There are people who know how to take the tragic and make it magic. Arietta Ward is one of those people. The eldest daughter of the late, legendary Janice Scroggins, the sudden loss of her mother became the catalyst to solidifying her space on the stage – a space that Arietta, commonly known as Mz. Etta, has already occupied for years.
Alongside everyone who is anyone in Portland’s multi genre music scene, Mz. Etta has been a staple. From Linda Hornbuckle to LaRhonda Steele, Ken DeRouchie, Tony Ozier, and Norman Sylvester, Arietta has shared the stage with the elite and on her own merit. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone affiliated with jazz, soul, funk or R&B that doesn’t know who she is. Yet only now is she on the cusp of releasing her debut solo album, a body of carefully crafted musical masterpieces.
When asked why now in regards to releasing her work, Ward says “Carrying on my Mother’s legacy is a huge motivation”. She also acknowledges that her mother did a lot of the work so that she and her sister, Nafisaria Mathews, who is also an established vocalist, don’t have too. Subsequently, Mz. Etta is able to successfully navigate an often male dominated and difficult industry – and she does so with a following of respect. “I got grandfather into it [the music scene]. It’s a blessing because I can get into rooms that it takes years for others to access.” For example, Mz. Etta’s third solo show was at the renowned Jimmy Mak’s - - a venue typically reserved for music royalty, not still blooming solo artist who haven’t yet released an album. And as if being booked for a show at the venue wasn’t impressive and powerful enough, Arietta’s show was sold out. That is the power of Etta’s world.
Even though most would assume that singing is what she’s always done, Arietta acknowledges that her mother never pressured her or her sister to sing. “We grew up with music, it was always a part of our lives but Mom didn’t push us into the industry. She gave us freedom and choice to be whoever we wanted to be.” A glimpse into the powerhouse that she’d become came by way of a stage appearance in the “Red Beans and Rice” play. “Even close friends were shocked; they didn’t know I could sing like that.”
While others were shocked at her vocal prowess, Mz. Etta was dealing with her own type of shock. “I had really bad stage fright.” However, as an original member of the famed Doo Doo Funk All Stars, Arietta eventually grew more comfortable in the spotlight and her talents quite easily manifested into greatness. Arietta worked closely with the late Obo Addy and she credits him, amongst others, for helping her “work outside the box”. Addy’s friendship and mentorship was a blessing, even leading to her learning different Ghanaian dialects. Ms. Ward is featured on Obo’s last recording, which was released in September 2015. Arietta has also shared the stage with many local turned national and international stars including Liv Warfield and Esperanza Spalding, Thara Memory, Jarrod Lawson, Curtis
Salgado, Lloyd Jones, Farnell Newton and far too many more to name.
By trade, Arietta is a licensed cosmetologist and spends her days as an educator in the field. It’s not really a secondary career but instead, a compliment and conjunction of her life as an artist. “Singers and Stylist actually have a lot of commonality” she says, flashing her warm smile that reminds you of a woman filled with wisdom well beyond her years. “In both fields, you have to create. “ The steady income from the cosmetology career gave Arietta the stability she needed to raise her son. “Music money comes and goes but in Portland, you can make it – you can definitely make it.”
As she released her debut solo album in fall 2020, Arietta is destined to be among those who will not only make it, but make it big. The album stands as a testament to Mz. Etta’s unrivaled vocals, but also serves as a tangible contribution to the continuation of a legacy. “I am indeed, my Mother’s child. All the music, all the songs, these are my stories. They’re stories that need to be told, and I am here to tell them.”
While many labels of style exist, Arietta doesn’t define herself by any particular genre. Some would call her neo soul, others jazz, and still others R and B. But Mz. Etta is more focused on content and the responsibility that she believes every artist has. “Be mindful of how you deliver. Be mindful of your intent while delivering your messages. When you open your mouth – always hold that intent in the highest positive vibration possible. Artists are healers, music has healing power. Music is sacred.”
And from that sacred and healing space, we meet Arietta Ward. A name you’re bound to be hearing for a long time; a name that, like her Mother, will be spoken of in reference to legendary music royalty for a long time coming.
Written by Rochell D. "Ro Deezy" Hart