INTERVIEW: Mary Testa & Michael Starobin on Have Faith

Music often meets us right where we are in life. No matter your faith background, you have to admit that the gods that be have a hand in everything we do.

Recently, I attended Oklahoma! on Broadway. The show’s Aunt Eller, Mary Testa, took me aback. Her voice struck a chord in me that I cannot shake. My initial thought on hearing her Tony-nominated performance was, “I hope she has an album.”

Mart Testa and Michael Starobin, Have Faith

And to my excitement, she does, in collaboration with Michael Starobin. I’m telling you, the Gods know what they are doing.

Michael Starobin, a Tony-winning orchestrator, provides all the arrangements for Have Faith. He seamlessly gives each song an utterly new facade while preserving its original integrity.

What truly makes this album genius is Testa’s interpretation of each song and Starobin’s combination of classical orchestral techniques mixed with technology. Although Testa did not write these songs herself, she acts as the songwriter as her voice completely rewrites each composition. Mixed with Starobin’s exquisite arrangements makes for a record that is just as relevant in 2019 as it did five years ago when it was recorded.

Have Faith is a masterpiece that cannot be placed into words; it demands to be sung. Many styles of music are touched as Testa lends her voice to Aerosmith’s “Pink,” Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April,” and a Bjork/ Rodgers and Hammerstein mash up. Through these pieces, Testa and Starobin tackle dozens of subjects from cultural contradictions, to love and spirituality. This album doesn’t just dare to go there; it’s already come and gone.

I had the extreme pleasure to speak with both Testa and Starobin about Have Faith, its striking innovation, and how their ideas collided to create a musical monument.


  1. 1. Have Faith is a cohesive album that addresses a distinct set of themes. How did this album come about?

Mr. Starobin: The thing to remember is that Have Faith was not conceived as a recording first. It was conceived as a live show. Mary and I had done a show together soon after we first met in the early eighties. Around 2000, we said, “Let’s do something again.” We slowly started pulling a piece together, and it was about a woman getting through the night, questioning her faith. We did it as a staged performance with costumes and props.

Michael John’s “What If” at the beginning of Have Faith is about all the things that she’s afraid of. That was written for that show, and it captures the fear and fright of the woman before she goes through this journey. In a way, this is a cast album.

Mary Testa: This album came about over a long period of time. We were always trying to musicalize a completely sung-through story, using different songs to create a narrative. We had done another show called Sleepless Variations at Barrington Stage at least ten years ago. Some of the songs on this album are from that show.

Michael wanted to do it all electronically. The stage version was just his computer, piano, and cello. We purposely tried to put together something that resonated and was different. Sleepless Variations was about the way your mind works when you can’t sleep. Some of these songs made it onto Have Faith, and it became a whole new narrative.

We love to smash into something. You know, be really funny and then smash into something serious. We’ve always done that. Like going from “Pink” to “Sometimes It Snows In April.” You are having a great day, and then somebody will fucking die.

  1. This album was recorded nearly five years ago, yet it’s incredibly relevant today. How does this album speak to the state of the world now?

Mary Testa and Michael Starobin, 54 BelowMs. Testa: The title is very apt. It’s about finding out who you are, and against all the odds, know that life will throw stuff at you when you least expect it. It ‘s about having faith in yourself to make it through to the end and be grateful. Those are themes that will always resonate, because that’s the human condition, in a way. I think now is a very trying time. It was trying five years ago, but more so now. We had a beautiful president at that time.

The state of the world today is even more dire. Knowledge comes from within. It’s like a microcosm of a macrocosm.

If you don’t believe in yourself and have a spirituality about trying to lift the consciousness of the world, then you’re lost. You have to begin with yourself. I think that’s why it will always resonate, or at least I hope that’s why it will always resonate.

  1. From a composition standpoint, what is the common thread through each of these pieces? How did you place these songs, which are worlds apart, together?

Mr. Starobin: We were harking back to when music was albums. You sat and listened to all of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club because it was a journey. A lot of people made albums like that, and that’s been very much abandoned nowadays. We were looking to do something in the old-fashioned way of an album being a single conceptual endeavor.

The use of electronics and sequencing was done because this was originally a live performance. Numbers like “Change” and “Heroes” had to be rhythm numbers, and that wasn’t going to work with me just sitting at the piano. I thought, “Let me sequence these and run them off of a QLab.” It provided this energetic rhythm section feel for a couple of numbers.

So you’re doing this big electronic groove thing that’s loud, and in the middle of it, the tuba will start playing. The idea was to make these sharp turns in orchestration sound.

We wanted to create transitions where we’re doing one song, and you suddenly find yourself in another song without an introduction, without being prepared. You think you’re still in the old song, and suddenly, a lyric comes at you, and you go, “Oh wait, I’m someplace else.”

That transition surprise is the kind of jump-cut editing they do in film. You’re suddenly standing there in the middle of the next scene, and a transition hasn’t been provided. Your brain is suddenly spinning. “Oh, oh, where am I? Oh, oh, okay. I’m here now.” It was an attempt to do that musically.

Mary Testa: Everything on this album is deliberate. The “Lost” and “Over The Rainbow” mash up speaks to me about where we are now. We need as a species to get back to that “Over The Rainbow” optimism. Because we are lost I think, spiritually and soul wise…these are deliberate mash ups, not just musically, but idea wise.

  1. This album touches spirituality in many ways. Can you speak to that?

Mary Testa: I grew up as a Catholic. I went to Catholic school. I saw great hypocrisy from a very early age with the Catholic religion. I am not a practicing Catholic in any way, shape, or form, but I’m an extremely spiritual person. I’ve seen evidence of spirituality all around me and within me.

I prefer to be a spiritual person because I want to believe there’s a greater power than just us. I try and lead a life that is connected to that higher power, so I have no problem making it evident in my work.

  1. What were the difficulties, but yet similarities, to combining both the classical orchestral approach while embracing the technology?

Mary Testa and Michael Starobin, Barnes and NobleMr. Starobin: It wasn’t a difficulty at all because it’ssomething I’ve spent my entire life doing in the theater, using the synthesizer as part of an orchestral sound…

In “Lost,” I play along with the piano, but there are other times where we just let the track play. It’s a lot of fun because it brings a much wider dynamic range to the evening. It’s not only fun to jump in when the electronics come in; it’s also fun when it comes down. When you perform transitions like “Pink” to “Sometimes It Snows In April,” where you go from a loud volume to soft, I try to quietly start playing the introduction to “Sometimes It Snows in April” underneath “Pink” while it’s still loud. So it’s like, “What is he doing? What’s going on there?” I don’t try to overcome it. I don’t wait until it’s clear. I try to do it underneath the loudness. It is revealed by the music fading. It is a lot of fun to use the dynamics of pre-recorded electronics and then switch to live accompaniment and make use of the difference in energy between the two.

  1. Ms. Testa, your voice is piercing and bold, but it’s also vulnerable and empathetic. “Hallelujah” will have you in tears, while in “Heroes” you sing boldly of cultural inconsistencies. When you are preparing songs like these, what is your creative process?

Ms. Testa: I am blessed with the ability to sing a wide range of songs…I go with what the music calls for. It’s a visceral reaction. Because I can do a wide range of things, like musical theater, I can also do rock, and I can do jazz. I can do a lot of different things. Musically I adapt. Then, as an actor, I take whatever I’m singing and apply what I think is the proper feeling behind it.

  1. I read where you moved to NYC to solely be an actress, and musical theater just happened. What is your musical training?

Ms. Testa: I trained vocally for six years when I first moved to NYC. I trained with an opera teacher. I also went to Mannes College when I first moved here but never completed anything because that’s just how I am. I pick things up very fast. I don’t really read music, but I pick up stuff fast…My training has been experience.

  1. Can we expect any new music in the future?

Mary Testa and Michael Starobin, Barnes and NobleMs. Testa: Michael and I are very busy. He’s an orchestrator and doing a million things at once. We don’t have any fresh ideas right now. I’m sure at some point in the future we’ll come together and do something. We enjoy working together and collaborating. We don’t have any burning ideas right now. I’m sort of void of ideas. I think I’m exhausted, so I don’t really have any (laughs).

I don’t plan things out; I go with what comes my way. Right now, I’m doing eight shows a week. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m sure something will be next. Something’s always next.

  1. Last question. Pick one song. Why did you choose it, and what is its story?

Mr. Starobin: If I had to pick one, I’d pick “Lost,” which was a song Mary picked out, just because I find it beautiful. It’s where we combine electronics and live playing. We use a little bit of a Bach cello suite to introduce the song, and then the cello plays a big role within the song.

Ms. Testa: I love “Heroes.” Although I love everything on the album, it’s all purposefully selected. I’m often asked, especially during Tony season, “Who are the people that mentored you? Who are the people that inspire you?”

I’m inspired by everybody. I’m inspired by great performances, but I don’t have any heroes. I find that if you have a hero, you’re bound to be disappointed in them. There are people that I’ve admired, and then I meet them, and they’re jerks. The song “Heroes” is great because the lyrics are very funny, but it’s also really smart and serious. All of these people that we revere were jerks. (laughs)

Bonus: Dang, I was hoping somebody would say, “Sometimes It Snows In April.”

Ms. Testa: I can talk about that one! I’m a huge Prince fan. I miss him dearly. I cannot believe he was taken off this Earth. “Sometimes it Snows in April” always made me cry. I think it’s a beautiful song. I love Michael’s arrangement. I think of a particular friend of mine whenever I sing it. I’d like to do a Prince album of all my favorite Prince songs. I’d like to do a Prince show. I’d also like to do a Frank Zappa show…


In the end, Testa and Starobin weave a vivid image of struggles and triumph with Have Faith, while having a conversation we need now. Through each composition, Testa creates a bold narrative that allows room for fault but requires one to keep looking forward. Starobin’s arrangements give this album an identity that holds the record together as a unit while opening your mind to ideas you may have never seen. Together they created an album that pushes boundaries, socially, musically, and spiritually.

Every listener is granted permission to interpret music, both in its composition and lyrical content. The artists are the facilitator in leading the conversation, but it takes a rather unique voice to lend advice at the same time. That’s where Have Faith will leave you. It listens like an old friend while giving you a pertinent message. The message can change with each listen, but it will always remain profound.

As a simple listener, I am forever grateful I heard this album. As a music connoisseur, this album leaves me speechless. I’ve taken away many messages from Have Faith, but I’d love to leave you with the one I find most important and universal to every human (And yes, Testa approves).

Life is hard and often ridiculous, but nobody makes it out alive. Be kind, fight injustice, and love one another.


Purchase Have Faith at Ghostlight Records.



Connect with Mary Testa:

Connect with Michael Starobin:

INTERVIEW: Emily Chambers – Evanescent

Music will never be perfected. It continues to morph, mixing older and used styles with new ideas. Each artist contributes elements that can never be reproduced but can always be emulated.

Emily Chambers

In walks Emily Chambers, an up and coming singer/songwriter from Vancouver. She has perfected her art, successfully combining old school jazz and R’n’B stylings with modern vibes. She is a cross between Dusty Springfield and Mary J. Blige with the likes of Aretha Franklin and John Legend.

Graciously, Chambers let me pick her brain on her inspirations, her musical beginnings, and who she would love to be…besides herself of course.


Who are your biggest influences, both personally and musically?

Musically, I was introduced to the likes of Donny Hathaway, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder when I was around eight years old. These artists were introduced to me by this fantastic vocal teacher that I had for a decade, from the time I was eight to 18. She opened up my world to Motown, soul, and jazz with artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. I take a lot of inspiration from the oldies. I was also obsessed with Christina Aguilera when I was a teenager. Of course, I love Adele and Alicia Keys. Moving into my formative years, I was obsessed with the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. This is one of my all-time favorite albums.

I actually don’t have a musical family at all, which is hilarious. Apparently, I had a great aunt that was a famous opera singer, who I never met. That’s where everyone thinks all this came from. So as far as personal influences, my sister is a huge inspiration to me. She’s just such a go-getter, incredibly hard-working, incredibly creative, incredibly smart, and funny. I just want to be like her forever. She’s one of my best friends. I also look to my parents. My mom is such a strong woman. My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 17 years ago, and that’s been a pretty life-changing journey for our whole family, but especially for my mom and my dad. She’s just such a champion about it all. I’m fortunate to have an outstanding community of family and friends. Since I moved to Nashville, I’ve made some of my best friends and everyone here is a hustler. I’m constantly in a sea of inspiration that’s making me work my butt off, which is awesome.

You plan on releasing new music this year. What can we expect?

My plans for 2019 is to drop singles pretty much. I’ll be releasing another single in July. And then after that, probably in September…

I have been writing like a madman, so I’m excited about the new direction that we’re moving in. I’m pumped to release my next single.

What can we expect from your new singles musically? Will they be along the lines of your single “Left Alabama” and your EP Magnolia?

Emily Chambers“Left Alabama” is an excellent gateway between the classicsoul song moving into the neo-soul direction. I love the mix and balance between produced sounds, produced drums, 808s, and elements mixed in with live drums, acoustic piano, electric guitar, and horns. I love the balance between that kind of production so you can expect more of that…I still have a heavy jazz influence in my new material.

I’m gearing towards higher energy material that’s more fun, more geared towards getting a younger fan base, and getting into the accessible circuit. The new music will really reflect where I’m at right now at this point in my life.

What does a day in the studio look like for Emily Chambers? What do you need for your creativity to thrive?

I’m all about the ambiance. I like low lighting. My producer that I worked with on “Real Talk” and “Left Alabama” and that I’m continuing to work with, he’s all about that too. You know, the incense, the sort of high vibe sprays, and setting everything right because you’re in there for 10 hours.

It’s a lot of talking about how my producer and I want things to feel musically and what we are saying with the lyrics. We go through a million different sounds, and I’m singing parts to him. It’s super fun. It’s my favorite place to be, other than the stage, especially when we’re tracking vocals.

Bringing ideas to life is just pretty magical. It’s productive, and I feel like I’m in my element, where I’m supposed to be.

How did your journey in music begin?

When I was eight years old, my mom asked me if I wanted to take singing lessons. We lived across the street from an amazing Canadian jazz singer named Joani Taylor. I trained with her once a week for a decade. I sang my first performance in grade five in front of the talent show and then kind of went from there. Through high school, I won the Idol competition and then started singing all of our national anthems. That led to singing for a local hockey team and then singing for our CFL football league.

My sister was the one that suggested I go to Berklee College of Music…I applied, and I got into Berklee on a vocal scholarship. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I did a year at Berklee and was so fortunate to have that year given to me by my parents. And then they were like, “Okay. That’s your entire education fund in one year, so you’re on your own.”

I made the decision that I didn’t want to take out a hundred thousand dollars worth of student loans to get a performance degree. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, but it just wasn’t the route for me. So I decided to leave after that year, and I went to Europe with some, buddies for what was supposed to be three weeks. I ended up singing at an open mic, and some older man said, “You need to come out and busk with me on the street.”

I ended up meeting up with him with my buddies. We played guitar, and we learned a couple of songs. I ended up staying in Europe for four and a half months, busking the south of France and Italy, and into Greece. For me, it was like, “Okay, you tell the world you’re not going to make music anymore and it kind of gets thrown right back in your face.” Europe was the first time where people (I was 19) would just stop on the street and be like, “You’re amazing.”

Emily ChambersThen I came back to Vancouver, had some career ups and downs, and started the band, Champaign Republic. We were a five-piece soul, pop, funk group, and we ran together for six years. We signed with a management company, and we got a lost in trying to write something for radio. I just lost all inspiration for the project. I think a lot of us did, and so, right as our band agreement ended and our PR plan was going to roll out, I left. I went solo in 2015, released “Magnolia” in 2016, and then I took off in my van to tour the U.S. Now, I am in Nashville.

Now for a little light conversation…

What is your favorite song to cover?

Well, this changes. Right now I love covering “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington, Jr. I also love covering Bruno Mars.

If you could collaborate with anybody musically, dead or alive, who would you choose?

Oh, god. Do I just get one? I would love to collaborate with Quincy Jones, but I could name 50 more. That’s the first one that came to my mind.

If you could be anybody for a day, who would it be?

Oprah. I’d love to wake up to this beautiful estate, with a lovely breakfast made for my dogs and me, and then I’d got out and have a super soul conversation with some spiritual leader in the world. I love Oprah.


On April 26th Chambers released her latest single, “Real Talk.” A hard-hitting soul power ballad with elements of classic rock and roll, jazz, and candid honesty.

Chambers artistry is bound for impact. Whether she goes on to sell out Radio City or win a few Grammys, she has made her mark on music using her straightforward lyrics to her evanescent vocals. Keep an eye open, she’s on her way.


Download “Real Talk” today on iTunes and stream on Spotify.

Emily Chambers


Connect with Emily Chambers:

   

CONCERT: Clear Country, The Leona Williams Experience

I love real country and western music. The material that is released today is something, but it is not founded in what was once country. Give me music with endless fiddles and steel guitars, and I’ll have it made.

This weekend I did just that. I found the perfect pure country show. It was in a little theater in Collinsville, OK. This show was held in the Herron’s Crown Opry Theater on main street. I had gathered word from a few websites and friends that Leona Williams, along with her son Ron Williams, would be gracing the stage at this renovated movie theater.

Ron Williams
Ron Williams

I am used to traveling many hours and miles to see my favorite singers and performers, but this time it was different. Instead of traveling hours to go to an arena to see a huge over produced show, I found myself speeding down the turnpike to find small town Oklahoma. I have spent $100’s on tickets before to these concerts, yet the ones for this show were just a mere $10. There was one big difference between the tickets I have spent $100’s on and this $10 show.

I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed

The show began with a local act, Will Clark and The Back When Country was Country band. They played a great set showing that country purist do not stand alone. Next, Ron Williams took the stage. It’s always a pleasure to hear him sing. He is country to his core and easily echoes many of the greats like Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, and George Jones.

Then it was time for the main event, country pioneer Leona Williams. Some remember Leona from her work and marriage to Merle Haggard, which was littered with musical gems, but Leona’s solo music she made before Haggard and now after is simply country gold.

Leona WilliamsIt wasn’t long after Williams took the stage that she went into one of my favorite songs, “Yes Ma’am (He Found Me in a Honky Tonk).” This single was released in 1970 to rave reviews and garnered Williams some serious air play. It sounds just as good today as it did in 1970, except when she sings it now, I think she is reminiscing. I don’t think Williams frequents honky tonks.

Williams’ show covered so much ground of both the history of her career and the history of country music. She is a gifted storyteller and had many stories to tell over her relationship with Merle Haggard and her close friendship with George Jones. These first hand anecdotes are priceless.

Around the middle of the show, Williams sang “You Take Me For Granted” and “Someday When Things are Good,” which were both number one hits for Merle Haggard. She also sang Connie Smith’s smash hit “Dallas,” which she also wrote. Although these songs by their “original” artists are classics, there is something different hearing them from the songwriter. There’s more honesty and sincerity. You can hear the connection to the heart. Leona is at her best singing songs she wrote.

Williams covered some of her more recent recordings which include “Melted Down Memories” and “New Patches.” Her new material is great and is just as good as anything she has released. She is still on the top of her game. She doesn’t know how to give less than 100%.

Leona WilliamsShe closed out the show with some good fashioned country gospel. What I love about country gospel is its sincerity. You can sense the faith in the music. First she sang with Will Clark and her son Ron Williams, “Sing Me Back Home.” She then went into “I Saw The Light” and “I’ll Fly Away” with her son Ron. This was one of the biggest highlights of the show. There was an aura between Leona and Ron that only a mother and son could create. Their warmth was felt throughout the whole theater and their genuineness struck home with every patron.

This was my second time I have seen Leona in concert, and this time I realized just why I am a fan. Leona not only sings pure country music, she sings clear country music.

Leona’s music is completely untainted by any modern trends. She keeps country music alive with each note. Her singing is sterling silver and music unadulterated. She proves that real, unfiltered, clear country music doesn’t need anything new.

Simply put, when the old garment is country music, there is not any need for new patches.

Check out my review of Leona Williams’ and Merle Haggard’s album, Heart to Heart, here.

MUSIC PLAYLIST: Wrapped in Garland

I love Judy Garland.

There is just something about her voice that completely entrances me every time I hear one of her recordings. She is one of the greatest vocalists and entertainers our world will ever see and in my opinion, she is the best.

Most people know Garland from her career defining role in The Wizard of Oz. She filmed this movie for MGM studios when she was a mere 16. This role catapulted her into super stardom and her signature song “Over The Rainbow,” sung by a kid willing to dream, was cemented in the hearts of every American. She would go on to make countless classics for MGM including Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, and Easter Parade.

Some of my Garland records.
Some of my Garland records.

Although that is not where my fascination with this vocal legend started. I am a fan of her later years in show business, mainly from 1951-1969, the year she died. Throughout these years she was less known for the movies she made, but for her live performances. She did make some amazing films during this period like A Star is Born, but they were few and far between compared to her days at MGM.

When I was in elementary school I watched the Judy Garland Christmas Special on TV, but it wasn’t until my middle school years that my mom bought me the CD Judy At The Palace. I was immediately hooked from her rousing renditions of “Rock a Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” and “Get Happy.” Then there was her encore encore of “Over The Rainbow.” Hook. Line. Sinker. I have collected every Garland vinyl since then.

So I have decided to compile some of my favorite Garland performances and bring them to you here. Some are cliché of most Garland fans, but some are rarities that I hope you will surprisingly enjoy.


“Down With Love”

This is a recent favorite of mine. Her catalog is so large and her recordings seem endless. She did this on her ill-fated variety show. It’s a good “screw you” to all the men that had mistreated her throughout her life, not to mention CBS’ treatment of her during filming.


“When You’re Smiling”

Garland opened her legendary concert at Carnegie Hall with this number in 1961. This live album, Judy At Carnegie Hall, is her most legendary album, which is an ode to the brilliance of her performances. Since there isn’t a video recording of this concert I leave you with this version. She often opened shows with the this joyous number and it shows off her comedic chops.


“By Myself”

Garland’s version of “By Myself” is superb compared to everyone elses’. She feels each note with consistent emotion and the ambition to move forward with life. This is another song she sang from personal experience. Her performance is pure perfection. It is sad that CBS cut this number from one of her shows because they thought it was too dark.


“What Now My Love”

Garland’s vocals nearly blew me out of the window when I first heard her rendition of this classic. She first approaches it with a veil of vulnerability, but ends with a shroud of confidence. The closing note of the song gives me chills.


“As Long as He Needs Me”

This song has been a long time favorite of mine. I have heard it sung by many different ladies and I haven’t found a version I didn’t like yet. There is something different about Garland’s approach though. Her rendition shows a different side of Garland. We’ve seen the bitter and empowered Garland through her song choices. Her raw emotion in this song portrays her desire to be loved and  to not be seen as a commodity. She didn’t want to need someone. She wanted to be needed.


Every time I unearth a new Garland recording, or hell, every time I listen to Garland I am always amazed. There are no words that describe my admiration for this amazing lady and how her vocals penetrate directly to my soul. We all have that one artist and for me it will always be Judy Garland.

These performances are just barely a peek into her extraordinary career. I am so thankful that we have all these performances from her variety show. These performances are some of the last glimpses we have of this legend and sadly they are her last great recorded works.

As I come to a close I would like to remember Judy Garland in this form. I have read books and watched documentaries on Garland’s life and they always focus on her troubles. I think this is unfair. Garland lived a magnificent life doing what she loved to do: entertain. Through her gift she continues to touch thousands of lives and through this gift she paved the way for modern entertainment.

I’m simply wrapped in Garland.

Check out My Other Articles on Garland:

Oscar Got Away

Pristine Till Death

PLAYLIST: A Different Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day! I hope everyone is having a riveting, blessed, and safe holiday. This day is often filled with fun times barbecuing with family or hanging out at the lake, but this year it has taken a new meaning for me.

On May 1st my grandpa, John, passed away. He was a Korean War veteran and served many years in the Army and then in the Active Army Reserves. When he retired from the Army he had reached the rank of Command Sergent Major. He was extremely accomplished and I am proud to call him grandpa. I had him to thank for my freedom.

My grandpa was quoted as saying that he had two loves in life: his wife, Helen, and the Army. At the time of his passing my grandparents were married 68 years. The love they had for one another was simply beautiful. When you walked into their home you could just feel the admiration and love they had for each other. It was the air they breathed.

For today’s Memorial Day I am going to think about my grandpa. I miss him more with each passing day, but I know that he is in Heaven with Jesus. He instilled so much in each of his daughters and grandkids. He meant the world to me, but I didn’t realize that till he passed.

So today I have made a playlist of the songs that will always remind me of and honor my Grandpa. Dealing with grief is tough, but the power of music helps sustain me.


1. “Grandpa, Tell Me Bout The Good Ol’ Days”

I began to sing this song when my grandpa was in the hospital. My grandpa loved to tell you stories, anywhere from him and my grandma’s camp outs to the war. In his later years he was a man of many words. I look back now and I often wish that I had listened a little closer to these stories or given him time to tell me more. He told me about the good ol’days and the good ol’days described in this song were instilled in his character. Lovers really fell in love to stay. Promises were something people kept. And Families really bowed their heads to pray. Now thinking back, I’m not sure my grandpa ever left the good ol’days.

2. Endless Love

For Christmas one year, my family put a video together of pictures from my grandparents life. This was the main song of the video and nothing describes their love better. I will always hold this song close to my heart because every time I hear it, it reminds me of my grandma and grandpa. This song gives me hope that true love is still out there and that it does still last. My grandparents are my example.

3. “Battle Hymn of The Republic”

This song has been one of my favorites for many years after I heard Garland’s version. Garland did not sing this song like a hymn, she sang it like a testimony. Now, when I listen to this song it has a new meaning. This song combines God and country. That is what I love about it. I discussed my grandpa’s love for his country earlier, but it was equally evident that my grandpa was a man of God. He loyally attended church service nearly his whole life, but that isn’t necessarily why I know he was Christian. I knew he was a Christian by his actions and looking back, in the way he would say “Love you too.”


My grandpa has been gone for exactly 30 days. He is still fresh on my mind. I often pray that God will tell him hello for me and that I love him. My mom recently told me that every time you see a cardinal that it is a sign from somebody in heaven. I have seen 4 since he has passed. This is the most I can ever remember seeing. Even though he may not physcially be with us anymore, he is talking up a storm.

For me this Memorial day is a tribute and celebration of my grandpa.

Lastly I wanted to write a grand conclusion to this article and find the words that exactly explained my grandpa. I wanted this whole article to be worded perfectly to express who he was to me. That is a lot of pressure for a writer and I don’t think I achieved it. Words are just not enough when you lose someone who is close to you. So I am going to end with what’s on my mind.

I love you Grandpa and I miss you everyday.

ALBUM REVIEW: Joan Jett, Bad Reputation

Recently I was lucky enough to walk away with six Joan Jett and the Blackhearts records. One of my favorite vinyl shops, Monkey Feet Music, has just received a lot of 6,000 records. Needless to say when I get paid, I’m making another trip.

FullSizeRenderOne of the albums I picked up was Bad Reputation. After doing research, I found that this album was actually Joan Jett’s self titled solo debut. This album is her first album after leaving The Runaways.

The album’s opener is the Jett classic “Bad Reputation.” This is one of my favorite Jett songs and is a great anthem to sing while driving to work. There is nothing like yelling, “I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation!” right before walking into a dreaded business meeting.

Although what really stood out to me on this album was Jett’s covers of the 1960’s classics “You Don’t Own Me,” “Shout,” and “Woolly Bully” (Technically “Shout” was released in September 1959, but I figured it was close enough). These songs were recorded off the heels of rockabilly, so it is only natural that Jett would pay homage to these founding songs years later.

IMG_2476When listening to anything that Jett touches, you must remember there is rock and roll and then there’s Jett’s version. Her version mixes a punk image with a rhythmic guitar rift and gritty vocals. It’s quite unpredictable.

This is evident on her version of “Shout.” No longer is this a cheery pop song, but it’s a rock anthem of rebellion. I love Jett’s clever rewording of the song, “Take my pants off and shout!” I could easily see myself at a Jett concert or in the comfort of my own home hopping around, beer in hand, screaming these words with or without pants. The same goes for “Woolly Bully.” This song was “dirty” for the time, pushing the limits when it comes to content. Naturally, Jett just piles on all the dirt it needs with a dash of her brand of sex appeal creating a version that definitely wouldn’t be allowed in 1969.

Yet, the true gem out of these tunes is Jett’s cover of “You Don’t Own Me.” This song was originally sung by Lesley Gore who I would consider sweet, wholesome, and just plain cute. Those are some sentiments Jett quickly turns around in her version.

IMG_2477Jett gives this song a completely new persona proving that lyrical content often lies in the hands of the vocalist. No longer was it a sweet girl you felt sorry for, this was a girl you were scared of! She became the girl the boys had to fight for and treat right. Jett played by her own rules and she was not afraid to swing a few punches.

In many ways this album and her 1960’s covers only foreshadows the rest of Jett’s trailblazing career. She was already a bull out of the gates with songs like “Bad Reputation” and “You Don’t Know What You Got,” but it is the little things that remind you of the Jett’s true musical genius and artistry.

For her to go back and cover three 1960’s song on her first effort after the Runaways is brilliance. This shined a light directly on her pure musical talent. It shows Jett’s respect for those who came before her, but it also showed she had a complete style all her own, a style only she is capable of.

It’s safe to say Jett truly loves rock and roll and it’s foundation, but she gives it a new reputation.

PLAYLIST: Slaying Since The 60’s, Happy Birthday Cher!

Today is a musical holiday. They should stop the presses, close the banks, and hold the mail. It is the Prime Minister of Pop, Cher’s Birthday.

I am going to take a gamble that you have probably not heard Cher regarded as the “Prime Minister of Pop.” Often times we hear loads of people saying that Madonna is the “Queen of Pop.” Cher fans argue otherwise, but to be honest, being the queen is beneath Cher.

Let’s take a step back into our English Government Class or lack there of. We all know there is a Queen, but England is no longer a dictatorship. Today the title is held mostly ceremonially with limited powers. The position with all the decision-making is the Prime Minister.

In the case of music, we have a queen of pop based on pedigree, Madonna, then we have the Prime Minister of Pop, Cher, who gets sh*t done. Cher was the original female pop star, garnering 3 number one solo hits in the early 1970’s with countless other charting hits. She had a show with her husband Sonny Bono and when that ended in divorce, she had her own popular variety show. At the same time she quickly became a fashion icon with her over the top costumes and hip length straight black hair. She is even the first lady to ever show her stomach on TV.

Cher didn’t need a shock factor. She didn’t have to roll around and moan in a wedding dress. She used her natural sex appeal and underrated vocals to pave the way for future female pop stars.

Today, in honor of Cher’s legacy, I have created a list of my favorite Cher songs. They are not in any particular order, because it is impossible for me to rank them nor is this list conclusive. They go from obscure to huge hits and from the 1960’s to today.

“Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” (1966)

This is one of Sonny Bono’s greatest pop inventions. “Bang Bang” has now been covered by numerous artists over nearly every genre. It takes love and encapsulates it in a child’s arms showing both the simplicity and intricacy of this emotion. Cher “remixed” this song on her 1987 self titled album. I have included the original here, but here is a link to the other. This remix shows how versatile Cher’s vocals are and also how Cher’s voice has grown over her career.


“Classified 1A” (1971)

This song barely ever sees the light of day, but it is one of Sonny Bono’s greatest musical masterpieces. The song tells the story of a woman being told that her husband has been killed in a war. “Classified 1A” was released in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1971. Cher can stylize with the best divas, but the raw emotion she portrays on this recording is hard to come by. She has always has a way of shooting straight to the heart through her deliverance of ballads and this is one of her best.


“Train of Thought” (1971)

This should have been a huge hit! I don’t know the exact story of this song, but it has all the mechanisms of a number one. It’s one of those songs that just gets my blood flowing.


“By Myself” (1973)

Easily one of Cher’s least successful albums, Bittersweet White Light, is a diamond in the rough. Within this album, she visits the American Song Book that she has expressed much love for. This is one of the best tracks from this album, but her Jolsen Melody and her take on “The Man That Got Away” should not fall on deaf ears.


“Take Me Home” (1979)

This song makes me want to go struttin,’ much like John Travolta in Staying Alive. The beat is infectious and roller skates are a must. Mixed with Cher’s sex appeal, this record is classic. She could take me home any day…..


“We All Sleep Alone” (1987)

As children we are taught to aspire to have a spouse and a family. We are surrounded by images of the nuclear family that never really existed. What they didn’t tell you was that we are all alone in the end. While being a dark and cryptic song to say the least, Cher lives this song as her power house vocals lay across this power ballad.


“Save Up All Your Tears” (1991)

This is the best song to belt in your car when you are mad at someone. Try it.


“The Gunman” (1995)

This is one of Cher’s best vocal performances. Her warm voice shivers down my spine as she speaks of love having no mercy. She again shares her raw emotion from experience. It leaves you thinking and hitting the repeat button over and over again.


“Our Lady of San Francisco” (2000)

This song comes from, Not.com.mercial, the only album Cher wrote nearly every song. She sings of a homeless woman and how she is looked at as garbage on the street. She speaks to humanity and how many times we have become inhumane. Helping people with the basics is dear to Cher’s heart as seen in her acts of kindness in countries like Armenia and the current Flint water crisis. To this day this album, has not been widely released.


“Love One Another” (2001)

Okay, only two more. This song is from Cher’s 2001 release Living Proof. It is a “filler” song, but Cher, nonetheless, gives it her all. I think she might just believe in its message.


“Lie To Me” (2013)

Cher knocks another ballad out of the park. This time she doesn’t quite use those soaring vocals that she is well equipped with, yet she stays in a modest tone. The beauty of this song is all in her conviction. This comes from her latest studio album in 2013 and is the only true ballad on the entire album. I love EDM Cher, but her voice is magnificent stripped down.


“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me” (2010)

Lastly comes one of Cher’s songs that has helped me out the most in life. Once I hit my adult life, I have found myself kicked down by career, relationship, and life choices just like everyone does. It is always easy to back up into a corner, but you can’t. Cher is a living example that lying down is never an option. I’ve had this song on repeat many times and belted it off-key. It is really the best thing that came out of Burlesque. 

As it is often said with Cher: “After the nuclear holocaust there will be cockroaches and Cher.” Don’t let them ever see the last of you.


As these videos and a proper lesson in music history makes clear, Cher is the first female pop star to call all the shots. She pushed the envelope, but she did not need a shock and awe factor. Her raw talent catapulted her into the icon she is today. She became a legend when there wasn’t a legacy to follow.

Basically, she slays.

So on this day we celebrate Cher’s 35th birthday once more. While I’m lowering my flag to half staff, I’m ok with calling Madonna or one of those other little pop starlets the queen of pop. It’s just an honorary title. Remember, everybody on the tball team gets a trophy.

And while queens have tiara’s, Prime Ministers have headdresses, because you don’t need to see what’s around them while you follow. There is nothing to see. They are paving the way while walking into uncharted territory.

But as always, the wise Cher summarizes her contemporaries perfectly.

Follow this you bitches.