BWW Interview: Rosalinde Block on Proving Naysayers Wrong, Being a Boomer with Something to Say, and Her One-Woman Show DRAMA OF THE GIFTED GROWNUP
As an artist, Rosalinde Block has done just about everything. Trained as a classical pianist, Block decided to go her own way and instead pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, primarily in the R&B and gospel genres. She's spent more than four decades doing everything from playing in jazz clubs and on cruise ships to recording at major studios and touring the country.
In 1991, Block became a parent, which changed the course of her career, at least for a while. She started teaching piano and working with young music artists. She also wrote the music and lyrics for an off-Broadway musical (still in development) and illustrated several children's books including, Julia Morphs, an award-winning book about an elephant with a self-esteem problem.
As a woman, a musician, a writer/illustrator, and a single mother, Block faced her share of setbacks and naysayers. Now in her 60s, she's back once again to prove the naysayers wrong and show that Baby Boomers still have plenty to say with her new solo show, DRAMA OF THE GIFTED GROWNUP: A MUSICAL JOURNEY. The show, which combines Block's music, writing, and visual art, starts a three-city tour in Portland on Thursday.
I spoke with Block about her career and DRAMA OF THE GIFTED GROWNUP. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
You've done a lot in your life so far. What's the 30,000-foot view of your career?
RB: I grew up in St. Louis, which was an R&B capital. I moved to the city to pursue my career during the singer-songwriter explosion and the reign of Carole King and Laura Nyro [both to whom Block has been likened], so everybody was out there pounding pavement. It was an R&B producer who co-wrote with Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder who took me to CBS Studios for the first time. It was my first time recording a demo in New York City, and since then it's been hustling, pushing the songs, the record deal, the book deal, the art -- all of it.
What was the impetus for DRAMA FOR THE GIFTED GROWNUP?
This piece is the culmination of my life calling. I always knew I had something to give, and there were setbacks and people who said, "You can't do all of that stuff." But what do you do when you can't do anything but that?
I had family members who would say, "Don't do that. Don't try that. It's not going to happen." And I'd say, "Yeah? Just watch." There were many 11th hours, but I just had to dust my butt off and keep going. When you know you have something to give, you just do it.
I've had people in the audience come up to me afterward and say, "You make me look at my own life and see what's important about what I've brought to the this world." That's exactly what I wanted to do with this show.
There are plenty of talented people who are mid-aged, Boomers who had dreams and goals that were sidelined by parenthood. But what happened to the things they wanted to do? There will be a market for artists, musicians, and other entertainers my age to get back out and be heard. I hope I can be one of the pioneers of that movement.
How did you find putting together a piece of theatre different from writing music or creating visual art?
I started doing this show in 2014 with staged readings, salons, etc. I took it to the Midwest, then came back and did the New York Theatre Festival. From there I signed on with Blue Panther Productions.
Before connecting with Blue Panther, I was very much on my own -- my own agent, manager, roadie, set designer, costumes, everything. It got very lonely. It was really exciting to have a director say, "I can help you pull this together." I was out there on a limb, performing this for several years and directing it myself. Then, Laura Lundy (my producer and director) came in and pulled it into a complete piece.
Tell us about the music.
The songs are pieces I've been performing for the past 40+ years, and they all fit like a glove. There are 19 songs in the show, not all of them fully performed.
This is music I've written over the course of my life. They're songs that tell stories and have parables. They have an old-school feeling like what people were listening to in the 1970s. People our age need an audience and we need things to listen to that aren't just compilation albums of greatest hits.
[You can preview the music at www.rosalindeblock.com.]
And the artwork?
There are 135 illustrations that project behind me during the show. That's why we wanted to try doing the show in a gallery space [Shout House Studio], because it's such a visual piece of work anyway.
Will this be your first time in Portland?
Yes! When I wrote Julia Morphs, a friend got it placed in the Multnomah County Library, but I haven't been there. Laura is also a Portland girl, and when she asked me to put together a three-city tour, I knew my Portland needed to be my first stop.
Is there anything else you'd like your audience to know?
I'm so grateful for my health and to be able to express what I have to express. I believe God put us all here for a reason, and my hope is that the show will resonate with anyone who questions their purpose and maybe it will help them rediscover their sense of importance.
DRAMA OF THE GIFTED GROWNUP: A MUSICAL JOURNEY runs in conjunction with Triangle Productions March 22-24, and at Shout House Studio, hosted by Hand2Mouth Theatre on March 25th.
Shout House Gallery https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3347151