About Amrita Sen
My name is Amrita Sen and I am an artist, musician, and story teller. My parents immigrated from Calcutta India when I was 4 years old. I started singing at a very early age. My parents noticed this and put me on stage when I was 6 years old in a local community center. After that I started learning music formally.
When I turned 9, my father bought a 1500 square foot house in the small town of Colonia, NJ. For much of my childhood we had many relatives come to stay in our house. At one point, we had 13 people living in our house. While my room was not entirely available for “alone time”, I would sneak into it when I had the chance. My room was about 400 square feet and it was green, with a blue ribbon streaking throughout the corners of the ceiling. There were two twin beds, a desk, and plenty of extra pillows and comforters for the guest who slept on the floor.
As a girl, I also loved to draw as much as I’d like to sing and play the piano. I watched my mother draw Indian folk dancers on wooden boards. She would come up with so many characters, but none of them had names. They all had big eyes and lots of jewelry on their clothes and in their hair. It was not like the art I was used to seeing in the history books in school. But I knew it was just as important and historical. She drew the art that was passed to her for generations. She taught me how to draw the way I draw.
When my parents noticed that I was as good in art as I was in music, they signed me up for oil painting lessons. Pretty soon, the 13 people living in our house had to share space with my easels and paint brushes and jars of turpentine. The house smelled like spices mixed with gasoline. Not to mention the fact that I would practice my singing ever so loudly and bang out my piano scales every moment I got. I had made my presence known.
It was time for me to go to college. I had two choices. And even then, as a 17 year old girl, I knew that the choice would shape my life. My choice was to either enroll in a liberal arts program focused on music or get a degree from which I was ensured to make money. I chose the latter. Four years later, I had a Bachelor of Science in Finance from the Wharton School of Business and began a job on Wall Street. Next, I went to Harvard Business School. Upon graduating from Harvard, I decided I wanted to leave finance to pursue a career that could somehow use my creative skills and my business skills. I surmised that being an agent to other singers, musicians and visual artists would be the perfect way to bridge these worlds.
I was always sad that I did not sing and draw professionally, but I kept it hidden as much as I could. Many years into my job, family and kids, I started practicing music again. A few months afterwards, I received a phone call from one of my friends stating that the famous Indian composer A.R. Rahman was holding auditions for a lead singer role in the 2009 Oscars. He had just been nominated for best composer for SlumDog Millionaire and he needed a singer to sing on stage with him. I laughed at the thought of this. But then my little brother encouraged me so I submitted a tape. I not only ended up singing with AR on the Oscars but doing multiple shows with him, including one that culminated in a lead singer role where he conducted the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.
Once again, like when I was 17, I had two choices. I could either take my 15 minutes of fame and use it to launch a creative life, or go back to representing the 20 or so famous celebrities and brands that I represented through my practice. This time, I chose the former. Although it took me nearly 2 years to meet all my obligations and finally exit the business of being an agent, the wheels were strongly in motion. By the time I “quit” my job, I had already gone back to professional singing and I was working with Timbaland, my favorite producer, who put me on the Justin Timberlake album. I had already done a major art exhibit at Art Basel. I had already distributed a bag line in department stores. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too late.
I find it lucky that today I have had my collections at Nordstrom’s, Dillards, Barnes and Noble and Bed and Beyond. When I was a little girl, I thought this would be impossible. But the journey has just begun – even though traditional retail is hurting, online channels are giving people like you and me a chance to break new ground, more than ever before! I was told by someone less than a year ago that I would never get to Wayfair without them. In less than a year, I have a direct deal with Wayfair. The lesson here for me and my friends – don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Technology moves fast. Things change and if we believe in ourselves, we can dislodge anyone who doesn’t wish well for the world. We can show people that it better to collaborate than to intimidate!
Through my journey, I have come to appreciate people’s stories. I am reminded that the same stories were being told in elaborate form 5000 years ago, just with different characters dressed in different clothes. I think I have found a way to bridge all of my worlds – my immigrant upbringing, my music, my art, my family, and even my business background – by telling the stories that inspire me and hopefully will inspire others.