Anne o’ me heart ~ Her voice precedes her

apple-crisp morning
cold enough to swim across
sky, blue as a lake

(by Anne Hills, haiku on the threshold of a birthday)

You know her by the bright white smile and the skein of raven hair.  By the one-of-a kind artisan jewelry, and the handmade woven textiles she often wears.  The color palette and soft layers of her dramatic dress, a nod to this culture or that cause.

All of Anne’s being emits vibrant stories to tell.

And you know the Voice: that velvet instrument with its natural tone and unforgettable beauty.  Hers is a deeply resonant sound with an old world quality that summons up joyful times.  Of families gathered in the parlor, taking turns on melody and lead, singing harmonies by ear.

Decades into a laudable recording and concert career, she retains this vocal verite. Pure.  True. Pitch-perfect.  Sure to emphasize lyrics and melody.  In performance, Anne effortlessly navigates the creative line between the traditional folk music canon, and the heightened, personal realm of her songwriting.  Her songs are introspective and determined, exposing a deeply emotional core and fiercely held beliefs.
That’s Anne Hills.  The artist.

Her voice precedes her.
Now, I want to tell you about Anne, my friend.  A little history.
There was a bit of a legendary spin cast on my introduction to Anne.

“And she has the prettiest voice you’ve ever heard! “
My friend Travis told me, while we waited tables at a Chicago pizza place in the early 80s.


“Your band can play here.  How about St. Patrick’s Day?”  Folk singer Bob Gibson offered, amidst other advice, at my first music-biz sit-down after college, without even hearing me…Soon I met other folk luminaries at his Northside club Hobson’s Choice: Gamble Rogers, Stuart Rosenberg, Tom Paxton and Michael Smith.  But it was Anne that was the lone female face on the posters on the walls there.

Gibson cast my then husband, Tom Amandes, to play young Carl Sandburg in the Chicago area debut of the folk musical he and Anne were performing.

That summer of ’84, we went to the Kerrville Folk Festival and I heard Anne play.  I saw her for the first time, far from the stage, her vivid yellow peasant skirt moving with her guitar.  Her luminous white smile radiating across the lawn.  And that voice, shaking up the neighborhood, on Donna from Mobile, a Michael Smith song she’d recorded.

We met in person a few weeks later in a Walgreen’s parking lot near Howard and Western.  
I guess my voice had preceded me.
“I’m coming to hear you Sunday,” she said.
And she did.  I was singing Danny Boy at an Irish festival.
“You made me cry.  We need to get you into WFMT to record,” she said.
And we did.  11 songs in 2 hours.  I sang an album’s worth of songs, accompanied by Peter Swenson’s classical guitar.  And Anne as producer.

That was the beginning of our nearly 35 year friendship.  Though the word friendship hardly gives it justice.  Perhaps there’s a Greek word better suited.  Stories of friendship, especially gal friends, can get treacly and sentimental.  I’m not out for that here.  I just want the record to show, I lucked out with Annie Hills in my life.

As with the range of meanings to love, so is that of our long-winding, soul-accessing, life-giving, heart-shaking connection.  Neither sister nor lover.  Wrought with gravitas and sadness in one go-around. Hysterical and giddy in the next.  We have been through it.  Together.

She lives on the east coast but often stays with me when she’s in town.  Of my homemaking skills, she likes to say I could make a delicious meal even when the cupboard is bare.  (And nearly bare it’s been).  Our odd domesticity has me as cook and setting a pretty table.  She makes the tea and cleans-up.  She drives the car.  We’re singing all the while: silly songs about flowers, chestnuts from showtunes, and hymns of grace.

knowing we will not drown
and that the clouds will be pinned in place
when we wake
(from Jamie, by Anne Hills)

We’ve been each other’s therapists, mothers and muses.  And we’ve had our share of heartache.
Hokey in the retelling, during one mutually dark time, we lie on the floor of my living room, doing a bit of yoga.  Then I read aloud from a self-help book on facing fear.  We cried our eyes out, then stood up and laughed our heads off at the absurdity.

It was Anne who showed up as my marriage suddenly crumbled.  With five days notice, she drove across country, helped me find a new home, pack boxes and helped us move there.  Years later she packed the final boxes from my home of 20 years, and said good-bye to it with me.  Then she unpacked and filled the cabinets in the new apartment.

We get older, and our children grow and they bring their own into the world.  We lose loved ones and share our grief.  Marvel over the swiftly passing days.  As we watch the country in crisis we have long, grey mornings, circling the same stories again and again, in hour-long conversations.  We are each other’s confessionals, searching for the ethical and moral action that may be required.  Seeking absolution over missteps.

Connections between fellow artists can be mired by jealousy, with petty differences over the trivial, when we secretly wish we could be carefree.  For some of my more unwieldy, highfalutin (and underfunded) musical projects, Anne still came along.  Bringing her best.  In time, letting the negative dwindle and the good memories remain.

I envy her perseverance and strength.  With the health issues, financial challenges, and personal losses, not-to-mention the long days spent on the road, or the endless hours sitting in her chair as a therapist, she does not succumb to the worry.  In some quirky superhuman way, she tends to it all.  To us all.

On the first day of autumn she will throw wide her doors
Let the red leaves in to sweeten her floors
She will brew Jasmine tea
And call you long distance, needing your words and your company
(from On The First Day of Autumn, by Anne Hills)

Like the garden metaphors in her poems, she tends to what is asked.
There are weeds and blossoms. Branches offering fruit.  
There is nodding to the sun and the bracing against the rain.
There are carols for seasons turning.
And lullabies for new birth.
And on Anne’s horizon, hope.
Always hope.

Happy Birthday, Annie
Love, Jamie




Here are a few of Anne’s  poems.
To read more go here:

Poem Margaret’s Mourning
(Birth: March 6, 1926 Death: June 15, 2013)

dawn lightens the lake
obsidian turns emerald, as sunlight lifts the blue
and the river churns past the pier
but where is Margaret?

the gulls soar, sweep low
sparrows sing and lift us from dreams
white caps chase each other toward the sand
but where is Margaret?

at Lion’s Park Beach, below
the swing shivers and lifts empty, in the soft wind
runners and dogs appear amid the tall lake grasses
but where is Margaret?

in the garden outside her front door
the trees open their arms, waiting
flowers lift their faces
but where is Margaret?

even the statue of Pan seems pensive,
lifts his pipes beneath the morning shadows, wondering
where, oh where is Margaret?

I write my prose, remembering
I dig in my garden, remembering
I soak small seeds, remembering
I trim the lilacs and listen to the crows argue,
a song rises to my mouth, lifts into the air
and there … there she is … Margaret is everywhere.


I can hear her footsteps moving across the floor
she is opening the curtains of the day
up before the rest of the house
and all over the world women rise
turn from night’s embrace
sit, stand
each a bright sun rising
they move from kitchen to bath to garden
picking fruit
cutting zinnias
putting bread in the clay ovens
champion swimmers in an ocean of possibilities
they pull in the wooden dreamboats
and mend the sails
while the rest of us
secure and undercover
hear their rustling
feel them tenderly adjust the blankets
knowing we will not drown
and that the clouds will be pinned in place
when we wake


Poems by Anne Hills
Jamie originally published in Room of One’s Own Vol. 24:3
Photos by Irene Young and Iwona Biedermann




  1. Hi Jamie,
    I am so glad you sent this one. I will forward it. One needs only to be present when you & Anne are in the same place because we feel the love, the bond of friendship. ( Michigan, your parties!) This is a beautiful tribute to your friendship w Anne and vice versa. I loved your birthday party this year. There was a wonderful ambiance. I am curious how last night went and sorry I missed it? I am also blessed w. friendship. thank goodness! “Until we meet again…” You needn’t “envy her perserverance & strength” as those are also YOUR qualities! with love, Christine

  2. Jamie, this is friendship-made-word. Or rich-friendship-made-rich-word. Or something wonderful like this.

  3. Dearest Jamie

    Your heart is as vast and open as can be. This piece is worthy of your pride and worthy of your dear friend. Blessings on you both.

    Love Willy

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