I recently learned that Sister Maryam has passed.  She was well known in Utah and beyond for her artistry in this world.  He and her husband, Jose de Bonilla, sang at Tom and my wedding.  She was an inspiration and I feel blessed to have had her touch our lives.

Here is Sister Maryam and Jose performing at our wedding, October 28, 2001:

A. Maryam Muhammad 1944-2008
Cultural ambassador dies at age 63
Sister Maryam, a ‘cultural ambassador,’ earned acclaim for her music and her life

By Ellen Fagg
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 02/07/2008 01:24:04 AM MST

Sister A. Maryam Muhammad, an African-American artist, storyteller and musician who became known as the public face of Salt Lake City’s largest Kwanzaa celebration, died of cancer on Jan. 31. She was 63.

She took on a new name when she joined the Muslim faith in the 1970s, but it was her students who gave her the title “Sister.” “It was either Queen, like Queen Latifah, or Sister,” says her husband, Jose Roberto Bonilla. Sister Maryam was the designation that stuck.
Born Carolyn Marie White, she grew up in Houston, Texas, where she was relegated to the back of the bus and banned from using public drinking fountains because of her skin color. These experiences later sparked her inner cultural ambassador.
From Texas, where she was among the first group of black students admitted to the University of Houston, Sister Maryam later moved to Los Angeles. “We met through music,” is how Bonilla describes their first encounter.
At the time, Sister Maryam was starting a folk band and noticed the El Salvadoran man carrying a guitar at the bus stop. “We exchanged numbers, and then I played for her and she liked it. And then I liked her,” he says. The couple were married on June 1, 1981, and eventually had seven children.
The family moved to Salt Lake City in 1994, where Sister Maryam earned an anthropology degree from the University of Utah. In 1997, she and her husband formed the Royal Heritage Ensemble, releasing a handful of CDs, and performed regularly at festivals and in Utah schools. In 2001 and 2002, the group performed in Europe, designated “cultural ambassadors” by the U.S. Department of Defense.
    Sister Maryam’s book about African-American heritage, Our Roots Run Deep, was featured in educational programs at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, where several of her paintings are part of the museum collection.
    “She was truly a fantastic, vibrant woman, really passionate about art and culture,” said Virginia Catherall, curator of education. “She had a multicultural and global perspective that everybody could experience.”
    Sister Maryam was loved by the children who attended Club U., the university’s summer day camp, said program director Nate Friedman. “She wanted everybody to get along and everybody to accept each other,” says Friedman, who liked her music so much that he invited Sister Maryam and Bonilla to play at his own wedding in 2006. “She wanted to expose everybody to diversity, to expose them to happy thoughts.”
    ellenf@sltrib.com
   
   
   Remembering a sister
   
   A memorial fundraiser for Sister A. Maryam Muhammad will be Feb. 17, 6 to 10 p.m., at A Cup of Joe Cafe, 353 W. 200 South. Details of an April 16 birthday celebration to honor the artist and cultural ambassador will be announced then.
formed the Royal Heritage Ensemble, releasing a handful of CDs, and performed regularly at festivals and in Utah schools. In 2001 and 2002, the group performed in Europe, designated “cultural ambassadors” by the U.S. Department of Defense.
    Sister Maryam’s book about African-American heritage, Our Roots Run Deep, was featured in educational programs at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, where several of her paintings are part of the museum collection.
    “She was truly a fantastic, vibrant woman, really passionate about art and culture,” said Virginia Catherall, curator of education. “She had a multicultural and global perspective that everybody could experience.”
    Sister Maryam was loved by the children who attended Club U., the university’s summer day camp, said program director Nate Friedman. “She wanted everybody to get along and everybody to accept each other,” says Friedman, who liked her music so much that he invited Sister Maryam and Bonilla to play at his own wedding in 2006. “She wanted to expose everybody to diversity, to expose them to happy thoughts.”
    ellenf@sltrib.com
   
   
   Remembering a sister
   
   A memorial fundraiser for Sister A. Maryam Muhammad will be Feb. 17, 6 to 10 p.m., at A Cup of Joe Cafe, 353 W. 200 South. Details of an April 16 birthday celebration to honor the artist and cultural ambassador will be announced then.

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