Why haven’t I heard of you?

The singer’s life: folly or fairytale?

“All the intelligence and talent in the world can’t make a singer. The voice is a wild thing. It can’t be bred in captivity. It is a sport, like the silver fox. It happens.” (Willa Cather, Song of the Lark)

I came to my Summer Solstice concert last Friday evening ready. Practiced. Calm. This was a low-risk situation. A fresh haircut. An easy parking space. Some tickets sold ahead to loyal friends.

I wore my new red saloon dress. A whimsical, retro-style gown, with a lace-up bodice and skirt with layers of ruby-red lace over satin. Over that, I wore the embroidered white shawl drapey-thing I found in ‘08 at the Mexican Shop in Evanston. (I bought it because it looked like the one in the photos of my Great Aunt Nell, who called herself Eileen Dhu, during her art deco-era modeling days). Seemed right for this Solstice concert.

I was featuring the old songbird style songs reminiscent of Nell’s day. A niche I’m exploring with the themes of this website, and repertoire I’m revisiting with my pianist, John. I sang as if from some other place. No. I sang from myself. The songs were moody and fun to sing. Our regular rehearsals gave my voice the flexibility I wanted to make the phrases sit and soar. A return to studying belly dance, and relief from stomach distress and knee issues, gave me freedom to move, and dance around a bit.

It was also my first concert since my mother died April 1. Determined to stay in it, avoid the maudlin or sentimental, I challenged myself to make this concert about the music. To let the songs tell their story. People said they cried. Others told me I was really on my game. Sheila, the host, called it a magical night.

“Why have I never heard of you?” a guy in the audience asked afterward, citing the musicians and songs we may both know.

Another friend asked if I had an agent.
“Have you ever had an agent?” she asked
“No,” I replied, pausing to consider going there, then offering an abbreviated answer.
“I want to do it my way.”
“So you’re a free spirit,” she responded, taking it in.

The onus is on me.
I’ve heard these questions a bunch over the years. In recent months, in preparation for a new website and a re-branding, I’ve bandied about the notion of commercial success. I’ve explored the idea of fame and the role of ambition in my day-to-day. We’re in an era where the artisan and boutique approaches to commerce are acceptable life-choices. Nothing shameful in avoiding courting the entertainment “industry,” I tell myself. Perfectly reasonable to self-produce. At 61, at this for over 45 years, I get to choose, I remind myself. Yet, it is also in my nature to question, defend, investigate…

“But, do not be deceived! Being an artist is hard work. On any level. In any scenario. For those with the wherewithal to go on the long trip, it’s a bumpy ride. And for most, certainly NOT a fairy tale. It is, in fact a series of episodes, fables, and adventures leading to a story. Your story. (Jamie’s blog, 2015 )

So true. It was not easy. But it was mine. I like things streamlined and self-directed. I like the gig to be simple. The space to be intimate. I want to be prepared. To be a bit exotic in my choices.

The authentic artist follows her own drummer. I’ve always been this way. Life for me is all of a piece: the songs, colors, food, objects of beauty, the way I love, the people I love…it’s all rolled into my work. My story.

More about my grandfather’s sister Nell on the Roots Legacy page.