I’ve got a right to sing the blues?

Yesterday I got some tough love from a mentor: “What are you going to do with your life? What kind of singer do you want to be? What is holding you back from doing the musical work you’re supposed to be doing? We’ve got to get your time concept together.”

I didn’t have any answers, but I knew he was right.

He gave me a blues head to sing. I sang the head, then he said, “Now. Sing a solo. Go!”

“I…can’t. I’m sorry.”


“I’m just…paralyzed. I feel so inhibited. I’m just a girl from Alaska, you know? The blues just don’t feel like they belong to me.”

“Yeah! You see?! Why don’t you think you have a right to this music? There’s a Hilary version of the blues that’s yours. That’s what we’ve got to work on. You know I’m saying this out of love, right?”

I did.

I left my lesson downcast but resolved to recapture the sense of joy, abandon, and adventure that spurred me toward a life in music in the first place. Of course, trying to “capture” joy, abandon and adventure is like trying to pin down a cloud: the harder you try, the more elusive it becomes.

Then I remembered this Clark Terry clip. His legendary “Mumbles” routine is the joy, abandon, and adventure that jazz embodies. Check out Roy Hargrove’s expression at 1:37.

When I was 12, I wrote Ella Fitzgerald a letter and she sent me back an autographed 8×10 photograph. Ella was my first singer, and the one who introduced me to jazz, so I think her words are a fitting source of wisdom now:

Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong. –Ella Fitzgerald

I think maybe we’ve all got a right to sing the blues.


5 thoughts on “I’ve got a right to sing the blues?

  1. don’t wait for the third chapter…start living now. remember sarah lawrence-lightfoot. you write this blog because you believe you have something to share…and whether you embrace it or not, it’s the same reason why you sing. everyone can’t love you, so play to those who do…or those who can.


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