Singer Kate Campbell wants no regrets at the end of her road
By Joyce Bowen CONTRIBUTING WRITER
She stands in a cotton field in the Deep South. As she falls to her knees, she sinks her hands into the rich moist soil, grasping the soul of the land–then Kate Campbell sings. Her music is a blend of the country’s best: gospel, blues, and jazz in a voice that rings strong and clear. Sweetness mixed with a touch of soft pain carries through the air in song that is deeply rooted in American musical traditions. Campbell moves the listener with her wonderful voice and engaging presence as she reaches into her listeners, bringing them home with her by sharing bits of her life, longings, and experience.
Campbell performed at Salem State College’s Callan Theatre recently.
Most of her music lulls the listener into easy listening, but if she catches you relaxing too much, she is sure to toss you a touch of shocking reality. In “Galaxie 500” (Campbell, 1996), she carries you into her carefree childhood memories of time spent in her Dad’s baby-blue Ford–until news of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination blares over the radio, dropping her into tears.
“I have always written and played instruments since I was a little girl, and for some reason, I’ve always written my own songs. There was never a lot of desire to just do other people’s songs. I felt a freedom to walk around the house with my ukulele and make up songs.”
“Professionally, I made a career choice about five years ago. I decided that if I was going to do music and do it as a vocation, I should pursue it and say: I’m going to give this a go,” said Campbell.
Campbell left teaching history behind to start her professional music career five years ago at the age of 32.
“I can go back to teaching, but I felt like if this was something I was going to do–travel around and get an audience–I needed to do it now,” Campbell said, “I figured if I didn’t feel good about what I was doing, and the writing wasn’t coming along then that was fine; at least I could say : You know what? I gave it one hundred percent. I tried it, and now I can move on to something else if that’s not what I should be doing. But it worked. It seems this is what I need to be doing right now.”
Campbell said that she came from a background where music was “something you did as a hobby, or you used it for church, but it wasn’t a profession. It was just something that was really cool and artistic, but not as a vocation.”
“There was never anything negative said about it, but the environment that I grew up in (which was very middle-class Protestant suburban) was not a night-life urban environment. I think all those things influenced me. You just didn’t do the music as a job. You got a real job. You did something else, and if the music came through, well fine.”
“It was something I really had to work on. I had to say to myself: This is a legitimate pursuit. I had to be mature enough to come to a place in my life where this is what I really want to do. I like teaching, and I’m gifted at it, but I will not like myself if I wake up and say–I didn’t try that,” Campbell said.
Five years from now, Campbell hopes to be a better writer. “Some people ask me if I consider myself a singer, a musician or a writer. What I have always said from the beginning is that writing is the core: everything builds up from the writing. So I hope that I’m never satisfied because there is so much more writing to do. I would like to be able to say I’m learning to express my work better and better, and make albums that I’m proud of. So far I am.”
Campbell demonstrates an interesting style in which she often layers one type of musical genre with another during the course of one piece.
“My mother’s father in Kentucky loved Bluegrass music, which is all string. My mother plays the piano and loved fifties pop, Boogie Woogie, and Elvis Presley. On top of that, I lived a good deal of my life in Nashville which is promotional country or what they call back-up country. On the top of that was the gospel I heard at my father’s church. I spent all day Sunday at church, Wednesday nights at church, and a good deal in between; so what I was hearing was a mixture,” Campbell said.
Campbell said that all of those musical influences, as well as her own love for Black Gospel and Rhythm and Blues, created her style.
Once I get it going, I try to let the song write itself. I try not to limit it and hold the song back by saying I’m a country singer so I can’t put that lick in there.,” she said, “All this beautiful music in the world; there should be no limitations.
Copyright 1999 Joyce Bowen
About the Author: Joyce Bowen is a freelance writer and public speaker. Inquiries can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org
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