Singer-songwriter Judy Collins is in her seventh decade in the music business. Her hit songs include Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” and the traditional “Amazing Grace.” Judy Collins will perform a concert on June 22 at the Center for the Arts in Homer (72 South Main St.). For more info, visit https://center4art.org/concerts-events-calendar/.
Judy Collins spoke to the Ithaca Times about The Muppets, The Weavers and her vocal regimen.
Ithaca Times: I first heard of you because of the Muppets.
Judy Collins: Oh, because of the Muppets, of course!
IT: You knew Jim Henson, what was he like?
JC: I did, I adored him, he was wonderful. He lived in New York at that point, and he had started the Muppets, and it was early, mid-’60s I guess. His producers [including] Jon Stone called me up and said, “Would you be on the Muppets [“Sesame Street”]?” And in the next couple of years, I think I might have been…I had 16 separate pieces on “Sesame Street.” And then Jim called me and invited me to come to London to be on “The Muppet Show” there. You know, he couldn’t sell the show to the United States television industry. And so the person that bought the show in London was Lord Lew Grade. And [Jim] said, “I’ve got to do it in England, will you come?” And I said, “Well, of course I’ll come. Of course I will. It’s you, why wouldn’t I come?” [laughs] So that was what I did, I went to England and did the show. I adored him. It was a tragedy that he died so young.
IT: I understand that they took good care of you during your time on “The Muppet Show.”
JC: [laughs] Oh, yes! Well, they set off a little bomb at the end of the show [laughs] and it scared me half out of my mind, but otherwise, it was perfect.
IT: A lot of people on Facebook are curious how you keep your voice in shape.
JC: Well, first of all, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I eat well. I don’t do any of the things that would cause me to lose my voice, and I practice pretty much every day. I’m also very lucky. I’m very healthy. I’ve had a couple of bumps in my career with my voice, but I’ve been lucky. I had a little surgery on it in ’77, but they were able to take care of the problem of my vocal cords. I’ve been lucky, with my health and also with my surgeon, and with my teacher. So all I can say is, thank God! [laughs] Thank God.
IT: What’s in your songbook these days? What are you playing?
JC: Well, of course, some of the hits, but also some of the new songs from my latest album “Spellbound.” That’s always great, to be able to sing new songs, as well as interweaving them with “Both Sides Now” and “Send in the Clowns” and “Amazing Grace.” You know, it’s good to have a lot in your pocket.
IT: When you were starting out, you had to make a tough choice between piano and guitar.
JC: Well, I’m a pianist by training, and was a classical pianist. I found folk music in 1954. The first folk song I heard on the radio was “The Gypsy Rover,” and it really changed my life. I went down to the music company and I bought the record, and I played it and just fell in love with it. I wasn’t gonna play Rachmaninoff anymore, I was gonna play folk music, and that’s what did it.
IT: People think of the folk boom as a ‘60s thing, but it started earlier than that.
JC: Well, it started…you have to remember that Pete’s Seeger’s quartet had a big hit in 1950 with “Goodnight Irene.”
IT: The Weavers.
JC: The Weavers. They had a huge hit. In fact, it was so popular that the company that made Dove soap called their manager, who became my manager in 1961. They called him and said, “We want them to do advertisements for Dove soap.” And it made Pete Seeger retire from The Weavers. [laughs] He said he would quit if they had them advertising their soap company, so they didn’t do that. But the folk music revival had been goin on really for a few years when I jumped on board, And Denver had a folk music society, and I joined them and started to learn songs,
IT: Post World War II, it was easier to have a banjo or guitar than a piano.
JC: Yeah, well, exactly, because they’re portable.
IT: You can take ‘em anywhere.
JC: You can take them anywhere. It’s hard to have a piano and it’s even harder to have an orchestra.
IT: Yeah, you can’t really have a piano at a cook-out.
JC: Yeah, exactly.
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