By Joyce Bowen
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.
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
"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 alot 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."
definitely made a career choice about five years ago, and 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 prof
essional 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
"There was never anything negative said about it, but the
environment that I grew up in (which was very middle-class, Protestant
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."
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've 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 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 piano and loved fifties pop, Boogie
Woogie and Elvis Presley. One 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
top of that I
heard gospel 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 these musical
influences, as well as her own love for Black Gospel and Rhythm and Blues
created her own style.
"Once I get it going, I try to let the song
write itself. I try not to limit and hold the song back by saying I'm a
country singer, and so I can't put that lick in there," she said. "All this
beautiful music in the world, and there should be no limitations.