Singer-Songwriter Megan Keely's Tribute to Her Grandmother

4 min
Megan Keely's fourth album comes out May 25th.  (Nicola-Parisi)

Some people hate Mother's Day because of the way it sentimentalizes moms, or makes women who've never been mothers feel somehow less-than. Bay Area writer Anne Lamott famously ranted against the holiday in an essay for Salon: My main gripe about Mother's Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat.

What about the stepmoms and godmothers? What about the cool aunties, grandmas and other strong women who help raise kids?

Bay Area singer-songwriter and guitarist Megan Keely pays tribute to them in her soon-to-be released album, Bloom, which focuses on strong, empowered women.

Keely talked with Sasha Khokha, host of The California Report Magazine, and gave her a sneak peek of a song that's particularly fitting for Mother's Day.

Singer-songwriter Megan Keely with her grandmother, Marcia Montgomery Turner Keely. (Bert Keely)

What’s the song 'Marcia Montgomery' about?

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[Marcia] was my grandmother on my dad's side. And she was a Navy wife. Her husband was a naval aviator and was away a lot. My grandmother was raising my dad and his two sisters. She learned how to fix everything around the house. She was so clever and crafty and practical and smart. She just took matters in her own hands. She could figure anything out. So, when she passed away on my 30th birthday a couple of years ago, I was grieving, but still looking to her for guidance each time I was facing any puzzles.

Megan Keely, her grandmother Marcia Montgomery Turner Keely, and brother Brandon Keely (who co-produced the song and plays guitar). (Pete Lee)

What do you think she taught you about being a strong woman?

So much. On a tangible level, she taught me how to fix a running toilet. She taught me that you don't need to look to somebody else to figure it out for you or fix it for you. You have that strength within and you can look within in order to really listen to yourself and find the right answer.

Singer-songwriter Megan Keely's new album "Bloom" features songs about empowered women and immigrant families. (Stephanie Dandan)

Is there a particular lyric in "Marcia Montgomery" that means a lot to you?

One of the verses says, “I'm trying to learn from all my own mistakes, growing and giving, learning and living, solid as wood.” That just sticks in my mind as an overall feeling that I felt around her. The sturdiness.

Marcia Montgomery, by Megan Keely

Marcia Montgomery 
What do you think of the choices I’ve made this year 
Marcia Montgomery 
You always knew how to say it straight, how to keep it clear 
I’m trying to use my mind and my hands the way you always could 
Clever fixes and practical decisions, honest and good 

Are you still proud of me, are you still proud of me 
Am I getting it right, am I living my life how I outta be 

Oh Marcia Montgomery 
There was a time when I thought you’d meet the children I’ll bear 
But Marcia Montgomery 
Now they will learn your ways through stories and jewelry I’ll wear 
I’m trying to learn from all my mistakes the way I know I should 
Growing and giving, learning and living, solid as wood 

Are you still proud of me, are you still proud of me 
Am I getting it right am I living my life how I outta be 

Oh Marcia Montgomery 
You always knew how to say it straight, how to keep it clear

Singer-songwriter Megan Keely's latest album features songs about strong women, inspired by her two grandmothers and her mom. Left to right: grandmother Marcia Montgomery Marcia Montgomery Turner Keely, grandmother "Lola" Anita Saflor Enriquez and mom Cynthia Keely. (Bert Keely)

Did you learn things from your grandma that are different from what you learned from your mom?

I was very lucky to have both of them very close by and playing integral roles in my life. They tag-teamed and supplemented each other so well, but were so different. On a physical level, my hands look more like my grandma's hands. My mom has these long beautiful slender fingers and these long nails. I got my grandma's hands, which are meaty and wide, and that's a big part of, I think, why I was able to pick up guitar quickly. It's probably why I became a landscape architect as well, because I love to work with the dirt and work with my hands.

Another song on this album, "Define American," was inspired by your mom, right?

Yeah, my mom was born in the Philippines and her family brought her over to Alameda when she was three-years-old. My Lolo, my grandfather, got a job working for the U.S. military. My Lolo and Lola (grandmother) saw that as the ultimate opportunity to provide a path for education and opportunity for their kids and their entire family. I feel lucky that they took that risk and that there was a path to citizenship for them at the time. Our whole family benefited and grew from that. My mom has dedicated really her life's work towards helping immigrant students, many of whom are undocumented Dreamers. It just felt like a no-brainer to me that so many of these young people should not be turned away or sent away. It just felt like I needed to do something and that my music could lend a voice. Without a doubt, my advocacy for Dreamers was affected by my mom's work and her values.

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