Music Spotlight: Alyssa Bonagura

The first time I heard of Alyssa Bonagura was when she played with Ruby Stewart as part of The Sisterhood band when Ruby’s dad, Rod Stewart, played Bridgestone Arena in August of 2018. The two performed their tune “Half Way” with Stewart’s band before dad returned to sing “Forever Young” with them. They also sang with Cyndi Lauper on her iconic hit “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”

The two girls weren’t just there because of their famous family (Bonagura’s parents were the RCA country recording artists, Baillie & The Boys), they are truly that talented, with both being multi-instrumentalists and singer/songwriters.

Bonagura has been on the road her whole life starting at just 3 weeks old with the tour bus being her cradle. Her playground encompassed sound checks at fairs and festivals and backstage dressing rooms at a slew of different venues including the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Award shows, and her “extended family” consisted of managers, promoters, roadies, musicians, and other fellow mainstream country artists.

She admits, “I have really not known anything else. I grew up with my parents being on the road and I kind of got thrown into that life. I was drawn to all of it and have never stopped doing it.”

At the age of 3, Bonagura performed on the Ralph Emory television show, Nashville Now where her version of the Leslie Gore classic, “It’s My Party” brought the house down in front of millions of national viewers. At age 10, one of those major acts, Kenny Rogers, decided Bonagura was the perfect child singer to record a duet with him on his Christmas CD, Christmas From The Heart.

“Recording with Kenny Rogers was probably one of the biggest highlights of my life. I knew who he was because my parent toured with him. I knew what a legend he was back then, but I feel like you don’t really know until you get older. As a kid, I was super fearless. When you’re a child of a country music star, everyone around you is an equal. You talk to Reba and Vince Gill and they were just normal people to me,” Bonagura remembers.

Kenny Rogers was “truly one of my biggest inspirations as far talent and just the kind of person that he was to everyone around him. He was so kind and genuine and that says a lot about someone’s character.”

When she got older is when she understood how crazy that part of her life was. 

When she was on the road with her parents, Bonagura learned how to play guitar and create music. She learned piano as a child started songwriting at age 10. Her dad helped her record songs when she was 14.

She recalls, “We had this 8-track mini-disc recorder and I would just layer the harmonies and then the guitar parts. I was fascinated with production and learning how to create a sound that you hear in your head.”

After graduating high school, Bonagura received a full scholarship from Sennheiser to Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts in Liverpool England, where she spent the next three years earning a degree in Sound Technology/Audio Engineering while continuing to perform in local venues throughout Europe. She was just 18 when she started and living in England by herself was “completely scary and exciting at the same time.”

While at college, Bonagura was spotted by Liverpool Rock Star Pete Wylie and was asked to join his band playing electric guitar and singing background vocals. They ended up opening for The Who and Ringo Starr and they also played for the Queen at her royal variety show.

After graduating from LIPA and receiving her diploma from Paul McCartney himself, Bonagura returned to Nashville and signed her first publishing deal with Rondor Music.

“It was kind of like starting all over again,” she confesses.

While signed to Rondor, she produced and released her sophomore album Love Hard which was backed by a 10k dollar Kickstarter Campaign and landed one of the biggest nationwide commercial placements of 2012 with her song, “I Make My Own Sunshine,” inspired by Liverpool’s rainy weather. It was featured in a Lowe’s commercial, earning over 50,000 downloads in its first 3 months and over 1 million plays on Spotify. She had no idea at the time that her song would later be heard by Steven Tyler and recorded on his first-ever solo album, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, and that she would be the only solo writer on his debut #1 Billboard Country album.

She has since built a studio in her house where not only does she create her own music, she engineers it as well.

“It was beneficial for me to learn how to record my music so I can get in the studio anywhere and hang because I know what they are doing. I can hear a song, write a song, and record a song no matter where I’m at. Now you can take it anywhere with your laptop. It’s a real freedom to be able to record your own music and I am so grateful that I had that time during the pandemic because all I did was make music.”

Bonagura has had the opportunity to write with songwriting greats like Jeffrey Steele, Michelle Branch, Hunter Hayes, and JD Souther, writing three songs on Jessie James Decker’s top 5 Billboard Country album “Comin’ Home” and co-writing a top 40 billboard country radio single, “Lights Down Low”, winning Canadian songwriter of the year and song of the year for “I Only Smoke When I Drink” by the Small Town Pistols, co-writing Jana Kramer’s latest country radio single “Circles” and a #17 AC Billboard Chart Christmas duet with Matthew & Gunner Nelson called “This Christmas” which she wrote with the twins and her father, Michael Bonagura. She’s also had three #1 hits in Australia with Morgan Evans and Chelsea Basham and produced music for Jo Dee Messina and Rachel Reinert of Gloriana. 

Though they have since parted ways to pursue their individual projects, Bonagura credits her time in The Sisterhood band for helping her figure out what kind of performer she could be and wanted to be.

“It really helped me grow in so many ways,” she recalls. “Change is inevitable and sometimes it is really sad, but often it is necessary.”

One of Bonagura’s best friends is singer/songwriter Jessie James Decker whom she has known for 16 years. Back in 2013 they tentatively started a duet, Jackie Blue, but it never took off as both artists were focused on other pursuits.

However, last year Decker texted, “We have to finish Jackie Blue.” The pair had written 10 -11 Jackie Blue songs. They just finished recording several songs so hopefully fans of both will soon be getting new music to hear.

“We’re like the Everly sisters. We sing so alike when we’re together. Sometimes on the recordings, I can’t tell if it’s her or me. We’ve been musical soulmates since we met.”

Before Bonagura was part of The Sisterhood band, she put out a record, The Road Less Traveled. It is a 10 song album that was recorded live in seven days at the end of summer 2015 with friend and engineer Mark Petaccia. The collection showcases Alyssa as a solo artist in her truest form to date and shares the journey of finding her voice and paving her path as an independent Country artist. All the songs were written or co-written by her and she played at least 11 instruments on the album including ukulele, lap steel, and a Hammond B-3 organ.

Besides the title track, songs not to miss are “Imagination” and my personal favorite “Rebel” which quietly, but emphatically emphasizes that she is going to do things her way.

She currently has a new record in the works. So far, she has released the much-needed, uplifting “New Wings,” the autobiographical “Last Night in December,”  and most recently the hauntingly, beautifully “Paper Airplane” which talks about a relationship that can’t last no matter how much they want it to.

She relays, “Every song I put out is a personal song. It’s like people are reading my diary. That’s why I love Taylor Swift so much because you can hear that in her music. It takes a lot of courage to release songs like that. My whole point in doing that is to bring people together who have gone through something similar. Me being vulnerable is will help someone else be able to heal something in them when they hear the song.”

Bonagura confesses to sometimes going on social media breaks so she won’t get too concerned about how many streams or likes a song may have.

“It’s very important to create the art because the art will find the people it’s supposed to reach as long as it’s out there.”

Not being pigeon-holed to one type of style or genre of music, Bonagura finds her songs on various playlists that reach a variety of listeners.

Since Bonagura was literally born to be an artist and has been blessed with a natural God-given talent, it is exciting to see what she will create next and where her path will take her. Be sure to keep up with her latest endeavors by following her on her website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Spotify, all streaming platforms.

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Bethany Bowman is a freelance entertainment writer. You can follow her blog, Bethany WritesInstagram, and Twitter.

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