Renowned jazz singer and composer Rene Marie remembers the time she had strep throat at the 2014 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival when she attended as a guest singer.
“I remember that well, because I still had to sing. That was painful,” she said, laughing.
The 61-year-old Grammy nominee will perform at the University of Idaho again this year.
Marie said she wants to be raw and honest in her songs. She said many artists edit themselves and avoid singing about certain universal aspects of life, such as arguing with a romantic partner, even though they still love them. She said she tries to avoid this kind of self-editing.
“They take the skin off of the potato, they take it off of the carrot, but I prefer to leave it on, musically speaking,” she said. “I know I’m not the only one experiencing it or that has relatives experiencing it. Hell, why not write about it?”
Marie’s 2016 album “Sound of Red” is an example of this. The album received a Grammy nomination in the jazz vocals category — Marie’s second nomination in the category.
Marie said she enjoys multiple music genres, but jazz allows for greater improvisation than others. She said the songs, already within her, don’t always come out as jazz when she tries to vocalize them. Some emerge as country songs.
“It would come out that way naturally and I tried turning it into a jazz,” she said. “It just never worked. Never, ever works.”
Although Marie began her professional singing career in her 40s, she has had a life-long affinity for music.
“I noticed when I would hear music it seemed to affect me differently than it did other kids my age,” she said. “If there was music playing, they might continue doing whatever they were doing, you know playing outside or whatever, but I would hear it and stop.”
She said her family owned an old piano and her father kept a variety of records. She said she sang along to whatever played. Eventually, she decided she wanted to pursue the interest professionally.
“I started singing with this jazz band, and I realized how much I enjoyed interacting with the musicians in the band,” she said. “You know, communicating musically with them. And then taking this thing that we were communicating together and communicating that group thing to a listening audience.”
Since then, Marie released multiple albums, wrote a one-woman play about abuse and incest and started musical therapy sessions to help singers improve their vocal quality. Her vocal therapy sessions consist mostly of talking and helping musicians work through personal problems, she said.
“There’s all kinds of things that can mess with your vocal quality. You know, being tense or nervous,” she said. “A lot of times there’s this us-versus-them type of viewpoint that musicians have, and them being the audience.”
Marie also experienced controversy surrounding her 2008 performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at the Denver State of the City Address, in which she replaced the traditional words with those of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is also known as “The Black National Anthem.” Her version of the national anthem is part of a number of reinterpreted patriotic songs she wrote partially as an expression of her experiences with Jim Crow laws as a child in Virginia. She said artists must express themselves regardless of public opinion.
“You can’t wait until they are ready, you have to lead with your art, you have to and you cannot ask permission,” she said.
Marie will perform the evening of Feb. 23 in the Kibbie Dome.
Nina Rydalch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NinaRobin7