A Sorority Of Divas

Women’s Voices Concerts Light Up The Albuquerque Museum

Mel Minter
4 min read
A Sorority of Divas
Full-throated support: Joanie Cere (left) and Hillary Smith (right) flank Women’s Voices organizer and fellow performer Cathryn McGill (center).
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At the 2008 edition of the Women’s Voices concerts, a perennial favorite presented by the New Mexico Jazz Workshop, what was happening offstage was almost as entertaining as what was happening onstage. Down front, audience left, a lively gaggle of divas who had already performed or were awaiting their turn watched their sisters onstage with genuine pride and delight, whooping it up in support.

Not your typical diva behavior—and make no mistake, these women are all divas, celebrated female singers, but devoid of the vain, self-absorbed, autocratic airs the title implies.

“There’s a sorority, a camaraderie that we worked on developing. It didn’t just happen,” says vocalist Cathryn McGill, who curates the event. “It would be easy for people to view what we do as individual enterprises and that we needed to compete with one another. But I think that all of us have recognized that we have our strengths and our talents, and that there’s enough. There’s an abundance of opportunity,” she adds, “and when we come together, we’re able to create something that’s really magical, that is both healing for us and for the people who have the good fortune to be there.”

A Vocal Smorgasbord

On both evenings of this weekend’s performance, the ladies will offer something for everyone—including jazz, blues, bebop, swing and rock ’n’ roll—in a “stop worrying, be happy” dance party format, says McGill. That diversity is just grist for the mill for the supporting band: musical director Stu MacAskie (piano), Justin Bradford (bass) and Cal Haines (drums), with the addition of John Rangel (keyboards) this year.

“Stu understands this event very well, and he knows not to argue with us because we’re always right,” says McGill slyly.

The band starts working weeks in advance, collecting musical charts and CDs from the vocalists. When the guys show up for singer-fronted rehearsals the week before the concerts, they’ve already got the music down pat.

A Swan Song

One of the most popular of the dozens of events presented by the NMJW annually, Women’s Voices began in 1992, but it had lapsed for a few years when, in 2000, the organization asked McGill to curate the event. The evening’s positive energy owes much to her efforts in bringing the musical community together to celebrate women artists in a concert setting, but the 2009 edition will be her last as curator.

“I decided it was time for somebody else to take it over,” McGill says. “I feel like there’s enough of a solidified format now that somebody else would be able to come and add their uniqueness to it and take it to the next level.”

“She’s done a tremendous job as curator and brought excellent singers to the stage. Her creative vision really shaped the shows, which have been fantastic,” says Maud Beenhouwer, the NMJW’s interim executive director.

McGill says she has used the event to help build the music scene in Albuquerque. “What I’d like people to know is that there are not many places that have as many good singers as we do,” she says. “We have world-class talent in New Mexico.”

The Vocalists Of Women’s Voices

Friday, June 12

Hillary Smith

Patty Stephens

Joanie Cere (formerly Griffin)

Susan Clark

Jackie Zamora

Ivon Ulibarri

Cathryn McGill

Busy McCarroll

Bonnie Watts

Saturday, June 13

Barbara Bentree

Nancy Nielsen

Susan Abod

Patty Stephens

Patti Littlefield

Dianna Hughes

Tina Phillips (Denver, Colo.)
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