The String: Ruthie Foster's Joyful Blues
If Americana values all American roots forms and the fusion thereof, then nobody's more Americana than Austin singer/songwriter Ruthie Foster. She grew up singing in church in rural Texas, developed a variety of skills in bands while serving in the US Navy, then became a folk troubadour who slips from country to soul to blues to gospel with ease.
She has been one the flagship artists for Austin’s excellent Blue Corn Music record label since 2002. She’s been featured on a guitar blues tour with Jorma Kaukonen and Robben Ford, and that's just one fragment of a rich collaborative life. She’s won the Blues Foundation’s Koko Taylor award for best traditional blues female singer six times, and she’s nominated again this year. She's also a charming person who radiates kindness on stage and embraces her audience like few others.
On finding her commanding stage presence:
"I grew up really, really shy little girl in a small town in Texas. I wanted to be invisible, but I became the piano player in church next to my uncle and my grandmother heard me sing. And she decided that I needed to be out front. And I grew up with a lot of really great singers that had me wanting to be in the background. I was fine playing piano or guitar. It was something I had to learn."
On her years in the U.S. Navy's music corps:
"I was learning so much. I learned a lot about how to travel with seven guys in a band. And the discipline that went into rehearsing and practicing, that was huge. When we weren't in front of a crowd we were rehearsing a new song. It was 24/7 music. We were a recruiting band, so we played a lot of high school gyms. And a high school will boo you off the stage if you're not hip. So we were always learning whatever was new on the charts."
On country music:
"I grew up watching a lot of Hee Haw. I love country music. And where I lived in small town Texas, the stations we'd get were country. It's really natural for me to play country."
On being named a recipient of an unresricted $50,000 USA Artist Grant in 2018:
“We all went to Chicago and were in the same room, so I got a chance to see what kind of company I was in, and I was overwhelmed by these artists. People like Wayne Shorter and Toshi Reagon. Just a chance to be in the room with these poeple was just huge for me. It said something about my art, and what the grant has done for me is given me a chance to have a little bit of time down and not have to be spinning the wheels so much, so I can be home to write and be a mom and do these things that haven't alwasy been in the forefront for me. It's making me a more well-rounded performer."