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Rising Star Susannah Blinkoff: “Let’s start a movement to use group singing to literally create harmony among different groups of people”

If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would have to be about music and group singing — the Ubuntu choir movement is a worldwide community of people who believe that singing is a natural human expression and a universal birthright (not always a […]


If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would have to be about music and group singing — the Ubuntu choir movement is a worldwide community of people who believe that singing is a natural human expression and a universal birthright (not always a contest) and that singing together, literally “in harmony” with one another, builds community and increases peace in our world.

My movement would also have to do with taking care of each other, really embracing our humanity as our shared oneness. As the climate goes more crazy and natural disasters happen more often, I think we’ll see, as we already have, that it doesn’t matter who’s a Democrat or a Republican when it’s your neighbor who’s rescuing you or helping you find your children, or your pet. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on when all of us are huddled together trying to survive a storm or a flood or an earthquake or a fire. I want to see us become more consciously connected as a global community by focusing on our common humanity. We share the air and the water, so they should be clean. We are all sharing this earth, so we all deserve to be here and enjoy this abundant, beautiful planet. Internet and technology allow us to be so close to each other, despite around-the-world distances. I’m all about oneness and sharing. Peace, love, and music. See? I told you I went to a hippie school in the ‘70s!



I had the pleasure to interview Susannah Blinkoff. Broadway baby Susannah Blinkoff (aka Susannah B) grew up in Manhattan in a cradle of creativity. Her childhood was filled with music and theater. Her dad Richard Blinkoff was a fashion photographer and her mother, Carol Hall, a composer/lyricist. Susannah’s mom recorded two albums for Elektra Records in the 70’s, toured with Kris Kristofferson and Don McLean, wrote the children’s classic “Free to Be You and Me”, and the score of the hit Broadway show, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Susannah kept acting and singing through college and in 1999, she wrote the film 
Bellyfruit, collaborating with Stephen Bray (Madonna, The Color Purple). Her debut album, Vintage Susannah B was self-released, followed by Camp Susannah’s Happy Today, which was heard in films and on MTV. Let’s Pretend, her 2008 release, garnered placements on multiple Billboard charts. Her most recent release, Far More (2017) is a unique blend of spirituality and chill electronic beats. Blinkoff’s new record, Girl Gone Wilder! is a tribute to legendary composer, Alec Wilder, whose career spanned 4 decades, starting in the 1940’s. Susannah explains, “I’d never heard of him until my neighbor, Doug, a well-known musician in Los Angeles was putting together a house concert that featured the songs and unique orchestral music of Alec Wilder. I signed up to be the ‘chanteuse’ of the group, and came to feel a kinship with his romantic, witty songs and their lush, lyrical melodies. Alec Wilder is deeply admired by many jazz musicians, but largely unknown to the public. As we performed the music for friends and others, I realized how deep Wilder’s songbook is and decided to make a record to showcase his talent to today’s music fans. “Girl Gone Wilder! is out now”. A self-taught composer, Alec Wilder mingled with music’s elite during the height of their fame. From Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, to Peggy Lee, Stan Getz, and many others, Wilder wrote/co-wrote songs tailor-made for his famous friends, including: “While We’re Young” recorded by Peggy Lee, “Moon and Sand” by Chet Baker, “Where Do You Go” by Miles Davis, Stan Getz, and Frank Sinatra, “It’s So Peaceful in the Country” by Rosemary Clooney, “A Child is Born” recorded by Tony Bennett, and “Be a Child” with famed jazz trumpeter Thad Jones. Susannah is excited to bring her interpretations of these classics to modern audiences. Susannah has taken many of Alec’s acclaimed jazz standards and re-recorded them with a fresh, groove-driven feel and an updated tone. She is eager to re-introduce the world to the many wonderful compositions that Alec Wilder recorded during the Golden Age of Music, Radio and TV. As noted in media reviews, Susannah’s voice “transforms effortlessly from seductive to wry to sweet,”and she has been praised for her chameleon-like versatility. In this way, she also relates to Wilder. Wilder was a composer of not just popular standards, but also of many classical pieces for exotic combinations of orchestral instruments. He wrote 11 operas, movie scores, and more. In 1946, Sinatra conducted the Columbia String Orchestra on “Frank Sinatra Conducts the Music of Alec Wilder,” an album comprised of Wilder’s ground-breaking classical-jazz hybrid compositions. Susannah B’s debut single, “I’ll Be Around” was Alec’s biggest hit. Originally written in 1942, it is now considered a jazz standard and was recorded by many of the biggest stars of the time. Billie Holiday’s version is the most recognizable. The song was also recorded by vocal superstars Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Lena Horne, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughn, Carly Simon and more. Susannah says, “I think my version is one of the few that is up-tempo. Many others (like Sinatra’s) are sad-sounding. But when I read the lyrics, they struck me as very tongue-in-cheek. I think that’s who Wilder was as a person, witty, but sarcastic, too. He was also deeply romantic. His beautiful melodies touch my soul in a very unusual way. I love singing certain notes, the way they feel in my body. I can’t explain it, but I feel connected to him somehow…it’s crazy!” The album was arranged by and co-produced with Susannah’s long-time collaborator, John Ballinger (Dancing with the Stars, Rufus Wainwright). Her band also features Michael Farrell on keyboards (Alanis Morissette, Macy Gray, Vanessa Carlton, American Idol); Sal Lozano on saxophone/flute/clarinet (Paul McCartney, John Legend, Lady Gaga); David Sutton on bass (Lucinda Williams); Scott Breadman on percussion and Ray McNamara on drums and hang drum. All songs were recorded at the legendary Sage & Sound Studio in Hollywood, CA in February 2019. http://www.sageandsound.com/


Thank you so much for joining us Susannah! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Here’s my story: Music is in my blood. It goes back generations on my mom’s side. Both my parents moved from their hometowns of Buffalo, NY and Abilene, Texas to “make it big” in New York City. My mom became a successful songwriter of a hit Broadway show The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. My dad was a photographer who specialized in beauty and children’s fashion. I grew up in the ’70s in Manhattan, I was a city kid with artistic, freelance parents who encouraged my creativity and sent me to a very progressive school in Greenwich Village. Music was all around me, I went to recording sessions and rehearsals with my mom, I had an incredible backstage view of New York theatre. I sang and acted professionally as a child, but then decided not to pursue a child actor career, but instead, to go to college — I went to Brown. And then after college, I didn’t want to just move back to New York to act, so I became an L.A. Woman. I stepped off the plane when I was 21 and instantly fell in love. Los Angeles is the place I connected with my spirituality and with nature, and where I found amazing friends and community. And when my acting career felt like it wasn’t happening the way I wanted it to, I started writing plays, and then songs. Making music is the thing that makes me feel the happiest. It’s such a gift to be able to sing. I’ve put out four albums as an indie singer-songwriter — three were alternative-jazzy-pop-rock, my last EP was mellow, spiritual electronica and now I have a new record called GIRL GONE WILDER! which is all covers. I’m singing the songs of Alec Wilder, who had hits in the ‘40s,’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. He was a really prolific, eccentric guy and his best friends were all really famous musicians like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and others. He wrote songs as gifts for his friends, but he was terrible at promoting his own career. He was quite innovative musically, and completely self-taught. So only jazz-nerds know about him, as well as brass and horn players, who he wrote many musical pieces for. Anyway, I got introduced to his work a few years ago by my neighbor, who’s a professional tuba player, one of the top musicians in L.A. We did these really successful house concerts for two years, and I sang a lot of Wilder’s songs. And I didn’t expect it, but I ended up really falling in love with the music, which made me want to share it with more people. I recorded this album with my amazing band — six guys — and on it, I’m singing a wide variety of styles of retro-swingin’-jazz. It’s definitely music-for-cocktails. Or perfect for a dinner party! It’s festive, romantic, and sassy. His songs are catchy, yet also can have these beautiful, haunting melodies. So, yes, I’m promoting a white, male songwriter who wasn’t celebrated in his own time (poor privileged white guy!) and I admit, that felt like a strange choice for a while. But the truth is that his songs fit my voice really well, and I was completely led to it. Also, as I learned more about his life, I got very inspired by Alec Wilder’s legendary generosity, and his many charitable acts. In that spirit, I decided to perform GIRL GONE WILDER! to help raise money for whatever charitable causes people feel drawn to. The world seems to be at a point where the people who have more money need to share it with those who have less. The discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots is way too big. Too many people need help. That’s where I am today on my career path. I am expanding my vision for myself as an artist, doing music for charity, and singing for wellness. I’ve led song circles with men recently released from prison, where I’ve seen how just singing a song a cappella can transform a person’s entire mood. Music has a deep, magical, healing power. That’s what I’m offering the world.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?

I think the most interesting story that ever happened to me in my career was when I was singing regularly at Agape, which is a well-known trans denominational spiritual center in Los Angeles, the only truly multiracial community I’ve ever been a part of (after my elementary school). It’s led by Michael Bernard Beckwith, who is one of my beloved spiritual teachers. Oprah likes him, too…but I knew him first! LOL. Anyway, I was singing at Agape on a Sunday, and after the service, a beautiful, young, deaf woman came up to me and asked me (through her interpreter) if I would be her voice. She said she was a singer, and would I be her voice? And I was dumbstruck, it was such an incredible vision. I said yes, and when we performed at Agape a few weeks later, she stood onstage in the front and “signed” her song, while I sang an improvised melody in the background, singing her lyrics, which she had given to me with no direction. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I felt so singled out by the Spirit doing that. It was a deep honor and it grew my faith.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Some cool projects I’m working on right now? I’m writing a pilot for a series that will be streamable. It’s a musical comedy about death and I’m writing it as a gift for all my talented friends — again, just like Alec Wilder! Also, I’m working with a talented young New York DJ who’s remixing some of the Wilder stuff. I love to dance so I’m always thinking about that possibility with my music.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

First of all, I grew up as a part of what my BFF calls “Broadway royalty”, so I knew many excellent, creative people like novelist/screenwriter William Goldman and Martin Charnin, who wrote and directed Annie. And I went to Brown with some crazy-talented folks — including two actresses Emmy-nominated this year, Marin Hinkle and Laura Linney, who are both amazing. And there’s my two-time-Pulitzer-prize-winning friend Lynn Nottage, who is an extraordinary playwright, one of the most important of our time. I’m wildly proud of how many talented people I have in my circle of friends. And while we’re on the subject, some of the interesting people my bandmates have worked with are Alanis Morissette, Paul McCartney, John Legend, Lady Gaga, Lucinda Williams, Macy Gray, Rufus Wainwright, Peggy Lee, and Frank Sinatra.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Gosh, off the top of my head…some people in history who’ve inspired me are: Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr; Joan of Arc, Robin Hood, George Bernard Shaw, Clara Barton, Peggy Guggenheim, Charles Schulz, Nina Simone, Georgia O’Keefe, and Barack and Michelle Obama. Why? They broke through cultural barriers. They’ve all touched the soul of the world in different ways. I don’t know to explain it better than that.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As I mentioned, I’m currently using my own blessings and privileges to help people in need by raising money at all of my concerts. I am 100% non-profit. My favorite charities help foster youth, the ocean, and homeless people.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would have to be about music and group singing — the Ubuntu choir movement is a worldwide community of people who believe that singing is a natural human expression and a universal birthright (not always a contest) and that singing together, literally “in harmony” with one another, builds community and increases peace in our world.

My movement would also have to do with taking care of each other, really embracing our humanity as our shared oneness. As the climate goes more crazy and natural disasters happen more often, I think we’ll see, as we already have, that it doesn’t matter who’s a Democrat or a Republican when it’s your neighbor who’s rescuing you or helping you find your children, or your pet. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on when all of us are huddled together trying to survive a storm or a flood or an earthquake or a fire. I want to see us become more consciously connected as a global community by focusing on our common humanity. We share the air and the water, so they should be clean. We are all sharing this earth, so we all deserve to be here and enjoy this abundant, beautiful planet. Internet and technology allow us to be so close to each other, despite around-the-world distances. I’m all about oneness and sharing. Peace, love, and music. See? I told you I went to a hippie school in the ‘70s!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

How to thrive and not burn out? That’s hard to say, it depends so much on your responsibilities and how much time and money you have available to spend on self-care. I’m very inspired by a pair of Latinxs sister-entrepreneurs I know from the city of San Fernando, near L.A. They created a spa/yoga studio (@wildplumwellness on Instagram) that provides luxurious beauty treatments and yoga classes, and which also offers yoga scholarships and nutritional education programs so lower-income, working class people in the community can have access to the same “wellness” that is often enjoyed solely by the wealthy. They have a community garden. They believe that everyone deserves to learn how to take care of their bodies and how to eat better — not just rich people. It can be very hard for people who grew up on fast food, or live in a “food desert” where the nearest grocery store selling fresh food is miles away. Anyway, if you’re asking my advice, I recommend meditation, a little yoga, and eating fresh food as three no-cost/low-cost ways a person can feel better. (Note to self: Go to yoga class tomorrow!)

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Five things I wish someone had told me when I first started, assuming I would have listened or even understood what they were talking about:

1) “This too shall pass.” Everything is always changing. Nothing stays the same forever. I have it tattooed on my ankle — the “I” in “I Ching” is this concept. Everything is always changing, which can be good news or bad news, depending on the day.

2) Learn to play an instrument well enough to play with strangers in another country who don’t speak your language. Music is a common language for the entire world. Learn to speak it and you increase your opportunities to connect on a global level.

3) Ask yourself, “Would I rather be right or be happy?” There are many times when we have to choose one or the other. I recommend choosing to be happy, because it feels much better than being right, and it often dissolves conflict rather than increasing it. “Being right” is so often superior, alienating, and divisive. I am not a black-or-white kind of person, I think pretty much everything in life is gray. Everyone has their own perspective.

4) Don’t take “No” for an answer, if what you want to hear is “Yes”. Tenacity is everything. Put one foot in front of the other…and soon you’ll be walking out the door. (That’s a song, but I can’t remember where it’s from.)

5) Remember: No one is thinking about us as much as we think they’re thinking about us. Let go of needing people to approve of you. No matter how many people think you’re amazing, there will always be others who don’t. Not everybody will like you. That’s just life. But with respect, tolerance, and finding common ground, I do believe it’s possible to coexist peacefully with people who don’t want to be your friends. I think I really understood this after I turned 50, but not everyone has to wait that long!

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this, especially if we tag them.

Who would I love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? Oh my god. The #1 real-life goddess who I worship is Oprah Winfrey. I think she is the most deeply influential and incredible woman, she is the embodiment of inspiration and generosity in my eyes. What a role model. She has done so much good for the world! I truly believe Oprah could bring about world peace, because she is so committed to having authentic conversations with real inquiry, and real listening. I’m pretty sure she’s the one who introduced the phrase “aha moment” to the culture. I would love to share a meal at one of her lovely homes, where her chef could make us a really delicious, Weight-Watcher-friendly brunch from the produce in her garden. I’d try to make her laugh…but also, we’d get deep and bond over the many issues — political, personal, and spiritual — that she and I both care deeply about.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On social media, you can find me at:

@susannahbmusic on Instagram

@GirlGoneWilder on Twitter

Susannah B on Spotify & Apple Music (also as Susannah Blinkoff and Camp Susannah)

Susannah B on Facebook

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