Patrice Rushen working hard in the studio. (COURTESY: BOB BARRY)

In 1982, radio stations across the world were blasting the bass heavy song “Forget Me Nots”. Just a decade later, Will Smith sampled the hit song for his chart topping “Men In Black” soundtrack. The mastermind behind some of music’s biggest contributions came from a woman whose musical knowledge extends far beyond the microphone.

Patrice Rushen started her musical journey by perfecting her craft as a classical trained pianist. Those skills made her a force of nature within the music industry. Her versatility not only as a singer, but also as a composer, writer, and producer cemented her name as one of music’s most dynamic musicians.

On Saturday April 6, The California Jazz Foundation (CJF) recently recognized those accomplishments by granting her the prestigious Nica award. The award is given to those who exemplify the legacy of Baroness Ponnica de Koenigswarter.

Rushen, who’s also a chair at The Popular Music Program at the University of Southern California, spoke to the Los Angles Sentinel about her career and the drive to teach the next generation of musicians.

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL (LS):  You’ve had such a successful career as a talented musician. How do you carry that talent into your teaching?

PATRICE RUSHEN (PR): I just love all the different aspects and still do. I’m still teaching, writing, performing, and touring. You kind of transfer a certain amount of energy from one thing to another. One of the increasing benefits of the various experiences I’ve had is how I can relate it to my musical students.

LS: Speaking of your students, what is something they have and something they could approve upon?

PR: What they have is immense talent! And they also have pretty great instincts about what they want. What they lack sometimes is the confidence to understand that if you are called as a creative or artist, this is something you must do.

LS: Can you elaborate on that?

PR: Sure. For example, you might be around a lot of people that have a particular viewpoint on artistry. They may look at it as a hobby and not a career. That’s what we have to correct. Your “why” is equally as valid as someone who wants to be a lawyer or accountant. There is a societal bias that doesn’t quite understand the process. As artists we are really insecure people. That’s why we play.

LS: Did you ever find yourself insecure while working in the music industry as a black woman? How did you overcome that?

PR: Well it took a while. Looking back on it now I realize how valuable those experiences helped me. I came from a community of people who were supportive.  As long as I could play the instrument, they didn’t care if a girl was playing. I also had support from my family. I had millions of examples of powerful women around me.

Patrice Rushen is a classically trained pianist. (COURTESY: BOB BARRY)

LS: What do you want your students to leave with when they finish?

PR: What they need to know is that they are part of a lineage.  In order to create and expound on something, you have to understand where it came from.

You must look back before you move forward.

CJF is a nonprofit organization created to aid and assist California jazz musicians. To assist or donate, visit for more information.