THE WOMEN IN MY SONG
March is National Women’s Month when we celebrate women’s contributions throughout America. First, there was International Women’s Day, followed by Women’s History Week. Then in 1987, National Women’s Month was born. Showing thanks to the women who have helped pave the way for everyone seems especially important now, since women are not appreciated or considered equal to men in many other countries. In fact, it’s taken many years right here for us to gain equality and prosper in respective fields. Finally our society is making stronger strides in that direction.
Being a female singer, writer, producer and performer for family audiences is the most rewarding job in the world. So many women have helped give my career roots and wings, and this month’s blog is an opportunity for them to be acknowledged.
In the first grade, my favorite class was “Rhythm and Movement.” Ms. Genevieve Jones played a giant African drum and taught us many chants and singing games as we bounced around the room. In middle school I joined the glee club and again, my favorite teacher was a woman named Jeanne Reeves who focused on singing rounds and three-part harmonies.
When I was in the 4th grade, my mom came to our school and sang folk songs that I still love to sing. “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” and “Froggy Went a Courtin” were two favorites. My sister and I also took up the guitar, and began playing and singing together.
In 10th grade, I ran around singing two-part songs– like Lida Rose from the Music Man and other Broadway tunes with my best friend Nancy Buttenheim. Next I auditioned for and joined a 14-member Madrigal group. The women’s soprano and alto parts—were my favorites.
As a junior, my Madrigal music pal Diana Warren, played Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” and handed me the album jacket. As I read the lyrics along with the music, I was completely stunned, and it was definitely that moment and Joni’s incredible songs that lit my own songwriting fire.
From that point, I wrote many songs. Not knowing any other way they could be heard, started performing. However, the stage fright was unbearable, and I threw up before every show. Still I continued to write songs and even won a couple of songwriting contests including the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. Charles John Quarto, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) and and Carolyn Hester were the judges After the awards, Carolyn Peter and I spent a long time discussing the difficult road it was for women in the music industry.
There were a number of coffee shops and open mics in Denver, and I performed and even headlined at a few including the Denver Folklore Center. Still the stage fright was so awful, I simply decided to switch careers. I married took a job at a museum. Then about five years later, started daydreaming about writing songs. My close friend Phyllis Morgan told me about a conference in LA, so I attended the Los Angeles Songwriter’s Showcase twice, where I met two women. One was JoAnn Braheny— the wife of LASS’s co-founder John, and the other a woman from Canada named Sandra Mooney. She and I co-wrote many songs, and thanks to her connection, one was even a #1hit in Canada.
After making several trips to Nashville, I knew Denver would be my home due to my husband’s job. So I founded an organization called the Rocky Mountain Music Association (RMMA). In three years’ time, it was booming. We obtained non-profit status, had 12 people on our board, a monthly newsletter, 400 members, 20 volunteers, regular meetings, and 2 major annual events. We flew in producers, publishers and A&R reps and presented songwriters and bands to them in various clubs throughout the city. Thanks to those early efforts, several zoomed to the next level—The Fray, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and a few songwriters eventually had chart toppers. It was exciting and fun, but I wasn’t writing. Sherry Bond, one of the publishers RMMA brought to Denver, became a close friend and she encouraged me to pursue my dream and to move to Nashville after my divorce. Sherry helped me land a job at the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International (NSAI), where I worked with Pat Huber—an incredible force in the industry. It was Pat who brought national visibility to NSAI. Every songwriter and country performer on the charts walked through those doors. In the early 90’s it was Willy Nelson, Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Emmy Lou Harris, Dolly Parton and more. Pat knew I had come to town to write songs and introduced me to various publishers. My first published songs were lullabies, and once again, my career path veered off-course. I had been writing songs for the country and pop markets, but the lullabyes ended up on a recording that was nominated for a Grammy. After that, a publisher asked if I could write for a children’s album, and I didn’t stop. But I still couldn’t figure how to get the songs into other ears.
Unbeknownst to me, my sister sent a letter to her friends telling them that I was available to perform for their children’s birthday parties. After the first one, I was completely hooked on children, and had no stage fright whatsoever. In fact I felt I had truly been born to do exactly that.
After my first album, I started performing at schools and touring the US. In Alabama, I met a marvelous teacher who encouraged the educational components to my songs. In fact, she wrote a whole book of activities based on my first album. Christy Cutler, a close friend in Denver and creative movement specialist, inspired me develop more movement—a key aspect to my performances.
Bonnie Nichols, a wonderful singer and writer, co-wrote my third album, Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta Bed. And—we wrote it over the phone– never having met!
While on my way to perform in Dallas, I met Carrie Fleming, a National Board Certified teacher. It was she who furthered the book of activities to connect to national standards, to be published later this year.
Lastly, Kathy Klatt, a children’s librarian and teacher, needed songs for baby programs. She inspired two albums specifically for parents and their babies. Kathy and I now present literacy-based workshops at the National Association for Education of Young Children and other conferences.
Alyce Brodoff, Beth Blenz-Clucas, Pam Donkin, Susan Eaddy, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, my grandmother, Ella Jenkins, Regina Kelland, Susan Salidor, Patricia Shih, Carole Stevens, Gari Stein, my aunt Marcia Strickland, cousin Winston—nieces Cullen and Hollis Wold, are women who have been supportive in some way or another. And there are so many songwriters and artists today whose work I admire: Billie Holliday, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Patty Smith, Taylor Swift, and on and on…
After twelve albums and 22 years of performing for families, these are the women in my song and I thank each and every single one!