Music has been an instrumental part of Kate Hart’s life. Since the age of 18, Hart, a former Waterford resident, has been performing on the road with some of the best in blues music. Throughout her 40-year career, the singer and songwriter has earned numerous awards, including being nominated for a Grammy. Hart also formed and was the bandleader for the award-winning Detroit Women, an eclectic group of powerhouse blues singers who have won the Detroit Music Awards year after year. In addition to singing, Hart has written several short stories, children’s books, and a novel, “We Are Not Good Girls,” which she also produced as a blues musical which enjoyed a national run. Although she retired from performing three years ago, music still remains a large part of her life. Hart recently opened the Holistic Voice Institute in Berkely, where she works with singers in addition to those interested in voice-over work in movies, videos, and commercials. Hart currently lives on Harsens Island, where she is the festival producer for the Harsens Island Bluegrass Festival, which will be held Saturday, Aug. 13, from noon to 9 p.m. at the Harsens Island Schoolhouse Grille.
You spent 40 years on the road as a singer/songwriter with some of the best acts in the blues genre. What first inspired you to pursue music as your life’s work and passion?
KH: You know, this is going to sound corny, but it chose me because on a whim. I auditioned for a band when I was 18 years old. There was a sign in a boutique — just the word “boutique” lets you know how long ago that was. And I auditioned and I made it. And so I just went from one band to the next, and as I did my inspiration — I was just inspired by so many different things and players that I worked with and music that I heard. And really my love for music just grew and grew. Before I knew it, I spent 40 years in the music business. It is probably one of the most rewarding things I could have done, but also (there was) a lot of heart break. It’s a really hard business to be in, but also the most rewarding. So, really the answer to your question is it chose me.
Who, or which artists, influenced your style the most?
KH: Throughout the years, it really changed, but it started with Lydia Pense from Cold Blood. Etta James. Big Mama Thornton. Delbert McClinton. Joe Cocker. Leon Russell. The Detroit Sound. Bob Seger. That’s who has influenced me.
You’ve won and been nominated for many awards over the years, including a Grammy nomination in 1990 for your debut solo album, “Tonight I Want It All.” Please explain what it meant for you to be nominated for a Grammy.
KH: It came at a hard time in my life, and I really felt like I had finally been recognized after a very long time. And that recognition meant everything in the world to me. It was just the recognition. You know finally being recognized after, at that point, I think it was over 20 years in the business.
You were also a former bandleader and singer with the award-winning group Detroit Women, which has won the Detroit Music Awards several times in addition to performing around the United States and Canada. Please explain what type of group Detroit Women was.
KH: All of those people that I said influenced me, Detroit Women was the combination of that. It was kind of a tip of the hat to the Joe Cocker/Leon Russell Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and album. Actually, I even worked with some of the women that were from that same group. So, it was really a combination of that and the rhythm section was very reminiscent of the Bob Seger sound. So it was a really hard, driving sound. It’s where country, blues, rock and gospel all come together in the middle.
Why did you decide to found this group?
KH: Well, it was based on a group I had like it in Seattle called Seattle Women. Frankly, I put Seattle Women together because I was looking for a way to play more festivals. And so I felt, “Why not ask some of the top women in the business to get together and sing?” And that group was together for 15 years, and then when I came to Detroit, I just did it all over again because I really missed singing with all those women and hearing all those voices.
Please explain what performing with the Detroit Women was like and how it differed from performing solo. Which do you prefer — performing solo or in a group, and why?
KH: Oh, it’s like standing in front of a freight train. It’s unbelievable. There’s so much power and so much camaraderie. It was really, well, one of the best times of my life.
Well, I don’t really enjoy either anymore. I really was overperforming. Once I was done with Detroit Women, I was done. But yeah, a group was definitely my thing. I was definitely a band singer. That was my thing. I mean, there are a lot of singers that like to do the solo thing — that just never was me.
If you could choose any artist, dead or alive, to perform with who would it be and why?
KH: You know what? I’m going to say Delbert McClinton and because of the rhythm section. I think it’s one of the best rhythm sections in the world.
What would you categorize as the best moment of your 40-year career?
KH: Singing at the International Blues Award Ceremony, and singing with some of the best blues players in the world at that ceremony. And at the time, I was managed by Dick Waterman, who also managed the careers of Bonnie Raitt and Son House.
Do you have any particular song that you’ve performed that has been your favorite?
KH: You know, I was known for a song that I wrote called “Two Plays for a Quarter.” And that was definitely a song that I always really loved singing. And then there was another one — and in all the time I never got tired of it — “Good Rockin” Daddy.” It’s just a song we always have a lot of fun with and play around with. So I would say those two songs: “Two Plays for a Quarter” and “Good Rockin” Daddy.”
You’ve recently opened the Holistic Voice Institute in Berkley. What kind of work do you hope to accomplish at the institute?
KH: Well, we are bringing together a lot of professionals who work with issues that people may have with their voice. So, not only do I train vocalists, but we also deal with performance skills, if they have health issues, sinus issues, diction problems. I work with some of the best people in the business, and we are just approaching it in a more holistic way.
What inspired you to start this kind of business?
KH: Well, I’ve been teaching a long time, but I’ve been teaching in other people’s studios. And I didn’t feel like I was really — I hadn’t really developed what my vision of voice training was, and so I felt like I couldn’t really do that until I was in my own space. And I found this absolutely beautiful space in Berkley to accomplish what I was imagining.
You’ve been retired for the past three years and now live on Harsens Island, where you will act as the festival producer for the Harsens Island Bluegrass Festival. Tell us a bit about the festival and your involvement as festival producer. How can people get more information on the festival?
KH: Well, we were looking for a fund-raiser last year for a couple of the non-profits on the island. And one of them really touched my heart — it’s under the umbrella of the Lions Club on Harsens Island. It’s an emergency fund for families in need. I just really felt that we could make a difference with that. That was what inspired us to do it. And then we thought, “Well, why not bluegrass?” It’s a really rural setting and you know has a really back-to-roots mentality about the event. Then all the vendors we are bringing in are all organic products and things they make themselves. So it’s really a throwback to a simpler time. And it really fits where it is because it’s behind a one-room schoolhouse. It’s just really picturesque, and it made sense to do it like that.
They can go to 2011harsensislandbluegrassfestival.eventbrite.com for information or they can call Harsens Island Schoolhouse Grille (at 810-748-9551) to get information that way.
What are your current favorite songs on your iPod right now?
KH: You know what? Right now I’m really hooked on Joan Osborne. I just picked up some stuff from her over the last two years. So not any one particular song, but I’m going to say Joan Osborne.