Nina Simone & Janice Joplin Lit A Fire Under My Ass.

I have two great gigs coming up in January! I will be singing the music of two of my favorite female singers. You guessed it: Nina Simone and Janis Joplin. The Nina Simone tribute is part of a wine pairing event on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at The City Winery 1200 E. Randolph Street and and the Janis Joplin tribute is with Chicago Vocalist Alma Mendoza at Davenport’s Piano Bar & Cabaret on Friday, January 25, 2013. Both of these women artists hold a special place in my heart because of their lives, bravery, vocal styles and the levels of their emotionality while singing and performing.

You like a singer because there’s something about that particular singer’s voice that touches you. There’s something about their style, their personality, even the way they move on stage that gives you pleasure. And each time an artist stands on stage and exposes themselves to an audience they give you a part of themselves. It’s an attraction that’s very personal and immediate.

Nina Simone and Janis Joplin have disparate styles. One major difference is in their approach. Janis was all “balls to the wall” singing her heart out and spilling her guts on the stage with an energy so raw and visceral that it reaches out and grabs you. Where as Nina had a controlled coolness (as in “she’s cool”) about her. She sits at her piano and draws you in with her power, masterfully and compellingly with her voice and the choice of her material – but not at all bombastic and in your face like Janice. No one would call either great vocalists in the traditional sense (Nina had the more refined and better sounding voice) but both were magnetic, powerful performers of equal level. Janis wailed and belted raw but Nina belted too: naked and soulful but cool, the whole “less is more” approach. But both remain to be miracles when you behold them on video as they perform live in concert.

Nina and Janis had tumultuous love affairs with men and both women could fill a song’s interpretation with incredible heartbreak over mistreatment by a lover – and as in the case of Nina Simone – mistreatment by her country by way of discrimination and racism. Nina was a classically trained child prodigy who started her career in the 1950′s and later got involved with “the [civil right's] movement” and she was definitely left leaning. I grew up with greatly admired cousins who held the same views. Janis was the Queen of the Hippie subculture (which I always had an affinity for even as a young girl) and all that it entailed: free love, drugs and rock and roll. In any case, both were held in contempt by “the Man.” Both women felt like outsiders and alone. Both loved and sang the Blues. Both were powerful stars and considered music royalty back in the day. They were both Queens. But there is one huge difference: Nina performed most of her seventy years whereas Janis died at the young age of twenty-seven.

I have been listening to their music daily and analyzing their performances as I prepare for these two concerts. I have done research: read memoirs and biographies; watched hours of live footage and interviews and I’m learning a song in French which I will perform at The Nina Simone Tribute at the City Winery. As I read about each artist I gain insight into who they are and it colors my approach to my interpretation of each song. I don’t plan to do an impersonation but I do plan to bring a taste of the artist via attitude, spirit and some vocal nods to the songs as I perform them. I’m drawing upon old lessons learned when I trained to be an actor and upon my instincts on this one. I’m being quite creative and it’s opening my eyes – it’s opening the door to who I am as a performer and a vocalist as I get to know these women’s material intimately. It does me good to learn about and pay tribute to these two wonderful artists. They’ve lit a fire under my ass. And I want the world to know what I’m capable of!

I am grateful.

And I have some cool history that I want to share! I haven’t been this excited over a show in years.

I think I will make this a series. Standby for more of my insights and revelations of my continuing journey as I craft and prepare for these performances of two beloved and wildly passionate performers.

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