A Paris Conversation with the Legendary Judy Collins

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on May 21, 2014


HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) — ¬†Judy Collins has inspired audiences with sublime vocals, vulnerable songwriting, personal life triumphs, and a firm commitment to social activism. In the¬†1960‚Äôs, she evoked both the idealism and steely determination of a generation united against social and environmental injustices. Five decades later, her presence shines brightly as new generations find solace in her iconic 50 album body of work, and heed inspiration from her spiritual discipline to succeed in the music industry for half a century.

She is the Judy of whom the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 70’s anthem, Suite; Judy Blue Eyes, pays homage.

In March of this year the much-anticipated Judy Collins Live In Ireland, CD/DVD on Cleopatra Records was released to rave reviews. The CD/DVD was recorded during a concert at Dromoland Castle on September 29, 2013, for PBS broadcast. For those who missed the concert, fans worldwide can enjoy this inspiring set of Judy’s most beloved hits along with her favorite Celtic folk songs and stories (including duets with Irish singer Mary Black & NY singer-songwriter Ari Hest, via CD/DVD)

The award-winning singer-songwriter is esteemed for her imaginative interpretations of traditional and contemporary folk standards and her own poetically poignant original compositions. Her memorable and haunting rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‚ÄúBoth Sides Now‚ÄĚ from her landmark 1967 album,¬†Wildflowers, has been entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Judy‚Äôs dreamy and sweetly intimate version of ‚ÄúSend in the Clowns‚ÄĚ, a ballad written by Stephen Sondheim for the Broadway musical ‚ÄúA Little Night Music‚ÄĚ, won Song of the Year at the 1975 Grammy Awards. She‚Äôs garnered several top-ten hits as well as gold and platinum selling albums. Recently, contemporary and classic artists such as Rufus Wainwright, Shawn Colvin, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Leonard Cohen honored her legacy with the albumBorn to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins.

Judy began her impressive music career at the age of 13 as a piano prodigy, impressing audiences performing Mozart’s ‚ÄúConcerto for Two Pianos‚ÄĚ, but the hard luck tales and rugged sensitivity of folk revival music by artists such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger seduced her away from a life as a concert pianist. Her path pointed to a lifelong love affair with the guitar and the pursuit of emotional truth in lyrics. The focus and regimented practice of classical music, however, would be a source of strength to her inner core as she navigated through the highs and lows of the music business.

judycollinsIn 1961, she released her masterful debut, A Maid of Constant Sorrow, which featured interpretative works of social poets of the time such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Tom Paxton. This began a wonderfully fertile thirty-five year creative relationship with Jac Holzman and Elektra Records. Around this time Judy became a tastemaker within the thriving Greenwich Village folk community, and brought other singer-songwriters to a wider audience, including poet/musician Leonard Cohen and musicians Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman. Throughout the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and up to the present, she has remained a vital artist, enriching her catalog with critically acclaimed albums while balancing a robust touring schedule.

Judy has also authored several books, including the powerful and inspiring,¬†Sanity & Grace. For her most recent title, the memoir¬†Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music, she reaches deep inside and, with unflinching candor, recalls her turbulent childhood, extraordinary rise to fame, her romance with Stephen Stills, her epic victories over depression and alcoholism, and her redemption through embracing a healthy and stable lifestyle and finally finding true love with Louis Nelson, her partner of 30 years. In addition, she remains a social activist, representing UNICEF and numerous other causes. She is also the co-director, with Jill Godmillow, of an Academy Award-nominated film about Antonia Brico, who was the first woman to conduct major symphonies around the world and Judy’s classical piano teacher when she was young.

Judy Collins, is as creatively vigorous as ever, writing, touring worldwide, and nurturing fresh talent. She is a modern day Renaissance woman who is also an accomplished painter, filmmaker, record label head, musical mentor, and an in-demand keynote speaker for mental health and suicide prevention. She continues to create music of hope and healing that lights up the world and speaks to the heart. Her Live In Ireland CD showcases a living legend whose career continues to blossom with each new release.

Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, had a once in a lifetime, breathtaking opportunity to speak with Ms. Collins.

AC: In your Book, which I highly recommend, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, My Life in Music, you spoke a lot about your father. How has his legacy informed your newest venture, Judy Collins: Live in Ireland?

JC: My father sang the Irish songs from the time I was born, he was half Irish and ferociously so! He had a beautiful voice and a radio show for 30 years, where he sang, told stories, interviewed guests, and generally did the old fashioned radio entertaining, educating, and singing beautiful songs. In way he was the model for everything I do, oh, almost everything!

AC: You speak quite candidly about substance abuse issues early in life. How do you think your art would have been different if abuse didn’t cloud your vision and /or sentimentality along the way?

JC: I have no way of knowing that. I was born with the genetic disposition to drink, an allergy, they call it. I never missed a show. I made records and toured the world, much as I do now. I finally got sober, and of course my life is so much better. (36 years sober this month.) I have had a fantastic career in spite of the drinking, so perhaps it was all meant that way, and I was meant to go through hell and come out the other side!

AC: You are an iconic, multi-talented artist, tell us a little about your painting, and filmmaking endeavors.

JC:¬†I have written nine books and published nine books, from¬†The Judy Collins Song Book¬†and¬†Trust Your Heart, in 1987, to¬†Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, in 2012. I have made a film that was nominated for an Academy Award in 1975–“Antonia, A Portrait of the Woman.” This year is the 40th anniversary of the movie, and it will show on PBS this year and be released by Cleopatra, who represents my label, Wildflower Records. I am writing a new book now, about food–and continue to tour about 100 shows a year. No time for painting right now!

AC: On the business side we understand that you run your own record label, can you tell us about what that entails? What do you look for in an artist?

26th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - ShowJC: I have been fortunate to find a roster of very talented young artists, some of whom have toured with me.  Amy Speace, Kenny White, Walter Parks, a beautiful singer named Ali Escondarian who was unfortunately murdered along with 3 of his Iranian friends, the Yellow Dogs, in New York last year. Sad. I just keep looking for great, motivated, talented young people.

AC: Starting out, some of your peers and best friends included Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, the idealism you inspired has lasted decades, many of your fans are running the country. Did what you sang about in the beginning make a difference in the evolution of this country?

JC:  Yes, our music made a difference and continues to do so. I think there are many artists out there who are doing wonderful work and sometimes it gets out into the world. I always pray we made a difference, and I think our music, singable, with stories, sometimes powerful images and dynamic songs of social and personal content, still move people to find ways to express themselves.

AC: Can music make a difference today? Who are some of the newer artists you listen to?

JC: I like Ari Hest (who has a new CD out called Shouts and Whispers, and it is even better than Fire Plays, his last album. I listen to Amy Spence and Hugh Prestwood and will be helping to put out an album of his new songs; Randy Goodrum is a fine writer, and of course I will listen to anything that Springsteen does, the new album is great. My tastes are very eclectic!

AC: Don’t you think that the socio-economic and violent climate of today lends itself to songs of pain, struggle and sorrow? If so, is this the reason you are revisiting the traditional¬†songs of Ireland?

JC: Human experience is the basis for great songs, and¬†always¬†has been. Traditional music plays an important part in my own¬†music, and I think people love to hear new songs,¬†about life and love and war and peace, as they¬†always have ‚ÄúWhere Have All the Flowers Gone‚ÄĚ is as important today as it ever was, and Pete Seeger’s songs will always be sung.

AC:¬†For those who do not know, you are indeed Judy Blue Eyes, from Crosby Stills and Nash’s iconic tune, do you still maintain a friendship with Steve Stills? How has he affected your art over the years?

JC: Yes, Stephen and I are friends and have recorded one duet together and are planning an album together.

AC: Your career is legendary, you have put out volumes of work throughout the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, up to the present and still stay vital and relevant while others have faded away, what is the secret to your longevity?

JC: Exercise, eight hours of sleep, (sometimes on planes and trains!) and no sugar, flour, grains or junk.

AC: Please tell us about some of the honors you have won over the years, which are closest to your heart?

JC: I treasure them all, from the Grammy nominations and the Academy¬†award Nomination to the glass engraved award given to me in New Ross in 2013 on the anniversary of JFK’s visit there fifty years ago.

AC: Please tell us about your speaking engagements regarding mental health and suicide?

JC: I have done quite a bit of writing about suicide, mental health and my own journey, so when I am asked to do a speaking engagement around those issues, I tell my story, and often put in a little a capella singing. It lightens a sometimes difficult subject and I try to make people see the humor in all of this, how laughter heals.

AC: You are still on the road touring to rave reviews. The road is brutal, why do you still do it?

JC: I love it and I make a living at it. Of course it is hard, life on the planet is hard. I am fortunate to be able to do what I love and I am grateful for it!

AC: As a lifelong activist, what do you think is the biggest problem facing the world right now and how can art draw attention to justice?

JC: Staying awake is the lesson of life on the planet, and in all areas that we see the need for improvement; we can do only what we can. But one person can make a difference, which is what we have to hold onto.

AC: There is an industry buzz about your most recent project Judy Collins: Live in Ireland, why Ireland? What was the response, did you prepare any special material?

JC: I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make an Irish music concert video for PBS, and it was a thrill to sing a lot of my own songs as well as some of the traditional Irish ones, which are part of my own heritage.

AC: How can people contact you and get a copy of the CD/DVD and some of you other materials?

JC: My website http://www.judycollins.com/index1.php

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Judy-Collins/229031937147719

Twitter; @TheJudyCollins

Edited By Mariam Salarian

Frank Gibson May 21, 2014

Very nice, entertaining interview with a personality I have enjoyed over the years.

Elia Esparza May 21, 2014

I love Judy Collins, her music and all that it represents to my generation. Class act our Judy Collins. And, I can’t wait to see the Irish music concert video. I bet it is sensational! Thanks, AC for an insightful interview.

Leave a comment