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Alyssa Bonagura: Advocate

 


Music is the Key—To Hope, Joy and Remembrance

Written By Debra Gelbart
January 2019

Alyssa Bonagura is no stranger to celebrity.

An accomplished country and pop singer- songwriter, she’s enjoying continued success with the band The Sisterhood that she recently formed with Ruby Stewart, daughter of famed rocker Rod Stewart.

With her storied musical heritage—her parents are Kathie Baillie & Michael Bonagura, headliners of the superstar ‘80s country band Baillie & the Boys—Alyssa grew up in Nashville around such luminaries as Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers and George Strait. When she was 10, she joined Rogers in a duet on his “Christmas From the Heart” album. At 21, she graduated from the esteemed Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts established by Paul McCartney. Sir Paul personally presented her with her diploma.

An Unexpected Friendship

Photo of Nikki Mitchell

Yet it wasn’t a celebrity relationship that changed her view of the world. One of the most meaningful, enduring experiences of Alyssa’s life was meeting a woman named Nikki Mitchell in 2011. Nikki owned the River Café in suburban Nashville when a mutual friend suggested to Alyssa that she play music and sing at Nikki’s restaurant.

Alyssa and Nikki, despite their 34-year age difference, became instant friends. Nikki shared with Alyssa her own impressive background: she moved from Texas to Nashville to become president of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter Music, a position she held for 22 years. In 1998, Nikki flew completely around the northern hemisphere as the co-pilot of a single-engine plane on a flight to commemorate heroic Soviet-era female pilots from 1938.

“Nikki and I became such good friends right off the bat,” Alyssa said. “She talked to me for hours and told me her story and then she said, ‘Oh, yeah. And I have pancreatic cancer.’”

Connecting With the Seena Magowitz Foundation

Alyssa was so moved by what Nikki was confronting (Nikki was diagnosed in December 2010) that Alyssa wrote a song for Nikki called “Warrior.” The next time Alyssa performed at the River Café, “I played the song for her and I said, ‘This is your song. You inspired me to write this song for you because there’s nobody I’ve ever met who’s been so calm and collected and strong during something like this. ”

A year later, Nikki told Alyssa she wanted her to meet Roger Magowitz, founder of the Seena Magowitz Foundation. Nikki had known about him through the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., the world’s leading pancreatic cancer researcher.

Alyssa flew to Phoenix and performed with Jessi Colter at the Seena Magowitz Foundation Annual Golf Classic. That’s where she met Roger, who appreciated that she sang her song, “Warrior.”

“Pancreatic cancer is a scary thing to be going through, but it all brought me to Roger and his Foundation,” Alyssa said. “If I had never met Nikki and heard her story, it would never have inspired the song and Nikki wouldn’t have introduced me to Roger. Songs are a really beautiful way to bring people together, so to have music at an event to raise money for pancreatic cancer research is really important because it helps lift everybody up and connects them.”

Since then, Alyssa and her parents have been devoted supporters of the Seena Magowitz Foundation. “Warrior” is the official theme song for the Foundation and the term the Foundation uses for pancreatic cancer survivors.

“Roger is a true leader,” Alyssa said. “His approach is, ‘Hey guys, follow me, we can do this together.’ And I think it’s really important to stand by people like that. I know whatever Roger would put his mind to, he would help the world. And it’s so cool that he’s turned this Foundation (into a megaphone) for pancreatic cancer awareness and the urgency of finding a cure.”

Alyssa was interviewed about her commitment to supporting finding a cure for pancreatic cancer at the 16th Annual Golf Classic in Boston. Because of her travel schedule, she attended the event in 2018 for the first time in three years. “I love being here for Roger and his Foundation because all these people are incredible.”

Nikki Mitchell passed away in July 2013. But she will forever be in Alyssa’s heart. “She was just really, really wonderful,” Alyssa said. “And you know when you meet people in your life they just shake you and they really put everything into perspective for you? You become best friends with people and they can change your life. Nikki really changed my life.”

Related Reading

The Sisterhood Band

Alyssa Bonagura Website

Other Advocates Against Pancreatic Cancer

Warrior Lyrics By Alyssa Bonagura

Starin’ down the face of fear
Gotta keep breathin’
When the negative is all you hear
Gotta keep believin’
‘Cause in the dark there is a light
A truth that keeps on burning bright
It makes you brave to fight the fight
And shout the battle cry
You’ll never stop me
I’m a warrior
When I fall down, I get stronger
Face the shield and loves the armor
I’m a warrior
I’m a warrior
I’m a warrior
Warrior
Every scar on my skin
Is a beautiful reminder
Of a moment that I didn’t give in
And I walked through fire
Cause in the dark there is a light
A truth that kept me burning bright
And brave enough to fight the fight
And shout the battle cry
You’ll never stop me
I’m a warrior
When I fall down, I get stronger
Face the shield and loves the armor
I will keep the hope alive
I will find the strength inside
I will keep the hope alive
I am a warrior
I will survive
I will keep the hope alive
I will find the strength inside
I will keep the hope alive
I am a warrior
You’ll never stop me
I’m a warrior
When I fall down, I get stronger
Face and shield and love the armor
I’m a warrior
I’m a warrior
I’m a warrior
Oh, whoa-yeah

———-
Alyssa Bonagura Website

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