We have to do what we’re good at with the heart, what we’re called to by, as Joseph Campbell says, ‘what gives you bliss.’
Judy Collins in an interview with Bill Moyers
She’s a silver-haired, Grammy Award-winning legend who, over the years, has partnered with dozens of musicians, dabbled in several genres, and applied her fame to social activism, particularly in the area of landmines. Emmylou Harris? No, actually I’m referring to Judy Collins.
Though Collins and Harris have led parallel lives in many respects, Collins released her first album in 1961, when Harris was just 14 years old. She was part of the first wave of Greenwich Village folk in the early 60s that also included Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Today, she’s been playing music for a living for over fifty years. But even at seventy years old, she won’t give a rote performance at Calvin on December 10. “Performing,…reveling in, sinking into great poetry and great lyric and great melody is in itself a lifetime education because every time you do it you learn something new,” said Collins.
Though her path has involved trial and heartbreak—alcoholism, bulimia, her father’s murder, her son’s suicide—Collins hasn’t allowed herself to become a diva who takes herself too seriously to play around or to give generously. See, for example, her appearance as “The Sad Princess” on Sesame Street or her rendition of “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” from the second season of The Muppet Show. Additionally, continuing her lifelong practice of volunteering and activism, Collins will perform at Calvin as part of a benefit show for Ralston Bowles, a Grand Rapids musician who’s on her recording label. Like many career musicians who are self-employed, Bowles doesn’t have health insurance and the musical community is surrounding him with care and resources as he battles colon cancer.
Amy Speace, another musician on Collins’ label, will also perform at the benefit concert. As a child, Speace learned to appreciate Collins’ music through her mother’s ears. “I remember we were in a big long Buick station wagon with the wood paneling,” remembers Speace, “…and Judy Collins’ version of ‘Both Sides Now’—the Joni Mitchell song—came on [the radio]…and my mother told us all, the kids, to shut up, hush up, because she wanted to sing along.” With a philosophy of performing each song as if she’s performing it for the first time, there’s no doubt Collins will inspire such reverence in young and old listeners alike on December 10.