A Voice Unparalleled: An Astounding Performance by Ruthie Foster

Door Community Auditorium, Friday, July 22nd

Foster could sing me her grocery list and I’d be completely mesmerized by the resounding warmth in her voice. She could sing me a lullaby, and southern blues tune, or reggae hit: so long as she sang.

She captivated the audience at Door Community Auditorium with a wide smile, easy grace and striking range: beautiful belted notes, a rugged curve as she gears up with a rock song, or a soft smoothness in her quieter, more melodic tunes.

She was absolutely at ease on stage, bantering with the audience about how Wisconsinites think 90 degrees is hot (in Texas it’s regularly over 100 degrees), how all they’ve been doing since they got here is eat, and that they were enamored of Door County.

Foster brought a chill to the audience with the song, “Phenomenal Woman,” off the 2006 album, Phenomenal Ruthie Foster. The lyrics, originally a poem by Maya Angelou:

Now you understand Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passin’, It oughta make you proud.
I say, “It’s in click of my heels, The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand, The need for my care.”
‘Cause I’m a woman – Phenomenal woman.
I’m a woman. Baby, that’s me.

are extraordinary, and when coupled with Ruthie Foster’s stunning voice, this powerful song hits the heart like a bull’s eye, and earned Foster a standing ovation.

The intimate space and supportive audience at the DCA seems to invite an artist to share, and Foster joined the trend of past performers in telling everyone a bit about growing up in Texas. She described the Sunday morning church routine, interspersed with her own bursts of gospel.

She set the scene, and brought the audience all the way down to Texas, vividly describing the heat, her parent’s pastel green Cadillac, and the preacher. Her a cappella voice resounded through the auditorium, and when she had as all truly mesmerized, she began to sing an old gospel song.

Her music was full of movement: people swayed in their seats and clapped their hands, perhaps voiced a, “You go girl,” or “You’re preachin’ to the choir.”

Her vocal strength was further reinforced with a touching performance of “When It Don’t Come Easy” by Patty Griffin. Foster’s ability to reinvent a song, to “add a little Ruthie” was quite evident and the lyrics:

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

She added so much passion to the words, they carried an intense emotion and imagery, it became a truly unique moment, something that can only be experienced in a live performance.

The instrumentals were also fantastic, she was backed up by Tanya Richardson on the bass guitar and Samantha Banks on the drums, as well as a special guest on the keyboard.

For her encore, she sang an audience request, “Oh! Susannah.” I’ve never heard a more touching rendition than Foster’s, with Richardson on the violin, lending a truly beautiful if not mournful element to this old classic.

Ruthie Foster is truly a phenomenal woman, with a phenomenal voice to boot.


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