ONI LASANA was born and nurtured with an intuitive love of music, poetry, and storytelling in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia. Her mother, Maria, a businesswoman in the fashion industry, also sang 1st soprano with the Negro Opera Ensemble of Philadelphia. Her father a master mason by trade, was a Renaissance man, charming raconteur and people person.
She culturally and creatively grew up in a beautiful tree lined neighborhood with lots of friends and family. She kept her younger peers safe and out of trouble in what her mother called her "basement & backyard school." Oni loved teaching, directing talent shows, and making up street games with a diverse group of friends, from foster care to special need playmates on 24th & Huntingdon Street.
Oni's mother was often mistaken for Lena Horne and her mother had dreams of becoming an actress. Oni was her fifth and youngest child who inherited her mothers talent for public speaking. Her mother placed Oni on the stage at age 7 with the Ms. Hall Dance Troupe at Connie Mack Recreation Center (now Cecil B. Moore). For several years, the all girls dance troupe won city wide competitions performing jazz, tap and ballet to the music of the hit movie, South Pacific.
As a teen, Oni danced with "Crazy Armand" McKissick, as one of the "go-go girls" for WDAS RADIO'S Rock & Rolls shows & Motown Revue's intermissions at the Uptown Theater. Backstage, Oni marveled at the before and after transformations of the glamorous Supreme's and Temptations. In 2006 Oni's biographical short-story of these memories, "Rock & Rollin' at the Uptown Theater" was a winning story for the Benjamin Franklin Autobiography Project of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
She graduated in business from West Catholic Girls High School of Philadelphia and was quickly employed by Fidelity Bank. On a vacation she flew to Los Angeles with a "running buddy" and fell in love with the sunshine and palm trees! She stayed in Los Angeles (for the weather - it was little opportunity in the performing arts, for people of color in the early 70's) and was employed in the fashion industry, as a window dresser, in sales and as a popular customer stylist for the Sy Amber Family of Hollywood, California.
Mentored by Danny Sims of Cayman Music, who she met at a taping of the Soul Train TV show, led her to a career in the music industry. First employed as a receptionist and later in the Music Publishing Department of the Partridge Family TV Show's, Every Little Tune Publishing Division at the Wes Farrell Organization, Recording and Music Publishing Co. aka Chelsea Records in Los Angeles. Chelsea Records was also home to British artist Lulu and R&B group, New York City of the R & B hit, "I'm Doing Fine Now"...without you baby."
A natural instinct for spotting talent and a gifted ear for hit songs, Oni reviewed and recommended a submitted demo while employed at Chelsea Records. It led to her promotion in the Artist & Repertoire Department where she promoted Billboard's #1 R&B hit of 1974, "Be Thankful For What You Got" by William DeVaughn. While employed at Chelsea Records, she was invited and traveled to Jamaica to assist reggae artists in retaining publishing rights and mechanical royalties.
In 1975, she returned to the US to pursue a degree in Communications Arts at Laney College in Oakland, California. While attending Laney she volunteered and was later employed by Pacifica Foundation at KPFA-FM radio station as Interim-Director of the Third World Department, where civil rights activist, Angela Davis hosted her radio show. It was at KPFA Radio, where Oni was the first female in the USA to host a national weekly radio show exclusively featuring Reggae & African music. Oni produced radio documentaries on the Rastafarian Movement in Jamaica, the Soweto Uprisings of South Africa, freedom fighter Steve Biko, and on the Wailers of Jamaica.
On a family visit to Philly in 1982, love fell for Oni, when she met her husband and together they raised 3 children. "Blooming where planted" in the countryside of Chester County, Pennsylvania, where she still resides. With her children by her side, she served in the community as a cultural activist and a youth mentor in the performing arts. She was the creative director and leader of an African-American performing arts (dancing) Girl Scout troupe. This devoted activity led her to be commissioned to serve as the Chair of Freedom Valley Girl Scout's Minority Task Force, developing a diversity handbook for Girl Scout Leaders in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
A founding member of the Coatesville Kwanzaa Committee, they hosted the Fihankra Project, a delegation of chiefs from Kumasi, Ghana who came to USA on a mission to apologize for ancestral involvement in the slave trade. Extending Black History Month to year round, she facilitated the Empak "Say Yes! To Black History" program at the Coatesville Community Center for several years. Always concerned with the welfare of children, led her to serve on the board of the Young Woman & Children Services of Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
In 1993 as a founding member, Oni studied and performed Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry with the Bob Jones Dance Troupe of the Coatesville Cultural Society. As a "Dunbarian" Oni's passion for Dunbar's spoken word poetry has taken her to audiences throughout the USA, Germany and Trinidad & Tobago. She is a featured artist on the Definitive Paul Laurence Dunbar DVD box set.
Presently, a professional storyteller, she continues to stand as a passionate advocate for Arts & Culture in Education. She also serves as an humanitarian, historian and educator of African, American and Caribbean history and culture.
A multi-disciplinary performance and teaching artist, and bass musician, Oni independently produced 3 CD's : Oni Lasana Doin' Dunbar as 'Lias' Mother, Sister Wings, Spoken Word Songs Bass & Beat! and I Dreamt, MLK Jr. the single, available for download on most digital music platforms.
A life long spirit driven poet, her bio-poetic published titles include; A Soul Sister From Cool World Valley, Real Tales of Rhymes & Reason, and Gardenia's & Gumbeaux. She is a songwriter and music publisher member with ASCAP, American Society of Composers and Publishers. A music arranger on the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar, having set 10 of his poems to jazz, calypso, rap, and south African instrumental music for her Brother Dunbar Performance Workshop and Programs.
As a performance poet she was a founding member of In The Company of Poets, "Philly's First and Finest Female Spoken Word Ensemble" presenting as the Story Poet. ITCOP traveled extensively presenting woman's issues via original poetry. Together, they produced FEMALE FIRE! a spoken word CD and continue to present, to empower and benefit woman and girls in crisis.
In continuance of her journey as a producer and radio host, she presented CARIBBEAN NITES on WCOJ-FM Radio, "The voice of Chester County" and a poetry and storytelling program, WORD UP! on WCHE-FM radio of West Chester, PA. Oni's online docu-radio show, "Voices of The Diaspora" on Harambee Radio.com, once again, interviewing and promoting cultural icons, storytellers, poets, community artists and activists to international audiences.
As an "art-tress" Oni directs and performs in several productions with her "drama mama's" The West Chester Community Performers. A benevolent theater group of professional women, who's mission is to present African-American Literature in full length plays and readers theater. WCCP has donated over 40,000 in scholarship book awards to college bound students in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Since 1994, Oni owns and operates Oni Lasana Productions, housing and honing her storytelling characters, performances and workshop offerings. Oni's future projects include publishing her 3 children's books, "How The Storyman Found A Story" - "The Critters Dance by Paul Laurence Dunbar" and "The Palm & The Poui, a Tobago Tale."
As an historical re-in actor, besides Harriet Tubman, Oni also presents as Sojourner Truth, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (abolitionist poet) and is presently researching the life of Oney Judge (George & Martha Washington's (1st president of USA enslaved African-American) Oni as Oney Judge will debut in October 2020.
Meantime and in between time...Oni's travels as a researcher, collector of stories, and a cultural conduit in her presentations. Following her spirit driven nature, as an true artist, has carried her on a grateful journey of living life to the fullest. Oni feels oh so blessed to be living her best life from Pennsylvania, California, Miami, England, Bahamas, Jamaica, Germany, Trinidad & Tobago and most recently, Zimbabwe, Africa!
A certified Laughter Yoga Leader, Oni enjoys guiding folks on the wholistic benefits of Laughter Yoga. Her program, LOL4Real! break down barriers, and encourage wellness. She is a Nana to nine grandchildren, a "Auntie" to all children and "Granny Goose" to many. She loves writing poetry, research & re-telling stories with positive messages for all ages.
A jewelry artisan, Oni also designs & creates with precious stones, one of a kind elegant necklaces and earrings for her PRETTY IMPERFECTION ART WEAR Collection. Custom statement pieces are featured on Facebook and for private showings.
Oni Lasana "Constantly Celebrates Creativity" educating herself on what connects us as people, rather than what divides us. She enjoys researching "ah ha!" stories, rehearsing for presentations, practicing bass guitar, and cooking Creole & Caribbean cuisine.
Catch Oni Live!
Traveling with her husband, on the go solo, presenting with storytelling friends & drama mama's!
Oni give a huge thanks and praises to all her clients, supporters, family & friends. While treasuring every intimate moment, to share, meet, and present for creative visionary adults and all the gifted youths she has yet to meet *!*
Scroll down to read Oni's Diary : Musings : Considering something thoughtfully,
~ AFFILIATIONS ~
West Chester Community Performers
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Association of African American Life and History
(Founded by Carter G. Woodson)
African American Intellectual History Society.
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Paul Laurence Dunbar
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(Thank you in Zimbabwe's Shona language )