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This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the December 4, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Judy Collins: Still Singing for Peace on Earth

Even on the phone, the voice is unique. Velvet, with

a little steel thrown in.

Initially the songbird who has charmed millions seems a bit shy. And

she admits that she finds phone interviews difficult. "What I

do best — and like most — is to sing," admits Judy Collins.

"I’d much rather sing than talk about singing."

But soon enough, there is a topic that Collins eagerly embraces: the

still-lingering emotional impact of 9/11 on her life and her work,

especially as the holiday season approaches. "I was closer to

the chaos in both real and symbolic ways as a New Yorker," says

Collins, who lives outside the city but feels like a proud citizen

nonetheless. "New York is the most incredible city in this incredible

country. It makes me enormously proud to be an American."

The singer with the flashing blue eyes did more than think about that

historic day in the life of the country she loves. "I was especially

haunted by the 343 lost emergency workers and, finally, my husband

convinced me to write a song about it. It’s often my way of coping."

"Kingdom Come," which expresses some of her deepest feelings

about those emergency workers, will be woven into Collins’ holiday

concert which she’ll present Thursday, December 5, at the State Theater

in New Brunswick. Much of the concert will be devoted to traditional

and seasonal favorites — and a few well-loved Collins classics.

Joining Judy Collins at the State Theater will be members of the Princeton

Pro Musica chorus, under the direction of founding musical director

Frances Fowler Slade. "This is a real treat for us," says

Slade from her home in Princeton. Ninety members of the choral group

will open the concert for Collins and join her again later in the

traditional holiday selections. It is the third joint appearance for

Pro Musica and Collins.

"She does a wonderful job of appealing to all generations —

those of us who knew her music when we younger and a whole new group

of Judy Collins fans," says Slade. "Our members feel very

privileged to be involved."

The singer, who has admittedly known loss and tragedy in her own life

— her son was a suicide in 1993 — sees music as both a healer

and a rallying cry, and she has used it for both. The music she chooses

often reflects her views on life, with her stunning interpretations

of "Send in the Clowns" and "Amazing Grace" arguably

her best known works.

Born in Seattle, Collins is 61 years old but her appearance is more

like a woman half her age. As a girl, her earliest musical training

was in classical piano. Her singer-composer father, who was also a

radio personality, was blind, and clearly a very accomplished and

driven man. "He was amazing — demanding — wonderful,"

says Collins with a note of reverence. "He was probably the greatest

influence in my life."

Her musical family helped provide Collins with some

remarkable early opportunities. By the time she was 10, she was already

studying with the fabled Antonia Brico, the conductor about whom Collins

later created the documentary, "Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman,"

which was nominated for an Academy Award.

As a late teen, she was playing the coffee house scene and eventually

found her way to New York City. She married at 19 and had a child

soon after.

By the mid-1960s, Collins had joined America’s burgeoning folk music

movement, ultimately to become one of its icons. In 1967, her album

"Both Sides Now" catapulted her into the national spotlight

and there’s been no stopping her since. Collins now has over 40 professional

years under her belt, with nearly three dozen albums, numerous TV

appearances, and a rigorous concert touring schedule of 60 to 80 cities

annually.

Her eclectic interests and talents have also led Collins into the

world of writing, with six books to her credit, including a best-selling

memoir called "Singing Lessons" and a work of fiction called

"Shameless."

Yet her most daunting literary challenge is likely to be the book

she is working on now, addressing all aspects of suicide. This subject,

she believes, deserves far greater attention than it has received.

"As a survivor, you need to confront it and work your way through

it," she says. "This is the book I need to write, and the

one that may prove one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever undertaken."

There have surely been other difficult projects for this socially

active musician. Her causes have run the gamut from Zero Population

Growth, world hunger, and land mine awareness to all aspects of human

rights. But it is her anti-war stance that is, perhaps, most closely

identified with Collins, who emerged as an international presence

during the anti-Vietnam War movement. "I’ve made my opinions known,

and I still do," she says. "The troubadour with a conscience

is a long-standing tradition."

Two years ago Judy Collins launched her own record label, Wildflower

Records, and began "having some fun and doing something different,"

she explains. For this she began putting together a series of "Wildflower

Festivals," joining with other artists who perform in the folk

genre. Bookings have been coming thick and fast, with a recent festival

gig at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center.

In the summer of 2002, yet another Judy Collins milestone was marked.

Martin Guitars introduced two Judy Collins Signature Edition guitars

in six and 12-string versions. The royalties from the guitars will

be split between two of Collins’ favorite organizations, UNICEF and

Amnesty International.

A new project, this one largely under wraps for now, is a one-woman

Judy Collins show on Broadway. Stay tuned — Collins says she can’t

reveal the details yet.

As to life now, this veteran folksinger is unabashedly positive. "I’ve

never been happier or more fulfilled," she says. "I’m thrilled

with my audiences and at last I feel I’ve earned the right to sing

what I like, to sing what pleases me.

"The wonderful gift," Collins adds, "is that it usually

pleases my audiences too."

— Sally Friedman

A Judy Collins Christmas, State Theater, 15 Livingston

Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. Fifth State Theater appearance

by Judy Collins. Princeton Pro Musica Chorus opens the show and joins

with Collins in performance. $22 to $50. Thursday, December 5,

8 p.m.


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