Interview: Grace Griffith

An Interview with Grace Griffith by Steven Digman.

Could you trace the ‘PAST TENSE’, ‘PRESENT TENSE’ and ‘FUTURE TENSE’ of your musical career?

When I was about 12 my older sister Maura began having me sing with her sometimes in a local coffeehouse and took me downtown to the old Iguana coffeehouse on Thomas Circle a few times. Those were my first public performances aside from singing in the choir and the glee club. After college (I graduated in 1978) I was invited to sing with a D.C. based Irish band called The Hags. One of the members had heard me sing back at the Iguana some years before, Several other DC area singers also fronted that band at different times, including Debi Smith, Meg Davis and Mary Chapin Carpenter. We mostly performed in the D.C. area but did tour New England on the college circuit. After that I concentrated on my physical therapy career for a few years, taking a hiatus from music performance until a songwriter named Susan Graham White asked me to work with her. We formed a duo called Hazlewood and performed for about five years together including the doing Philadelphia folk Festival and recording what was for me my first cd recording experience. I’ve always had eclectic taste in music but Celtic has always been my first love, and I’d done a little moonlighting with a Celtic Harper named Marianna Nystrom during those Hazlewood years. When Hazlewood broke up l formed a band called Connemara along with Cathy Palmer on fiddle and a Celtic Harper named Tracey Brown. We still work together sporadically though Tracey’s moved on and Jody Marshall has moved in. We have a couple of CDs out distributed by Blix Street Records (“Beyond the Horizon” and “SirenSong”). I’m currently performing with various side folk when I do “Grace Griffith” shows, but most often with pianist Paul Nahay. I’ve done a lot of work in the past with Zan McLeod, too. I’m working on a new solo release for Blix Street Records of Hollywood, who put out my first two solo projects, “Grace” and “Minstrel Song”. I’m working with a production team that includes Eva Cassidy’s team of Chris Biondo and Lenny Williams, as well as my buddy Marcy Marxer. Other projects I’m currently involved in are the trio “Irish Fire” with Dominick Murray (former lead singer of Celtic Thunder) and fiddler Dave Abe. They did a self-titled CD recently with me doing vocal work and we usually appear with step dancers as a full revue and emphasize Irish culture and humor in the e show. I’m really jazzed about the work I’m doing with Jennifer Cutting (former creative director/founder of The New St. George) on her “Ocean” project. The album will feature my vocals as well as English singer Polly Bolton and some great musicians, and the show is, well, oceanic. I just love it. The future holds more work on my new Blix Street project, with shows around that once it’s done. I’m also hoping to get involved in advocacy work and fundraising for Parkinson’s Disease in the coming years, as I’ve developed a very personal interest in that subject.

Who is your favorite vocalist?
Jeez. Couldn’t say. I love Polly Bolton’s voice, Judy Collins, Sandy Denny, Luka Bloom, Bonny Raitt, Eva Cassidy, Karen Matheson (Capercaille), and a million others.

Songwriter?
Ibid. Dougie MacLean, Maddy Prior, Iris Dement, Mark Simos, scads more…

Are there any non-musical influences that have influenced your music?
Definitely yes. William Butler Yeats, Herman Hesse, my family, Mother Nature…and I’m not sure I can articulate this at all. Something about art transforming life in all its trials and challenges to beautiful things like singing. Something about wanting to help people …

You use a variety of songwriters on both of the CDs that I have listened to (“GRACE” and “MINSTREL SONG”). Would you explain the process of evolution (selection) you go through when deciding which songs will eventually become…your own songs?

Lyrics and message are the most important aspects of a song to me. A beautiful sound or tune may catch my ear initially, and is important, too, but the message has to speak to me somehow. The current project I’m working on for Blix Street is going to be an expansion into other styles for me because I am exploring new frontiers under Lenny Williams’ influence and Blix Street’s suggestion.

What one rule (or rules) in the business of music do you like to break?
The one about needing to fit into a category.

And finally, how would you describe your music (vocal-style)…yesterday, today and tomorrow?
I am a singer who listens to the words of the song I am singing as opposed to selecting the song based on whether it will complement my voice or show off my instrument to best advantage. My vocal style is as varied as my repertoire, but as I do have a predilection for “ballads with a message” rather than vocal show pieces, my voice is often described as warm and intimate or soothing or sometimes haunting. The singers I hear myself compared to most often, I guess, would be Judy Collins or Sandy Denny. If anything my future may bring more stylistic diversity yet since my repertoire will be branching out from traditional Celtic and folk even more than it has heretofore.

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