An up-an-coming pop star inspired students at her old school when she took to the stage to perform – backed by a band made up of current students.
Singer-songwriter Jessika – real name Jessica Sweetman – is making a big noise in the USA, after signing a contract with New York-based recording company BMG.
The talented singer, who grew up in Sutton Coldfield, made headlines last year after the famous recording company’s boss discovered she had been secretly sleeping in their studios – and rewarded her dedication and talent with a contract offer.
And on Wednesday, December 20th she got to tell her inspirational story to students when she returned to the Arthur Terry School, which is part of the respected Arthur Terry Learning Partnership. The video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npoHi9N7jmY
“It was amazing being back at Arthur Terry – as soon as I walked in I just stood there for a minute and thought ‘wow!’ The school has completely changed since I was here but there are parts that haven’t – and one of those parts is the backstage area. When I went back there it was like being transported back – I thought ‘yes, this is the same!’
“This school has been amazing to me – I studied drama here and was in Jesus Christ Superstar here and Les Misérables. But when I look back, I realise was always actually a very shy person at school, before then music brought me out of myself.
Jessika performed two short sets of her own material to students at the school in Kittoe Road, including songs with a live backing band made up of current students Astrid Wilson on guitar, drummer Maria Pitsillidis, bass player Joe Boyle and Sophie Powell on keyboard.
The young musicians only had a short time to learn Jessika’s songs but were so impressive that she told the audience she wished she could take them back to America with her.
Then Jessika, whose influences include Stevie Nicks and Lana Del Ray, sat down to answer questions from the students about how she had made her way in the music industry.
She said: “I really like to talk about the word ‘persistence’ because my journey has been long – and I’m still on it – but I think it’s really important to set your mind to something, like I did when I was 15 to go out and do it. That’s what I hope the students got from my visit.”
Jessika was still a student at Arthur Terry when she made her first steps towards a career in music, by plucking up the courage to perform in public for the first time.
She explained: “When I was 16, I went into Pizza Express in Sutton Coldfield one lunchtime with my little cassette player, and said to the manager ‘I would love to do a jazz night here, so can I just sing one song to you?’
“I stood there and sang Let There Be Love, by Nat King Cole, and she gave me a gig every single Wednesday night – for £60 and a free pizza!”
Arthur Terry’s headteacher Sam Kibble was delighted to welcome Jessika back to the school – and remembered her being a shy drama student.
She said: “I taught Jessica drama at Arthur Terry and I remember her being so lovely. The thing is, she was quiet in my lessons, so when I heard that she was on her way to being a global superstar, I was amazed.
“She was very hard working and diligent but not an extrovert at all, so I was really surprised and it’s so exciting to see how someone has grown from being quite shy to someone who gets up on stage and wows people.
“It shows how if you have real talent, you can overcome shyness and chase your dreams. It was so nice to see her again, and I know the students were excited to hear her sing and learn about her achievements.”
Arthur Terry’s Careers Co-lead, Alex Zarifeh felt the visit had an important message for students, about the kind of dedication needed to make it in creative industries.
He said: “It’s exciting to see someone in the creative sector who has had the persistence and resilience to keep working at it until she got her big break through.
“From a careers perspective, it shows young people that if they want to go into those professions, it’s not going to be as straight forward as getting a degree apprenticeship, or joining a graduate trainee scheme after university – it requires a certain perseverance when doors are shut to just keep knocking on them. It’s a very valuable lesson.”
“She’s a great role model and we are so pleased to have her back at Arthur Terry!”