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Song is key

Cassie Pence
Vail, CO, Colorado
Published: Special to the Daily
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American folk icon Judy Collins has written more than 100 songs, recorded 45 albums and CDs and started her own record label, Wildflowers. But after nearly 50 years in the music business, one thing still remains the same.

“It’s safe to say, song is the key,” she said from New York. “If it’s a good song, that’s what counts. That never changes.”

Collins’ ability to bring life to other people’s songs landed her on the music map. She’s built a career on it. Her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which appears on Collins’ 1967 album “Wildflowers,” was entered into the Grammy’s Hall of Fame. She won Song of the Year at the 1975 Grammy’s Awards for her version of “Send in the Clowns,” a ballad written by Stephen Sondheim for the Broadway musical “A Little Night Music.” She’s also covered Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton, among others.



The soprano has boosted some careers herself, like poet and novelist Leonard Cohen. She’s recorded dozens of his songs, making hits out of “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” and it was with Collins’ encouragement that Cohen first performed his songs in public.

“I think of great songwriters as Gods and Goddesses. Bringing me gifts, as surely tagged with my name as though they had been written especially for me. I hunt, searching for the best,” Collins writes in her autobiography, “Trust Your Heart.”



Collins obviously has a knack for knowing a good song when she hears it, but it’s difficult for her to explain what makes a song worthy.

“That’s the mystery you have to solve,” she said. “It’s a personal issue and the secret of my business. It’s different for everyone.”

Tuesday, Collins released an album devoted to John Lennon and Paul McCartney songs.



“I love them and I love their songs,” she said. “It was time to do another album focusing on writers that I like. Next in the pipe line is Jimmy Webb. It’s something I consider a career long enterprise.”

Collins didn’t start writing her own tunes until 1967, six years after releasing her first album, “A Maid of Constant Sorrow,” but her music career began way before her first album hit the stores.

She was born into a musical family. Her father, Chuck, was a singer, composer and broadcaster during the golden age of radio. By age 10, Collins was a bit of a child prodigy on piano, studying with mentor Antonia Brico, one of the first females to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the U.S. (She made a film about Brico, “A Portrait Of The Woman,” which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary.) At 13, Collins made her public debut performing Mozarts “Concerto for Two Pianos.”

But it was the folk stylings of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger that really hooked her, and she pushed away from the piano and picked up a guitar. Soon she was singing in the folk clubs in Denver, Boulder and Central City in Colorado.

So performing at Bravo! this July is like coming home. It’s not the first time she’s played with the festival, and Collins plans on making extra time for Colorado family and enjoying the mountains.

Collins performs Wednesday at the festival and plans to sing “Judy Collins’ songs,” she said, everything from hits on her latest album, “A Portrait of an American Girl,” to the classics, like “Amazing Grace,” “Someday Soon” and “Send in the Clowns.”

“I love the festival. It’s one of the best in the country,” she said.

Collins is a constant creator. She’s a singer, songwriter, musician, author and filmmaker, yet claims she’s never felt burnt out.

“Keep at it. That’s the only secret there is. That’s how you learn. Keep at it and then you learn what it is you are supposed to be doing,” she said. “People burn out very fast, wasting their energy, diverting their interests, getting involved in the drama instead of the work. Avoid exhaustion and never stop working. That is really the key.”

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or cpence@vaildaily.com.


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