Claudia Schmidt has her hands in a multitude of musical pots. She makes magic with everything she attempts and gives one of the most soulful stage shows ever. One second she’s singing a folk tune while playing her beloved mountain dulcimer and the next she’s belting out a jazz tune … scatting with the best of ‘em Simply astounding showwomanship!
Learn more about Claudia Schmidt and her long list of amazing musical accomplishments on her website.
Here’s a recent video of Claudia doing what she does best—singing and interacting with her audience.
You combine the best of folk and jazz into your performances which is no small feat, by the way. As Louis Armstrong has been quoted as saying “all music is folk.” Which genre did you first perform in public?
My first performance (age 4) was singing “Tammy” around a bonfire. Then church choir, choirs all through childhood. . . then folk (but jazz sprinkled in early, too!) I’m a musical sponge, always have been. I like to leave the categories to the critics, they’re so much better at it!
You play the mountain dulcimer. How did you become inspired to start playing that instrument?
I saw a mountain dulcimer hanging on the wall at Herb David’s Music Store in Ann Arbor Mi. in the early 70s. .no idea what it was, I liked the shape of it. . . forked over $50 bucks and taught myself to play. I knew nothing about a dulcimer tradition at that point, nor for the next couple years, till someone told me I was playing it wrong, but by then it was too late.
You’ve got quite an extensive background in theatre which isn’t your typical folk musician’s experience. I’m curious about your participation in a couple of specific productions listed in your biography: Tell us about your time working on Brecht’s “Good Person of Szechuan” at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. That’s the big time!
I ran away with a theater group after high school, so theater is in my blood. Wrote music/lyrics for and acted in a show in the 80s in Milwaukee called “Bag Lady Tendencies.” I knew Frank Galati, the director of “Good Person” from Beaver Island, MI., where I was living at the time, and he asked me to compose music for Brecht’s lyrics for the show at the Goodman. I said “Sure!” and then when we hung up, I almost fainted! It went pretty well. I am currently working on lyrics and music for a musical about Amelia Earhart. .can’t stay away!
I’d also love to know about performing in “The Gales of November” — based on a retelling of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Many of us only know that name via the classic Gordon Lightfoot song. Having such a connection to the state of Michigan and working on this play must have been a pretty interesting experience!
“The Gales of November” was written as “10 November” in the mid-80s for the History Theater in St. Paul MN. I was part of a 30th anniversary remounting of the show, with all the music and some of the text. I had seen the original and was thrilled to get to sing Eric Peltoniemi’s fabulous songs and be part of that story which, yes, as a Michigander, was even more powerful.
Another fascinating piece of biographic information about you was your participation in a documentary called “Motherhood Manifesto.” It’s a film calling for changes for working mothers. How did you get involved with adding the music to this film?
“Motherhood Manifesto” is from the wonderful documentary filmmaker John DeGraaf, now of Seattle. I first worked with him in the 80s for a film he did about a nice Swedish grandmother who got arrested while protesting the Trident nukes (“Mother of the Year”). . . so we go way back. John also started the Take Back Your Time Day movement. . . he’s a wonderful low-key visionary.
Your most recent CD is a collaborative recording with Sally Rogers. Have you been friends for a while? Tell us about the CD and what kind of songs you selected to sing together?
Sally and I met when we first sang her song “Lovely Agnes” at the North Country Folk Fest in Ironwood MI in 1979. We hit it off immediately and the rest is an unfolding journey of music and friendship. We were thrilled to go back into the studio after 21 years and the magic was, and is always, right there! We get to do a couple shows a year and after a while realized we had amassed a new repertoire, enough for a CD.
I first met Bob Franke and heard his amazing music around the same time, at the GottaGetGone festival. We had an instant artistic affinity and have been co-inspirators ever since. I wish we had more chances to do this amazing sharing of the stage. . . I can’t wait!