Angela's Story, Becoming Yolanda Lisa
Angela Bynum says she has led multiple, distinct lives.
After living through an abusive childhood, she found herself in the music industry rising to stardom as Yolonda Lisa. As her life was reaching its happiest, a series of events caused her world to tumble down. To top it off, Angela was later diagnosed with cancer.
Despite Angela's parents lack of interest in her future, Angela started a modeling career at 16 years old, working for two different agencies. She then married a man who unfortunately was just like her father. After surviving this abusive relationship, she asked God to please give her a reason to live. “I asked God to give me something – it was the gift of music,” she says. As a self taught piano player, Angela was on a mission to write music that was food for the soul, she then decided to use her middle name, the musician Yolonda Lisa emerged.
After modeling on the runway, Angela was approached by a music producer to appear as a model in a music video. Angela participated, and while working she started to sing one of her favorite songs. Because of her vocal talents, Angela was invited to a recording studio where she could meet different artists to do backup vocals. Angela wasn’t interested in the style of music she was invited to sing, but she started spending more and more time at the studio, composing and writing her own music. She worked her way up to managing a male quartet, and she also learned video production, voice acting, editing, and lighting.
Angela also focused on the engineering side of producing music. She could play the piano, she could sing, and she was writing her own music. Angela was working part-time at NBC4, and then spending her nights in the studio. She produced for the different artists who came in and out, with a variety of styles including rap, gospel, and R&B.
For her personal work, Angela had what she describes as a jazz Latin vibe. She incorporated a rapper into her music, and also had a cowriter who occasionally helped with the keyboard. Together, they were known as “Yolonda Lisa & The Technique”. The group produced cassettes with six tracks and sent the cassettes to different broadcasters, along with questionnaires asking for feedback about the music. Angela was hoping to learn as much as she could.
But while working for NBC and recording at night, Angela had two stalkers - one of them proved unstable and threatened her life. But fortunately, during that time she also found the love of her life. It was love at first site when she met Josue. "Since the day they first met, they could hardly be apart", she recalls. Josue and her brother Charles ultimately became her bodyguards.
Over time, Yolonda Lisa & The Technique started doing a jail circuit. They sent their music and posters to prisons ahead of time, and put on small concerts. For Angela’s first time performing in front of people, they were like superstars as the prisoners showered them with praise.
As feedback started rolling in, Angela fine-tuned the music and created more mature, professional, and polished tracks. This was the band’s moment. Life had something else in store, though. Her rapper found God and no longer wanted to produce secular music. Her cowriter left. The Technique was no more and it was just Yolonda Lisa left.
Still bent on making it in the music business, Angela left her job at NBC4 to work for Media Play, a music store in town. It was there that she learned the ins and outs of selling CDs - she says she found that you need a combination of great music and promotion to get music out there. “No one should do business without knowing the ins and outs,” she says.
Her promotion came in the form of the store playing her music. When people started buying it, she was back and she was signing CDs, hearing her songs on local radio stations and becoming one of the first artists in history to have her songs played on the radio without any backing from a record label. Eventually, a promoter in California took her music overseas. It was played in Sweden, Okinawa, and London. Her music was more popular overseas than it was in the United State but that didn’t stop Angela from reaching out to local stations. She continued promoting her music by sending out promotion packages with a picture and highlights of different songs to different stations. She left her part time jobs to focus on getting publicity for her album. Unfortunately, Angela did not find family support. Her success was kept quiet and not often discussed. Family members never came to concerts, except for her younger brother Charles.
Brushing off their negativity, as Angela had become accustomed to do, she continued on her upward trajectory. She was meeting famous singers, performing regularly and life felt surreal. Then it got better. Her niece Ivory was born and she began recording an album. She and Josue got engaged and found out they were expecting. She was loving life, but that all changed near the end of February 2000.
Angela’s brother and sister-in-law die and custody of Ivory was given to her maternal grandparents, leaving Angela and her mother heartbroken. Angela was left taking care of her mother alone. A short time later, Angela’s fiancé passed away and the stress of it all caused her to lose the baby. Next, she was injured in a car accident and was told she’d spend the next year in rehab relearning how to walk. There was no way she could bring herself to perform or promote her new “A Journey into Sound” CD.
“My happiest year became my biggest nightmare,” Angela says.
Unfortunately, the nightmare did not end. A tumor was found above Angela’s mother’s knee, resulting in cancer and a leg amputation. Even after this, Angela’s mom got breast cancer.
Although the events that had unfolded were tragic, she was able to find a new passion as a result. She started a career as a health aid for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and individuals who are physically and intellectually disabled. Angela enjoyed caring for people, and says, “Love of music is in my spirit, but God put us here to help one another.”
Life then took another turn. One day, Angela woke up in pain. There were strange lumps behind her ear. After a visit to the Emergency Room, Angela was turned away with antibiotics. Weeks later as the lumps grew, Angela visited a second doctor. Her energy was gone, and her coworkers were starting to notice something was off. Nothing was helping the lumps. After speaking to the Board of Health, a doctor had determined that she had cancer. Angela went to the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University. Her cancer was getting progressively worse. After four weeks and speaking to four different doctors, Angela was diagnosed with Stage III non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The antibiotics she’d been given had caused the cancer to speed up. She was told that her cancer was unique because it is usually genetic, however her family had no history of it. This cancer was also primarily found in younger individuals and children, people ages 15-35, even though she was 48 when diagnosed. Angela spent months at the James Cancer Hospital, doing 120 hours of chemo at every visit.
But Angela did not cry or complain about her pain. She spent a lot of time sleeping and had no energy at all, but she stayed positive. Angela decorated her room – she brought a throw blanket, pillows, pajamas, and made her room feel more like home. Even though family called occasionally, Angela did not have many visitors and was primarily alone.
As usual, that wouldn’t stop her from being uplifting. The staff hospital enjoyed spending time with Angela and hanging out in her room because of the positive energy. Angela did her best to be a fun patient, and no matter how much pain she was in, she was always smiling. After a few months, the chemo ended and Angela was found to be cancer free. It was a blessing, but also a reminder that her mother was still struggling with cancer that she eventually succumbed to.
Even after her mom’s passing, Angela held her head high. Angela says she pushes through because of her love for her niece Ivory, and her desire to support her if she comes on tough times. Even through her life’s ups and downs, Angela always found a way to remain positive, see the light in every situation, and continue to strive forward.
In December 2015, Angela celebrated her rebirth, looking to start a new, fifth life that was cancer-free. That fresh outlook didn’t last long, however. In the spring, she learned that her cancer had returned. Resilient as ever, Angela is taking this next life head on and says she is looking to the future, where she knows from experience that there’s a fresh start.