June Ventzos (1959-2020)
One of Bermuda’s top singers, a band leader who scored a hit on the United States Billboard charts, has died.
June Ventzos, who shot to fame locally as the leader of the band Paradise, was 61.
She then forged the group Voyeur with Grant Williams; together they signed with CBS records and climbed to 18 on Billboard in 1988 with the album Boulevard.
Ms Ventzos started singing professionally as a teenager, taking early influence from the American jazz great Billie Holiday.
Although she also studied international business and marketing, music defined her life.
In 1993 she told The Royal Gazette: “I could still be a lawyer, and later, I might.
“But I’ve always believed that my voice had a special quality, a unique texture. Once I made the connection with what Billie Holiday had been doing, it just blew me away.
“At first, I couldn’t see it, and now I can’t get rid of it.”
Ms Ventzos sold thousands of copies of her Bermudian-made album Sizzlin’ Hot in 1981.
Paradise had been a fixture of the island’s hotel circuit in the 1970s, with Ronnie Lopes on drums, Mr Williams on piano and bassist Wincy Woolridge.
Later, as she and Mr Williams bounced between the island and New York to get Voyeur off the ground, they were signed to CBS Records’ pop department.
Her voice ultimately caught the attention of a Saudi Arabian prince who, as part-owner of the Elbow Beach Hotel, made her a regular at the resort.
She said of the residency: “He told me to find whichever musicians I’d like to work with, set and control my own budget, and to make the place my own.”
The gig launched her as a top-earning local entertainer in Bermuda by the early 1990s.
She referred to the prince as “a regular guy — with a billion bucks”.
Wendell “Shine” Hayward recalled her talent from her high school days at the Whitney Institute.
The veteran musician described her sound as “like a young Chaka Khan”.
He added: “The band played at Elbow Beach, where she got heard by that prince who loved June, and they performed late.
“Some of us, after our gigs, would go there to listen to them. It was the place to be on a Friday night.
“June was one of Bermuda’s finest female vocalists. She was the real deal.”
Mr Hayward said she was “the voice, the personality and the stage presence” of all her bands; she organised showings and paid her musicians well for their work.
He added: “June fronted the band, pretty much was the band. People went because of June.”
Later Ms Ventzos moved to Arizona, but Mr Hayward said a standout memory was her return to the island for his 50th birthday in 2006.
She delivered a “fantastic” performance while fronting the band, Shine Hayward and Friends.
The night at what was then the Southampton Princess Hotel, was close to Valentine’s Day.
As a result, Ms Ventzos, along with singer Gita Blakeney Saltus, settled on an impromptu encore, My Funny Valentine.
Mr Hayward said: “It was unrehearsed. It was a moment to be remembered.”
Ms Blakeney Saltus called it “an epic night” and said their duet was “magical”.
She added: “June is a cherished friend, who as a fellow songstress exuded her unique vocal style on stage and via her recordings like no other.
“She was a trailblazer in the Bermuda music industry and a true inspiration for me as an artist.
“My heart is heavy, but so very grateful for the times that we shared both on and off the stage. I will cherish these memories for ever.”
An online tribute by her friend Jade Rosado said Ms Ventzos had died at home in Arizona on September 26.
Ms Rosado wrote: “She was a loving mother to her two daughters, Jade and Aubani. She was also a vibrantly, amazing grandmother to Jayce, Jenesis and Presley.”
Ms Ventzos followed through in later life on her desire to return to the business world and qualified as an insurance broker shortly before her death.
Ms Rosado called her “a shining light whose presence welcomed every person with warm smiles and kind words”.
June Ventzos, singer and recording artist, was born on April 30, 1959. She died on September 26, 2020, aged 61
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