country so many times.  It’s hanging out backstage and wait for the headliner to finish their set, so you can get paid and make the long drive home.  It’s the camaraderie you feel with your band mates,  and it’s a million other little subtle experiences that define what it means to be a musician. At least that’s the way it’s been for me.  It’s not the chords or the words or the number of albums sold, but rather it’s knowing those things first hand that makes me a musician, and has helped make my dreams become a reality.

But perhaps even more importantly than all of that, it’s YOU, the listener, that makes all of it matter.

I look forward to many more sometimes-hard, sometimes-ugly, but always-worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. Here’s to hoping that you are part of that experience.

If you’d like to hear the most recent milestone of that journey,  click here to listen to my most new single, ‘Let’s Get it Started’.

Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.

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