In some ways, Tulsa Oklahoma’s Anastasia Richardson can be classified as a typical high school student. She’s fun-loving, has a healthy passion for music, teaching herself to play piano, guitar, electric guitar, drums, and banjo, and is a member of her high school band where she plays clarinet and performs with her school choir.
But Anastasia is also an independent country and western music artist, who has performed for many local festivals, state fairs and private events throughout Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. Her songs, “Where Would We Be” and “I Am Beautiful” have both ranked in three national digital music charts.
With over 102,200 followers on twitter, she’s developing a following from the ground up, but there’s more to the story than that.
Anastasia is also a victim of bullying in school, but she didn’t let that stop her from achieving her dream. In fact, that experience actually led her directly to discovering her passion in life, and to thousands of fans all across the world who feel a special connection to her.
Here’s our interview with Anastasia…
So Anastasia, according to what you’ve told us, your childhood was very fun and active. You took dance classes from when you were 2 ½ years old until you were 18. You had a happy childhood generally, but then in middle school and high school you experienced being bullied by other students. Can you describe the challenges with the bullying you faced in high school?
Yes, at first, my reaction to the bullying was confusion and questioning, because I was not quite sure what was really going on or why they were saying things about me that were not true.
In 8th grade, my name was written on a desk with hurtful words about me, which I can’t repeat, it covered the desk top. I wondered what I did to receive such a hateful message, but it was only the beginning.
My teacher spoke to the girl who sat in the same spot before me. Even though the words were wiped off the desk, they remained in my heart.
In 9th grade I was excited to be a part of the cheerleading team because I thought my dancing and gymnastic skills would fit in well with the squad.
But running three miles a day cause knee pain, and I was advised by my doctor to stop running. When my doctor’s note was given to the teacher, the teasing from my teammates started.
The cheerleading coach did not intervene and let the teasing take on the life of its own. Once again, I didn’t understand why I was being picked on, when some of my teammates also had doctors notes that they handed in.
One girl demanded that I do a back-hand-spring, which my doctor advised me not to attempt. She kept pushing me about it over and over again even though I explained that my doctor told me not to do it.
My mother tried to intervene on my behalf by sending an email to the teacher but nothing was done about it.
On an overnight cheerleading trip I ended up sharing a room with the girl who was bullying me the most. It became unbearable.
At this point, not only did I not want to be a cheerleader anymore, but I didn’t want to go to school at all because it was so painful for me. I didn’t know who knew about the lies and the rumors or who my real friends were.
How did you overcome this negative situation and turn it into a positive? What led you to music?
I quit the cheerleading squad because of the bullying, and I rejoined my high school marching band instead.
Since cheerleading and band meet during the same hour, I found the perfect replacement.
As a clarinet player, I sat with the band during the varsity games rather than cheerleading, and even though I wasn’t familiar with the marching band formations, I still felt like I was part of the team. The friends I made in band made me feel valued and school was fun again.
My love of music is how I realized that I wanted to become a country/pop singer. I learned that I should not worry about the hate/mean comments because the more I do what I love to do, the more the positive will overwhelm the negative comments.
I overcame the negative situation by turning to music and using the mean/hate comments as a way to make me strive for my music career even more. I would turn the negative situation into a positive situation by only listening to the positive things and not the negative things.
Do you think the bullying indirectly led you to your music career, by somehow pointing you into the direction of music, when otherwise you might not have gone there?
Yes I do think that if I was not bullied that I would not being doing what I am doing today in my music career. I would probably be doing something completely different. After I was bullied, it made me realize that music is what I want to do with my life. I live and breathe music.
What advice would you give to someone who found themselves in a similar situation to yours (being bullied)?
My advice is to not worry about what other people think of you. You know yourself better than anybody else. They are just trying to bring you down so they can feel powerful, when really you are just as powerful as they are. Everyone is beautiful and unique in their own way.
Do you have any advice for someone who feels the need to bully others?
My advice is to stop bullying others because making them feel down is not going to make you feel stronger than them. People do not like bullies. Bullies are not friends. You may think that you are the head of your school because you are the bully, but really you are just showing that you only want attention from others, because you do not get that attention outside of school.
We are not defined by our past, but we can take what has happened to us and make a better future for ourselves and others.
On to your music career, have you been able to network with other musicians to spread your message? If so, who have you been able to network with?
When I first started developing myself as an artist and songwriter, I wanted to be truthful. My mission is simple: Change the world one song at a time.
My songs tell stories and have lessons in them. When I started sharing my personal story of being bullied, followers on social media started listening, and sharing their own stories of being bullied too.
I learned that victims need a voice and they need to be heard. I knew I needed to write, “I Am Beautiful”. Since releasing my song, I have been amazed at the feedback and support I have received from other musicians who have also helped share my song. A lot of us have similar stories on how we got started in music.
I also knew that I needed to write a song to express my mission, (“Broken Hearted”), and a song to honor our veterans, (“Where Would We Be”).
I know I needed to use these songs to bring awareness to our amazing veterans’ sacrifices and to the neglect of the memorials that were built to honor them.
For the past few years, I’ve been working with my grandmother and my mom to fight to save a WWII Memorial Auditorium in Manhattan, KS.
It looked like there was no hope in saving the auditorium. One City member even said, “No One cares about this auditorium outside of Manhattan”.
There was one last meeting to convince the city councilman. I know I needed to give my mother something to show them that the whole United States were watching their discussion, and that it was worth saving the auditorium, and not to gut it out for office spaces.
My mother and I created a tweet on twitter asking for help and asking for people’s support. “Let’s show our support in saving the Manhattan, KS WWII Living Memorial Auditorium. If you support, please re-tweet”, and because of the support from people in the entertainment industry, the auditorium was saved.
I’ve also had people in the industry re-tweet my music for “I Am Beautiful” and “Where Would We Be” along with supporting the auditorium. It’s important as entertainers to untie and help each other make this world a better place.
How were you able to hook up with music industry people initially and develop a relationship with them?
A friend of Curt Ryle (later my Producer) saw several of my tweets. Curt invited me to come to Nashville and meet with him. When we first met, I spoke from my heart and shared my mission. We are currently working on my next album. I’m currently raising money for the travel/production costs.
Developing a relationship with anyone takes time and honesty. I’m honored to have important people in the news, entertainment and music business follow me, and re-tweet my posts and radio stations adding my music to their rotation. My dream is to take my music and mission to the next level, sharing my story on a national platform.
So for all the young musicians starting out, let’s give them a little inspiration as to how you are succeeding yourself as an independent artist. Working on a shoestring budget, do you approach news outlets, websites, blogs yourself?
I’m always reaching out to the news outlets, websites, and constantly blogging. I have no money to hire a PR firm, just working by word of month. It’s not easy doing guerrilla marketing, but I will never give up.
I also have the help of my mother and my manager and the support from my dad. It’s the best team I could have. I know that if I stay true to myself that I will continue. I will never give up.
A radio promoter contacted me on Twitter and said that what I have done is amazing and really loved my music. It has gone very well. My music is being played in countries that I never thought would happen. Examples like China, Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, France, and many more.
My radio promoter, T.C. Thompson also found me on social media and was also friends with the same person that introduced me to my producer.
T.C. Thompson has worked with big names in the gospel, Hip Hop and R & B world. He’s helped me get my music onto four national digital charts – the Independent Artist Chart, Contemporary Chart, Rock Chart, and R & B Chart.
I also have amazing fans that help promote my music from all over the world on social media. A lot of the radio stations that have added my songs have come from my fans promoting me. They are amazing! I call my fans “StarLights”, because when I look out into the audience when performing, it looks like stars in the sky, and my “StarLights” are helping me make the world a better place.
How have you been able to get gigs and interviews?
I would find any places that allowed performances, performing for nursing home residents, boys and girls clubs and schools (elementary, middle/junior, and high schools).
Before I met my manager, my mom and I would reach out to nursing homes, boys and girls clubs and schools. Now my manager does all the bookings and my mother helps me with the marketing. I love connecting to kids and giving them hope and listening to their stories.
Most of the time, people would contact me for interviews about my music and how it is going. My fans, “Starlights” are promoters, always sharing my stories with the media. I have also reached out to the media in the hope that they would join in my mission.
So what are your plans for the near future?
I am working on my music, writing more songs, and finishing my Marketing degree in college. I hope to be touring around the USA and overseas. I have fans in the UK, Japan, France and Sweden that want me to come tour in their country. My dreams are to tour the world and give children in all countries hope!
What struck us as immediately noticeable was Anastasia’s story of how her misfortune led directly to her finding her passion in life. This is not the first time we’ve noticed this in our interviews here on Rise Up Eight. What might be considered a roadblock could actually be a detour leading you to a place that is beneficial, and pointing you in a direction that you may not have traveled to otherwise. It’s something for us to consider next time we are faced with what can be perceived to be an “impossible” situation. What can we learn from this? How can we turn it to our own advantage?
Like so many of us who grew up being bullied ourselves, we can relate to Anastasia’s story firsthand. Thankfully, bullying in schools is becoming less and less prevalent due to social awareness. We applaud Anastasia for turning a negative situation into a positive, inspiring one, and hope this is inspiring for you as well..
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