From Facing Fears and Family to Stepping Into a Solo Career Meet Blanca
Even from family talent shows at the age of five years old, others could tell that Blanca Callahan’s voice was special. With a passion for performing and talent to share, the young Puerto Rican-American girl began her journey to stardom. At fourteen her career got more serious joining the entertainment division of Disney World and by seventeen years old she signed with Group 1 Crew. Blanca would go on to spend a decade with the band as their lead vocalist. During those formative years she met her husband, who was the drummer for the band, traveled and enjoyed being part of a team. But in 2013, some big changes were coming. Blanca and her husband welcomed their first baby and Blanca made the decision to start her solo career. Choosing to put any fears behind her, she stepped out to do what she felt God had placed on her heart, putting out her self-titled debut album, Blanca. Risen caught up with the now 30-year-old to talk about her career, family, and the importance of never backing down.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in Del Mar, California
Risen Magazine: What was your childhood like and when did your love for music develop?
Blanca: I was born in New York and I grew up in Puerto Rico and then lived in Orlando, Florida, for most of my life. With all my family coming from Puerto Rico and New York to live so close to us, it just felt like I had a piece of that with me in Orlando. I have had a passion for music from as long ago as I can remember. I think I came out of the womb singing. I grew up in a broken home. My parents were divorced when I was six years old. My dad was addicted to drugs and that’s what caused a lot of the separation with my brother and my mom. We had a huge support system because my dad had about sixteen brothers and sisters and my mom is one of six. Every time at family get-togethers or anything like that I would host talent shows for them. I’d have my hairbrush [microphone] and I’d be three of the four acts. I would always win, of course. [Laughter] I think at five years old they kind of noticed. My aunts would tell my mom “I don’t know. I don’t think that’s a normal five-year-old voice. You should look into it.” So that’s where the spark of my love for music started.
As I got older, I got heavily involved in choir and band. Not many people know this, but I played French Horn in middle school and for many years after. It just kept progressing and at fourteen years old, I started taking it more seriously. Being in Orlando, the biggest thing and opportunity there is obviously Disney World. I started signing with their entertainment section. The VP of Entertainment would do speeches and ceremonies for different schools and he would bring me along to sing; that’s when my singing really started to take a turn.
RM: By seventeen you turned singing into a profession with Group 1 Crew. So how did you come into your faith journey?
Blanca: I wasn’t really raised in a church or anything like that. The Spanish culture, I feel like it on its own is very faithful and faith-based. We all have a fear of death and God and we are all taught about certain things, but we weren’t living it out in my particular family. My dad was the first person in my family to give his life to the Lord. On his own, he had a God-moment and came to Orlando for his kids. He apologized to us and his one request was to be able to take us to church with him on Sundays. We would get to split time [between parents] and we would go with him every other weekend. I got to spend time, experience, and hear his testimony. God just began to pull on my heart, so at seventeen I ended up giving my life to the Lord with my dad. I did it at my local church – which I still go to in Orlando. I knew at that moment that my talents and this voice that I had been given were for a purpose. I wanted to use it to bring glory to God and something bigger than myself. I got plugged into the church and I started singing with the worship team and I met the guys in Group 1 Crew. Group 1 was a Bible study at the church for musicians that wanted to get plugged in, be accountable, and grow. There were thirteen of us that would get together and of course if you put a bunch of musicians together in a room, we’ll make music. We did that. We started helping each other out with different projects and putting it on MySpace and we just became a local band. The man who would become our manager heard our songs from MySpace and reached out to us and got us a showcase out in Nashville. It was my first time in Nashville and we flew in and did this showcase for Word Records. They signed us two months after that. That’s where the journey began.
I knew at that moment that my talents and this voice that I had been given were for a purpose.
RM: That was in 2003 and then you spent a decade with the band and even married your husband Benjamin Callahan, who I understand was the drummer?
Blanca: He wasn’t our drummer at the time. We met through a mutual friend back in Orlando. My hairdresser played matchmaker and hooked us up. It was love at first sight. We actually had a drummer who moved to Nashville and started playing for TobyMac, so we were looking for a drummer. He was my boyfriend at the time and he said, “Well, I play drums.” I was like, “Nope, not gonna happen.” I didn’t want to be the girl who was like, “My boyfriend plays the drums!” They ended up doing auditions and he went in. I didn’t even know he could play drums like that. He killed it and got the slot. We got engaged and hit the road together and have been on the road together ever since.
RM: That’s awesome. Since then you had a baby and decided to step into a solo career. How has that differed from spending your formative years with a group?
Blanca: It’s so crazy. I was seventeen when I met the group. I feel looking back now, there were so many key moments that I needed that team around me. I learned so much from them. I was super shy. I had stage fright and half the time I’d be hiding by the drums and they’d say, “Come on!” and always push me to come up. It was all a part of the learning process. When I was pregnant, I really felt like there was a shift of heart. There were dreams and goals I wanted to reach, but I was fearful of them. I feel like a lot of people can relate to that. With those ten years with Group 1, I felt really comfortable and safe there: I knew what I was getting into. I knew that whenever I was weak, they were strong and vice versa. I had to make a decision and say, “I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I think it’s time for me to step out and do what I feel God has placed on my heart.” It was very, very hard for me to do.
RM: But it was probably very confirming once you did it. What did it feel like performing on your own?
Blanca: It was! Once I did it, there was so much confirmation along the way: people supporting me and my husband being such a strong support system. Then you get to a place like, “Oh my gosh! It’s been six months, seven months, eight months, and then [we] had our son. I’m doing this! I’m actually doing it.” I remember the first performances on my own. I was doing Winter Jam tour. I get put on this arena tour with 15,000 people a night and this is my first time on my own. I’m like, “I’m going to pass out. I’m going to throw up.” But it all worked out together. Just to be able to look back now and say it’s been two years and to see all that God has done and how much I have grown. I see now it was definitely needed. I had to let go and step into this new adulthood. It’s time to be a big girl now.
I’m not going to back down. I’ve played it safe and I’ve been afraid my whole life, but this is where it changes. I’m not going to be silent.
RM: I have had the opportunity to see you perform and I feel like there is so much emotion in your delivery, in your singing, and in the way you perform and do your songs. I understand that you wrote quite a few, or had a hand in all of the songs on your album. Where does that inspiration come from? How do you draw on that emotion?
Blanca: One, I think I’m just a very emotional person. [Laughs] So that’s at the top of everything. I can cry watching the pet commercial where they’re trying to find homes for dogs. I’m that girl. Past that, I feel like my inspiration definitely comes from life. I’ve been through a lot and I pull a lot of the emotion and inspiration for these songs from what I’ve had to live through. Even in this last record, I feel the underlying message is one [of] stepping out in faith and trusting God along the way. Not worrying. Not doubting. Not backing down. [It’s] the process I had to go through of not letting fear control or define me, but learning that it is okay to let go a little bit and go along with the flow which is hard for me to do. Of course, there are stories you hear along the way and things that I experienced with my family. My dad passed away when I was eleven, my mom got cancer two years after that, there are life experiences and [certain things] you’re going through that just have to be put down on paper.
RM: You mentioned “Not Backing Down.” Talk to me a little bit about that song and the importance of not letting anyone stand in your way and choosing to not play it safe.
Blanca: My whole life I’ve lived in fear. I feel like that has been my struggle to a point to where it cripples me or I won’t do certain things because of how it overtakes me. Just the worry, the doubt, the fear of the outcome, of failing, of not being enough, of messing something up; just all these negative things that step in our way. This new album, and where I am now as a mom, as a woman of God, as a wife, I wanted this to be the defining moment and the anthem for myself that says no more. I’m not going to back down. I’ve played it safe and I’ve been afraid my whole life, but this is where it changes. I’m not going to be silent. I’m going to speak when I feel I have something to say. It’s okay to get messy sometimes: that’s part of life. I think that’s my problem, I want to keep it clean and structured all the time. There’s something in life and experiences where it doesn’t always work out necessarily how you think it would and you grow from that.
RM: Talking about traveling, your husband playing drums and your son, now three years old, what does time look like together?
Blanca: We haven’t traveled as much as some would think. Our son usually stays home when we go out on weekends. Right now, he’s back with grandma or a girl from our church. We are hoping to hit the road as the three of us and have him come out more. Whenever we are home it is full of love. We have a pool in our backyard and he is a little fish. We love to swim, hang out with family, and keep some consistency back home where we have quality time together.
RM: With both parents having musical abilities, do you detect any in your little guy yet?
Blanca: Oh yeah. He loves to sing and dance. Everything is sung all day. When he answers you back, it’s always in a song. He was a late talker. It took him a while, so we put him in speech therapy. I think using a lot of songs to help him talk became a key thing. My husband is a drummer, so I’m just praying to the good Lord that my son will pick up something else. [Laughter] Piano, maybe? We bought a keyboard, so let’s just push him towards that. If he ends up being like his daddy I’m sure he’ll love the drums.