Carter Calvert – Interview

Carter Calvert, a talented vocalist with an accomplished career in musical theatre, completely owned the stage in her recent “Tribute to Patsy Cline”, on July 29, 2021 at the Asbury Park Theatre Company, House of Independents, Asbury Park, NJ.

Attractive in blue and red outfits with the right touch of sparkle, her voice, beyond reproach, rang true to Patsy Cline in style and tone. The audience was thrilled to hear their favorites, “I Fall to Pieces”, “Back in Baby’s Arms”, “She’s Got You”, and of course, Patsy’s biggest hit, “Crazy”.

Carter has been in demand, for several years now, entertaining her fans, with  her show, the “Amazing Patsy Cline” with Sally Struthers.  She charmingly captivated the audience with her storytelling, of the era of Patsy Cline:  the popularity of Hank Wiliams as her intro for “Your Cheatin Heart”; that, at first, Patsy resisted recording a ballad written by a young songwriter, Hugh “Willie” Nelson that turned out to be her biggest hit, “Crazy”; and, that it was Neil Sedaka who penned “Stupid Cupid” for her live shows. I got a chance to interview her before the show.

Interview and Photographs by Maria Passannante-Derr.

Maria Passannante-Derr: I am looking forward to seeing and hearing you perform in Asbury Park. Previously, you performed, “Amazing Patsy Cline” with Sally Struthers.

Carter Calvert: Bill Whitefield was the artistic director at the Algonquin Arts Theatre in Manasquan, NJ. He wanted our show there and it sold really well, so well that every few years, he brings the show back.

MP-D: While you were still in high school, you were nominated by Downbeat  Magazine as ”best female jazz vocalist”. How did that come about?

CC: That was quite a shock.  I was in the country show at Kings Island and the musical director at my high school (the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati where I considered home) had me make a jazz demo and without knowing it, he entered my jazz demo in a contest. The nomination was surreal. Jazz is the music I love to listen to at home and it is the music that I love to sing.

MP-D: At that young age, obviously a teenager, who or what was your influence at that time?

CC: My influence was definitely Patsy Cline. I was a huge fan. When I was seven years old, my Dad joined the country music tape of the month club because our car had a tape player. The first couple of months were rough but then Patsy Cline arrived and I was such a huge fan. She was country and pop, not just sort of down home country. She was also an elegant ballad singer. Growing up I loved an eclectic group of vocalists, Barbara Streisand, Donna Summer, Aretha Franklin, Stephanie Mills and Olivia Newton John.

MP-D: You have performed in musical theatre, in some very prominent production and national tours; but, the first show you were featured in was the Tony nominated musical, “It Ain’t Nothin But the Blues” with Gregory Porter and you continued with the tour.

CC: I also did several regional theater incarnations with them so I was part of the beginnings of what became the show that we all saw on Broadway and I told myself that “it is never going to get better than this!”. I literally had a hand in creating my role and writing my lines.  I was a part of the  collaborative process and work with an amazing director,  Randal Myler and  an amazing cast and it was just an amazing experience.

MP-D: Are there any other roles that you played that had the same impact on you?

CC:  I loved playing Eva Peron, “Annie Get Your Gun” and the music of Lieber and Stoller (Smokey Joe’s Café). I was so excited because I was cast in “Mamma Mia” but then the pandemic happened.  I am drawn to jukebox musicals and enjoy a variety of music.  Patsy Cline is a jukebox musical. I also tour and I am part of Neil Berg, “100 Years of Broadway” concerts, featuring our favorite Broadway songs performed by the people that played the roles on Broadway.  

I love when people come up and they tell me like, oh that “Memory” from “Cats” reminds me of my mom and you know she passed away or Patsy Cline fans will come up not realizing how many of the songs that they know from the show and that it feels so good.  I know when I put on the uncomfortable shoes and the sparkly dress that people are going to feel something. They are going to have a hard connection to the material.

MP-D: That comes through in the promo on your website.  You are very attractive. You’ve got a great stage presence and your  virtuosity is displayed on the promo clip where you sing “Fever”, Come Rain or Shine”,  “Don’t Rain on my Parade” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”. Does the Roger Cohen trio accompany you on those songs on the promo?

CC: Yes and we work with such great musicians. While the same three are not always available, we have so many good ones that that we get to work with. My husband is the front man and a side man. He is an integral part of our shows and I rely on his expertise.

MP-D: Do you collaborate with your husband, Roger Cohen? Does he write the arrangements?

CC:  I’ve worked with big jazz names and big Broadway people. Depending on what our product is or what type of show that we’re working with, at that time, will depend on who we work with.  We get the best musicians and then it is a collaboration of different ideas that makes for a really interesting show. Whatever we end up with feels fresh and new and good and exciting. With our Patsy Cline show, we try to stay true to the originals but we have such good musicians with varying backgrounds, it makes it fun to perform.

MP-D: What can we expect on Thursday?

CC: I come as a fan of Patsy Cline and because of the extensive work that I’ve done, I have a solid grasp on the material. We have also added other Patsy Cline songs that aren’t in the book musical and then even a couple of surprises like “ok this artist was inspired by her so let’s honor him or her with this song and I’ll tell a little story.” What is great about Patsy Cline is she took on a lot of the popular men’s music so we do quite a few Hank Williams songs (“Your Cheatin Heart”) and a Neil Sedaka song (“Stupid Cupid”) that she performed in her live shows. Patsy would infuse a little gospel in her shows so we do a little gospel melody. It is fun and I can’t wait. It is going to be quite an evening.

MP-D: Is there anything else you about your Patsy Cline evening that we should talk about before we move on to your album?

CC: I have had such a joy working with Sally Struthers. She’s been a really good friend to me, my husband and my family. She calls herself my daughter’s fairy godmother and you know it’s just one of the wonderful things about our business is that every once in a while, you get to work with your childhood idol and then they end up just being extra wonderful.

 MP-D: Let’s talk about your latest album “ It’s a Man’s World” in more detail. What was your approach to the album?

CC: I wanted to do songs that were written by men that I respect or admire but more about songs that were performed by men: James Brown, The Police, Bruce Springstein, Elvis Costello, Buddy Guy, Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash and Stevie Wonder; and, then put my own spin on it. I told my Grammy winning producer, Ulysses Owens, Jr. (producer/drums) that I wanted a completely different sound; but, not Patsy Cline.  I believed that I go as far as I can go in our Patsy Cline shows and I want to remain true to her sound and storytelling. We chose songs and then collaborated with an incredible arranger, Laurence Hobgood (arranger/piano) and went in and played the song. It was one of the most creative experiences of my life.  

 MP-D: How do you process creative sparks along the way, while it is being recorded or mixed?

CC: So much of it happens in the actual recording studio because I think that’s when your feet are in the fire.  So, we would be there and then it would be like, “ You know, I think we just take out this solo” or “just the bass”  or  “let’s try it just guitar and bass”  or  just piano”  or “add more horns”. All of a sudden that one idea can take a song from good to great and now it’s really exciting for us. We get into rehearsal and we have a song with a completely different time signature and “ok, let’s try it in 6/8” or “ take it up a half step” or  “you naturally did a modulation. Let’s keep it.  Now, it feels like a whole brand new thing. We hired a Grammy Award winning producer, Ulysses Owens, Jr.  who also played the drums on the album and he wanted to work with people that he knew and who worked well together and because we were trying a whole new and different thing.  We wanted to add more musicians and wanted the charts to be a little more intense. My husband was on tour throughout the whole process and we were like “we’re going to trust you”.  I’m so glad we trusted him because it just turned out even better than I could ever imagine.  

MP-D: It sounds like you and your husband knew him and his works.  

CC: Ulysses has a stellar reputation in the business but is also just a good guy, so much fun to work with. He always listened to my ideas, anytime. His answer was always “yes”. I never felt uncomfortable. He was nothing but collaborative. To have somebody of that caliber just really just took all the pressure off.  

MP-D: Sounds like you are happy with the final product.

CC: We feel really good about it and we were very proud how it turned out.

MP-D:  Will there be a future project with Ulysses?  

CC: Yes, my husband and I could work with Ulysses all day everyday. My husband used the time during the pandemic to learn the guitar. He practiced guitar every day. His brother passed away about two years ago and left him about 20 guitars. He took lessons, read about the guitar, join facebook groups and become really good.  He will be playing Thursday evening. Now my husband has completed his guitar studies, we can do these great songs, maybe an acoustic set that we are working on. It’s a whole new thing that we never planned on and it’s a beautiful way for my husband to honor the memory of his brother. It gave my husband a whole new passion and appreciation for a new instrument. We are taking his amazing ability and doing more things with it.

MP-D: What inspires you as an artist year in and year out?

CC: What inspires me the most is storytelling because I’m an actress and I was raised in the theater. I think telling a story is always the most important thing to me.  What influences and drives a lot of my creativity is how can I best tell the story.

MP-D: How were you, as a performer who enjoys personal interaction with your fans and audience, affected by the last year?

CC: I have two separate feelings about it. On one hand, it felt so strange to not have a place to go, not be packing a suitcase, not be working on new music, not have a place I had to be at a certain time and to have to deliver the goods.  All of a sudden, you’re retired without your pension. It was really hard because I am someone who thrives on work; having a place to go, delivering a good product, making people happy. It was hard financially. We were in shock. We lost every job within 24 hours notice. On the other hand, I am homebody. I love my family and there was something  beautiful about us being together. I got really close to my daughter. I know I can live the rest of my days with my husband because we were able to still love each other at the end, appreciate each other and not get bored or tired of each other.

MP-D: What was the first show you did now that we’re coming out of COVID and what was that like to be on stage again?

CC: A year ago in September at the Ogunquit Theatre in Maine, we were asked to do our Patsy Cline show and we did four shows outside and they were all sold out. Everyone was craving music so it’s just felt so good. People were so appreciative and we love Orgunquit, Maine.  We did live stream as well, a whole new animal that we had never done before. It was so weird to have zero applause after a number so that was a challenge; but, we  felt so fortunate. There were so many people that were excited. They had something to do. Everyone knows our industry is completely shut down. People were very  generous. They get that what we do is important and they support us. There are people in my life that really care and love me and my family.

 MP-D:  I assume this year you’ll be back touring again.

CC: What’s great is that a lot of our own shows are very self-contained.

MP-D: What are your upcoming projects or plans?

CC: Getting some of our shows like Patsy Cline, off the ground in Asbury and Sharon, Ct., our Viva La Diva shows and private concerts. Then we are going to be in a new show that’s being created right now so there’s lots of interesting things in the pipeline. I am also a voice over artist.

MP-D: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about you professionally or personally.  

CC: Everyone, do your part and get vaccinated so that we can get back to those shared experiences that we love doing together.