Dec. 2, 2008 — Music you can feel: It's a concept that may be a little hard to get your head around, but that's the kind of music Ruthie Foster makes.
The Austin native is in town for an 8 p.m. Wednesday performance at Tillet Gardens, sponsored by Arts Alive, the presenting arm of the Tillet Foundation.
Some young people got a preview Tuesday afternoon. In a mini concert at Charlotte Amalie High School, students sang and clapped as Foster, drummer Tanya Richardson and bassist Samantha Banks pounded out blues, reggae and gospel. Even the too-cool-for-school types tapped their feet — until they noticed someone watching.
Emanating from a pint-sized frame, Foster's vocals have the horsepower of a cruise ship, and she exercises exquisite control over them. Her music is evocative of Austin's smoky Sixth street bars, hot stage lights and a plate of barbecue. It's a palpable thing, her voice: You feel it in your sternum and it gives you goosebumps. It makes you want to get up and dance.
The band played nearly a dozen songs, ranging from blues to gospel, and wound down with Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" and "Three Little Birds." The crowd got an encore of "I'll be Around," made famous by the Spinners.
"Her performance captivated me," said CAHS senior Shinnola Alexander. "She had a powerful, soulful voice. It swept me away."
Powerful enough to get the attention of an audience of hip-hop, rap and reggae fans, who clapped and responded to Foster's Cab Calloway-like calls.
"She was so accepted," said senior Anniesha Telemaque. "It is unusual because most students aren't open to different types of music."
"People who usually rock to hip-hop and rap were rocking to the blues," Alexander said.
This is Foster's second trip to St. Thomas, who came to the island with a blues cruise three years ago. She said she was pleased to perform at CAHS.
Arts Alive "asked if I wanted to do a student outreach," Foster said. "Of course I said yes. I remember how much it meant to me. It made me feel special."
Foster told the students about hearing concerts and seeing performances when she was in school.
"In nineteen hundred and … way back," she joked with the students.
Growing up with a lot of gospel, soul and country, Foster also sang in church.
"I didn't want to sing," Foster said. "A lot of folks in my family could sing so well."
Her grandmother encouraged her.
"We called her Big Mama, and she had a big hat and a fan," Foster said. "She said, 'You go ahead, baby, and sing your song.'"
Foster took the nudge and ran with it, memorializing her grandmother's words of inspiration by penning the lyrics to "People Grinnin' in Your Face," which has a refrain that goes:
Whoa, don't you mind people grinning in your face
Bear this in mind, a good friend is hard to find
Good words to live by — or sing by, for that matter.
For information about Foster's performance Wednesday night at Tillet Gardens, call 340-776-8566. For more information on Foster, visit ruthiefoster.com. Her music is also available on iTunes.
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