Published on February 29th, 2016 | by Landon Buford0
The Hype Magazine Interviews : Mengesha “Mystro” Francis
The Hype Magazine: Where did you grow up?
Mystro: I grew up in south central Los Angeles.
The Hype Magazine: Can you tell our readers where your name originated from and its meaning?
Mystro: Mengesha is an Ethiopian name and it means kingdom and or a place to be king and it is usually a last name but the firstborn male takes the last name at first.
The Hype Magazine: Where did you get the name The Black Liberace from?
Mystro: The Black Liberace was given to me by several of my entertainment colleagues and celebrities that associated me with Liberace, who was the highest paid entertainer in the 70s. He was a piano player who was really out there with his style and his fashion was shiny and sparkling. Because of my piano style and the fact that I wear a lot of bling bling glitter, that’s how I got the nickname. However the real Black Liberace was named after a jazz pianist and organist by the name of James Booker he was from New Orleans.
The Hype Magazine: How did you get started in the entertainment business?
Mystro: I started at five, in 1975. I was watching The Jackson Five cartoon; my mother used to sit me down every Saturday morning to watch cartoons. Now mind you, I didn’t even know The Jackson Five were real people. I thought they were cartoon characters. I had no idea that they were a real group, you know, performing concerts. That was my first introduction to The Jackson Five, watching them on TV, so I knew that they could play instruments. My mother knew that I had a natural gift for the piano because she bought a little tiny organ, and if I heard a commercial on TV, for some reason I could play it. If it was a McDonald’s commercial or a Pepsi Cola commercial, I could pick the notes out and play them, so she knew then that I had a natural gift for the piano. And watching those cartoons I thought, wow, I’ve never seen characters that can play instruments that looked like me, being African-American. It surprised me and caught my interest. At the beginning of my entertainment career, I was managed by Robert Feldman (New Talent Enterprises), who is the father of 1980’s actor Corey Feldman and was able to land Corn Pops Commericals as a child actor. During this time I was very good friends with Corey and Drew Barrymore just to give a little backround on my life during a time where actors had to have training. Remember during this time there wasn’t any internet, social media, and anything else you can name available in today’s day and age.
In addition, I also wanted to take music lessons, and a man came to my elementary school looking for kids; special kids that could understand music and notes, and get them started so when they got older they could get a scholarship and go to college. So I auditioned a part of the program and I won. I learned classical piano, and I learned how to play jazz, gospel, and I ended up playing for some of my mother’s church organizations. So I really got a solid gospel background when I was around thirteen or fourteen because my mother had me in the choir, those sorts of things. Then I became a school teacher, and then Hollywood. There was just a lot, but I was five when I first started playing piano.
The Hype Magazine: How was it working with Jodeci in the studio?
Mystro: In the early 2000’s me and Mr. Dalvin became really good friends and he appreciated my piano skills, so he hired me on to just be a piano player and keyboard player in his sessions for Jodeci’s new up-and-coming album. However, when I was in the studio with the group, I started creating songs with them and Mr. Dalvin decided to make me a co-producer. The funny thing about it is the recording studio where we were creating the music was also shared by Michael Jackson who was there that exact same evening, right next door recording his invincible album. And me being a Michael Jackson fanatic, I could not resist trying to hear his music, so I walked out trying to sneak through the next door to his studio and of course it had security there. So I couldn’t go in. but it was exciting for me just to know that I was recording music right next to Michael Jackson’s session.
The Hype Magazine: I read somewhere you had to the opportunity to meet the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. What was that like?
Mystro: The first time I met Michael Jackson I was thirteen and I ditched school on a Monday morning. I knew where he lived, at 4641 Hayvenhurst Drive in Encino, and I took the bus for two hours to get to his house. Upon arriving, Michael came out of his driveway, driving a black BMW and he saw me. Before I could open my mouth and ask for his autograph, he questioned me about why wasn’t I in school. So right then and there, he told me he wasn’t going to give me an autograph and I needed to stay in school, but if I would meet him on Saturday around the corner from his house at Balboa Park, he would give me an autograph and I’d get to meet his brothers too. So of course, I took the bus back out there to the park where the Jacksons’ were playing baseball and Michael was sitting on the opposite team side in a disguise. His brothers gave me the Victory Tour jacket, as well as a Victory Tour book and each one signed it and Michael signed in as well! That was a great day.
The Hype Magazine: Can you describe the emotions you had when you performed live with Michael on stage cheering you on for his 30th Anniversary in 2001?
Mystro: The 30th Anniversary was the last time I saw Michael in person. That really was an incredible night. I had a chance to play and what I did in the video, Michael Jacksonology: Piano Tribute is the same thing I did in front of Michael at the anniversary. I performed right there for Michael with James Ingram standing over me and a bunch of celebrities. Quite a few people were impressed with my playing, including the likes of Michael, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Usher, Chilli, Bobby Brown and other famous people that were there as his personal guest. The night ended with everyone cheering me on including Michael Jackson himself, enjoying my piano rendition of a medley of his songs! That was the last time I would see Michael alive, so at least I had a chance to play in person for him. I can take that and just run with that, you know?
The Hype Magazine: Do you find classical music harder to learn compared to other genres?
Mystro:Playing classical music on piano and training as a classical pianist is a lot more difficult than just doing standard music. There’s a technique that you have to have in playing classical music, the fingering is different than you would normally make than just performing standard music. However, I have been able to apply my classical training to all genres of music.
The Hype Magazine: Is there anything you are currently working on in the studio?
Mystro : Starting next month I will be recording my new single entitled “Rock it 3000” a tribute to Herbie Hancock. And my album is titled “Mystro’s Tip Jar.”
The Hype Magazine: Typically how long does it take you to compose your own music and can you tell us some of the things that inspire you to write?
Mystro : It really depends on who I’m writing for. For example it only took me an hour to compose four songs with Jodeci.
The Hype Magazine: Can you tell us some of the challenges you faced during 2009, when your started your company School Time Hip-Hop Productions?
Mystro : Well, that time was hard for me. With that, those are my original compositions. I understand hip-hop; I like hip-hop, and so I mixed hip-hop and education together. Sort of like Schoolhouse Rock. I’m also a big fan of Schoolhouse Rock from the seventies TV show. I grew up on that, so I wanted to incorporate that style with hip-hop, make it exciting, and still be educational for kids. Actually, when Michael Jackson passed, I had to put the project on the back-burner, and only because I just needed time to grieve. I was so excited about putting this out for kids. I was definitely in talks with getting this to Michael Jackson for him to give me the thumbs-up, not necessarily an endorsement, I just wanted him to see this, you know. It’s for kids, it’s educational and when he passed, it was so difficult for me to continue at that point. I had lost people in my personal family too, around that same time, so I was really not in a good place, but now I’m a lot stronger.
Mystro: I have been talking to the school districts to get the project out. I’m really excited about it, and we’ve been getting wonderful revues in just our demo alone. So, I’m still going to push forward with that.
The Hype Magazine: What do you see yourself involved in during the next five years?
Mystro: I want to focus on myself as a professional musician and getting back into acting and start the Mystro School of Artists for young adolescents to give them the basic fundamentals of music and theater arts.
The Hype Magazine: With your expertise and training is there anything else you’ve done to give back to your community?
Mystro : Yes. A few years back, I wanted to help develop a children’s choir and I began to teach kids that had no musical background and the age group ranged from 5 years to 15 years old. This particular idea became a huge success and it opened the door for my students to win the Ronald McDonald Gospel Fest against 200 other choirs, including adults.
The Hype Magazine: Finally, since he was one of the world’s biggest stars, can you tell our readers what your impression was of Michael Jackson?
Mystro : He was very out-spoken. He was very stern with me, because I was a 13 year-old sitting outside his house instead of being in school. So he wasn’t like you see on TV, he was not soft-spoken to me. He was very direct and more concerned about me being outside of his house instead of in school learning. He was like a concerned parent.
I’d seen him on a few other occasions too, but one-on-one, I don’t think Michael was as shy as people think. I think he was more business savvy than people see. His public persona is, of course, he was a nice guy, and very soft-spoken and wonderful. But I believe from the few interactions I had with him, when it came to something serious, Michael Jackson had no problem telling you exactly what he meant. Now, he was nice enough to invite me to his baseball game after I skipped school; he didn’t have to do that. He could have called the police and said this kid is in front of my house, he needs to go to school. But instead, he told me I could come to his baseball game and he would give me an autograph, just not on school days, and I will never forget that. He could have done a whole bunch of things, I mean I was trespassing, well not necessarily trespassing on the actual property, but loitering.
The Hype Magazine: Is there any advice that you would like to give to young aspiring artist out there?
Mystro : The one on thing is to learn your craft, this gives you advantage over your competition, because the competition is stiff. If you are learning and practicing when everyone else is sleeping, then you will gain the advantage. Please do not skip corners to get where you want to go with music, you’re only as good as your rehearsals.
The Hype Magazine: When can we expect Mystro’s World Behind the Keys to air on VH1?
Mystro : It is slated to come out this year. The show will be based on my personal life beyond the music industry. It focuses on my community, as an activist against gang violence with Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, and the collaboration with my company School Time Hip-hop.
The Hype Magazine: What was going through your mind as you auditioned for the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the early 90s?
Mystro: It was a great opportunity to get my foot in the door. Samm Art Williams introduced me to Will Smith and we had great chemistry and I am still really good friends with him to this day. One of the things Will Smith told me that I’ve held dear to my heart was “Give Them What they want,” in terms to your acting abilities and being flexible.
The Hype Magazine: Since you have performed at previous Oscar events, how do you feel about other celebrities possibly opting to boycott them this year? Are you one of them? And how do you feel about Chris Rock hosting this year’s award ceremony in light of the controversy over diversity?
The Hype Magazine: Who are some of your endorsers?
The Hype Magazine: What are some of the events you are planning for this year?
Mystro: Mystro and friends Live Concert at the Catalina Jazz club in Hollywood California and Xen Lounge owned and operated by Duane Martin and Tisha Campbell-Martin.
The Hype Magazine: Thank you Mystro for your time!
Please enjoy some of Mengesha “Mystro” Francis work, including the tribute to Michael Jackson
in its entirety.
Piano Virtuoso Jams Live Piano honoring Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at the mansion of comedic actor John Witherspoon.
Mystro impromptu Piano Tribute honoring The Weeknd “Earned It“Tweet