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Lui Collins publicity photo by Susan Wilson

Photo by Susan Wilson

Biographical notes

Biographical Notes

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Folk singer/songwriter Lui Collins has been performing, writing and recording since the 1970s, earning international acclaim for her music. A native Vermonter, Collins' early music education included classical studies on piano, violin and French horn, followed by a major in music theory at the University of Connecticut. Lui abandoned formal music studies after three years of college, in favor of the vibrant folk music scene of northeast Connecticut.

Following her graduation with a degree in sociology, Collins devoted herself full-time to music. In the late seventies and early eighties, Lui recorded Made in New England, followed by Baptism of Fire, and There's a Light. These releases on the Philo and Green Linnet labels established her in the Northeast folk community.

With the release of her 4th CD, Moondancer in 1993, Collins founded her own label: Molly Gamblin Music. Moondancer was followed by North of Mars, a collection of songs for children, in 1995. Lui now has 8 solo CD's to her credit, the most recent, Closer, released in 2006 on the Waterbug Records label. Her collection of poetry, Moon of Ripe Berries, published in 2001, is now in its third printing.

The Boston Globe has described Lui as "one of New England's first and brightest stars," and Sing Out! Magazine calls her "incomparable." She was voted third most popular performer at the Champlain Valley Festival in 1992, along with Pete Seeger and French Canadian band La Bottine Souriante. Renowned guitarist Dave van Ronk called her "one of the best guitarist-arrangers I have heard in years." Michael Devlin of Music Matters Review wrote: "... there are relatively few artists who are bringing a traditional sensibility to modern songwriting, and in the process creating new traditional music. Lui Collins is among the barefoot royalty of this group..."

An accomplished vocalist, guitarist, and banjo player, Lui has geared most of her recordings toward the "grown-ups" who have frequented her concerts on the folk circuit. But alongside that work, Collins has been performing for and working with children since her own three were young, including collaborations with the Grumbling Gryphons Children's Theater in 1992 and 1993.

In 1997 Collins relocated to the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts, immersing herself in music. In addition to her solo performances in concerts, festivals and schools, Collins has performed extensively with singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dana Robinson. Together they released two limited edition collaborative recordings, Paired Down and Paired Down Vol. 2, in 1998 and 1999 respectively.

Lui took up clawhammer banjo in 1999, and has continued to delve deeply into southern Appalachian music. This traditional influence is evident on her 2000 solo recording Leaving Fort Knox. Dirty Linen's assessment, "Quite simply, this is the best Lui Collins recording, ever," is a clear affirmation of the continuing vitality, after 30 years, of Collins' art. This vitality expresses itself in her live performances, as Lui blends her original songs, dynamic readings of her poetry, and traditional banjo tunes, in an intimate conversation with her audience.

Lui playing banjo at a Hilltown Music Together class-photo by Debbie Lusignan

Photo by Debbie Lusignan

Beginning in 2002, Lui gradually shifted the focus of her work from touring to teaching in her community. In the fall of that year, Collins trained with early childhood music program Music Together of Princeton, NJ, and founded Hilltown Music Together, now Upside-Up Music. In 2007 Collins began research and development on Kids' Jam, an educational program for 5-7 year-olds, for which she has since adapted, written and recorded 8 seasonal collections of songs.

Her online homeschool curriculum Upside-Up's Music at Home, adapted from Kids' Jam, makes Lui's innovative and engaging Kids' Jam music available to homeschool families as well as music and classroom teachers.

In 2015 Lui began experimenting with tenor ukulele, playing around with the fabulous jazz chords in some of her favorite American standards. In the fall of that year she delved into a project to rearrange a number of her recorded songs on ukulele and found it gave them a fresh perspective and new lease on life. She's moved into rearranging Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Morães songs - in the original Brazilian Portuguese - on ukulele as well. After all, if jazz chords work on 4 strings, why not bossa nova?! Lui's latest venture is a band, 3 Ravens with fiddler Donna Hébert and guitarist Max Cohen, in which she plays tenor ukulele, banjo, and clarinet! All three trade off on lead vocals and have a blast arranging 3-part harmonies. More about the band including song samples on their 3 Ravens website.

Lui's concerts are intimate affairs, these days as memorable as ever. She interlaces her songs with stories about their background, her life, the weather - like a conversation with an old friend...with music. Whether you've enjoyed her recordings for years or you've just been introduced, there's no better way to experience Lui's music than at a live concert.

Andrew Calhoun of Waterbug Records says, "Lui Collins sings the way people did a great long time ago, before most of us forgot how to breathe." And as guitarist/folksinger/songwriter Geoff Bartley says, "Lui's got the juju!"

From a 1997 article by Lahri Bond in Dirty Linen.

Lui Collins was born in Barre, Vermont and began to play her first gigs in the early Seventies, while she was a student at the University of Connecticut. In the mid-Seventies, Collins began to tour as part of a duo with a young folk singer named Horace Williams, Jr. They played a regular circuit around the best of New England's many folk clubs, and gained much respect for the sense of style and humor they brought to the burgeoning folk community. Collins started out singing covers of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez songs, but quickly started to include music that was written by what were then emerging artists, such as Greg Brown, Julie Snow and Stan Rogers. In fact Rogers, the late great Canadian folk singer, once stated "She sings my songs better than I do."

Released in 1978, Made in New England, Collins' first album on Philo, contained some of her most cherished material for years to come including compositions by Mike Heron, Robin Williamson and others as well as several outstanding originals. Baptism of Fire, released in 1981, was a more refined mix of tunes by fellow songwriters including Brown, Rogers, and Snow as well as Collins' originals "Passion", "Awaiting the Snow", and "January Thaw". Her next album, There's A Light was released on Green Linnet Records in 1985, and completed a trilogy of albums that documented her early career. Produced by ex-Silly Wizard member Johnny Cunningham, the majority of the album contained Collins' originals, with additional material co-written with fantasy/children's book author Jane Yolen ("Ballad of the White Seal Maid"), and a stunning version of Bob Franke's definitive "For Real". Collins' own songs began to deepen in their musical and poetic composition; "Midwinter Night" is a classic example of Collins' seasonal cycle of songs, while "The Enfolding" gracefully blended the sensual with the spiritual.

In 1986 Collins put touring and recording on hold and over the next eight years spent much needed time attending to herself and her young family. But music still called to her like a wild creature in the woods, and by 1993 she had gathered more than enough material for a new album. Moondancer, subtitled "The Journey of the Child Within" was released in 1993 on Collins' own label, Molly Gamblin Music. The album, one of Collins' most intense works, is not without its lighter moments; "Mermaid's Lullabye", (another song co-written with Yolen), and the jubilant title track offset the album's darker moments. A collection of music for children called North of Mars followed in 1995. Though billed as a children's album, there are some lovely songs for people of any age, including "Joyful Noise", "Storyteller", and several more Yolen collaborations.

The opening of 1997 marked yet another new album; Stone By Stone, by the increasingly prolific Collins. The new album weaves together all the best aspects of Collins' previous work, gathering both an excellent group of backing musicians and an outstanding set of new songs, that explore love, friendship, spirituality, and earthly concerns such as her deepening of ties with Native Americans and her work with prisoners.

*from notes by Lahri Bond/Dirty Linen magazine