She had a dream of wearing a red suit while playing the piano, singing “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” along with members of Earth, Wind and Fire.
23-year-old Ivana Cespedes was determined to make it happen.
Cespedes has played piano for 18 years, working professionally as a pianist with various groups in the Santa Clarita Valley and Los Angeles, in an effort to further her dream.
She said she didn’t come from a musical family, but later discovered that a distant relative was a classical piano player in Cuba.
At 19, she discovered jazz music after focusing mostly on the classical genre.
“I decided to join a vocal jazz group here in the city, called College of the Canyons Just Jazz,” said Cespedes. “We were a competitive jazz group that went around the country and it was such a blast.”
Cespedes was simultaneously singing in the community choir at The Master’s University, saying she was “getting all of the Santa Clarita groups in.”
Before joining these groups, Cespedes said she wasn’t aware of her ability to sing and joining multiple choirs helped her develop the hidden skills.
“I just fell in love with the voice, and I sort of figured out how to do it from playing the piano and knowing music already. It just sort of came of me, out of my soul,” she said.
She began working as a production assistant for Scott Frankfurt Studio in Woodland Hills, where she was introduced to the music industry and knew she wanted to pursue a career in that field.
“That was a wild experience – a wild year, 2018 – I met (members of Earth, Wind and Fire), I met members of Chicago, and KISS; I worked with Sergio Mendes, and a lot of amazing, world-renowned artists that have become friends.”
Cespedes said she began being referred to as Vi, a name that has stuck with her as she expanded into the musical world.
Since she was 9 years old, Cespedes said she’s loved Earth, Wind and Fire. So after working as a production assistant for the studio for a year, Cespedes said she brought her dream of the red suit to Scott Frankfurt, owner of the studio.
Understanding what Cespedes was asking for, she describes feeling shocked when Frankfurt said yes, and began making phone calls.
“Everyone knew Vi, they knew her heart, they knew her talent to a degree,” said Frankfurt. “(Band members) knew her kind soul and said, ‘Absolutely, we’re in.’”
Saxophonist Scott Mayo said when Frankfurt asked if he was interested, his answer was yes. “I had to do it for her,” said Mayo. “There was so much going on at that particular time and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do it. But then I had one day to record.”
On Nov. 8, Cespedes was living her dream when she walked into the room and Serg Dimitrijevic, Jack Majdecki, Scott Mayo, Mika Mutti, John Paris and Verdine White were setting up to make a music video.
“When I walked in, I wasn’t the P.A. anymore,” said Cespedes. “I wasn’t the staff anymore, I was the artist. I walked in as the superstar.”
She said the most memorable moment of that day was the first take they did on video. Her family was able to watch, and Cespedes said she felt at home being able to sing and play the piano along with musicians she admired while her family watched.
“My little girl is becoming a woman,” said Jan Cespedes, Ivana’s father. “I’m too emotional to speak. For a dad, it’s not my experience, it’s hers, which makes me even more excited.”
Cespedes said she “detoxed” with her best friend, who prepared her hair and makeup that day, after getting home. “What a moment,” she said. “Really, who am I to have that kind of opportunity – just a local Santa Clarita girl – but I had the opportunity of a lifetime, and I saw it, and I took it.”
When Cespedes saw the music video for the first time, she said it was a surreal experience and remembers thinking, “That’s me, that’s my voice!”
It wasn’t until late January the video was posted online for everyone to see. Cespedes was surrounded by friends and family during a video viewing party at her home on Jan. 31.
“My daughter is an exceptional vocalist and musician,” said Vicki Cespedes, Ivana’s mother. “But I am so proud of the woman that she is. The fact that her kindness was spoken about tonight – and her character – to me that’s true success.”
When asked what advice she would give to others following similar goals, Cespedes said, “Be kind to people and know how to make genuine relationships with people. People are who make your career. You don’t make it yourself.”
Now, Cespedes works as a session singer and pianist in L.A. She also has begun working as a jazz singer and has a character role in a new TV movie titled “Knights of Swing.”
Looking forward, Cespedes said she would like to grow as a session singer and is looking toward TV shows, movies and commercials while looking at touring with other artists. “I gotta let my job take me around the world,” she added.
Cespedes describes the experience as unbelieveable. “I did this, and I’m so grateful and I had so many people to help me,” she said. “So (I felt) gratitude, humility, confidence. It was a meek feeling of, ‘Thank you God, thank you family, thank you studio, and good job Vi.”