Karen Oberlin Interview

She’s the winner of the 2002 Backstage Bistro Award For Outstanding Vocalist of the Year; appeared in over 100 Off Broadway performances of the hit show “Our Sinatra” and has a critically acclaimed CD to her credit titled “My Standards”.

Q – According to your bio. Karen, you competed in talent shows in Upstate New York. Where in upstate?
A – That was in Syracuse.

Q – Where, may I ask?
A – Where I performed?

Q – Yes.
A – Loew’s Landmark Theatre. I did a lot of theatre there. The Salt City Performing Arts Theatre. You name it, I performed there, except for the State Fair, I did a lot of performing up there as a kid. I spent most of my time doing something like that.

Q – Did you ever have aspirations of becoming a Pop Singer?
A – Yes, I did. Well, it depends on what you mean by Pop, ‘cause I went through all sorts of different Pop music. I was in rock ‘n’ roll bands, New Wave, Punk bands.

Q – You wrote a show called “Secret Love: A Tribute To The True Doris Day”. True Doris Day? What does that mean?
A – I don’t know how much you know about her. She’s very much misunderstood. She did lots of fun and silly films, but, she also is considered one of the great jazz singers. Really sexy and deep, and complex and almost nobody knows that. In England they have a very strong fan club run by a guy named Martin Daye. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or not. But, they’re huge fans of hers. I think it’s sort of like a Jerry Lewis in France kind of thing, where her re-issues have just been out there for years and years. So, they know her best stuff, whereas Americans really have no clue. She had a very difficult life. She’s still alive. She’s 81 and still going strong and has these animal foundations. She doesn’t sing anymore. She’s sort of reclusive, but, very, very happy and going a million miles a minute and doing very well. But, she’s written me. We’ve been in contact which is very nice of her. She had four dreadful marriages. She was supporting her mother and her son by that time. She was 17 and touring. Doing one-nighters with Big Bands. She never made a movie ‘til she was 24. She had already been in Big Bands for 8 years. She toured with Bob Crosby and The Bobcats, Les Brown. “Sentimental Journey” came out when she was 21.

Q – What is this show “Our Sinatra” all about?
A – Well, guess what? It’s about Sinatra. A lot of his big hits, a lot of his lesser known gems. It was a great show. It closed, but, it has regional productions all over the place. It was written by some friends of mine, people that I know. I came into it a little bit later. It’s a wonderful retrospective about his life, but mostly about his music.

Q – What did you do in “Our Sinatra”?
A – I sang. I sang and sang.

Q – The Sinatra songs?
A – Oh, yeah. There were three of us in the show. A pianist, then a leading man and a leading woman.

Q – So, no one portrayed Sinatra?
A – Oh, no. Not at all. Not remotely. It was a wonderful show. It ran for more than 2 years, or 3 years, a thousand shows. It was fun to be a part of it.

Q – What is the Backstage Bistro Award and how does winning it, help you career?
A – Well, you know, it’s a Critics Award. It’s sort of cabaret jazz backstage critics award. Backstage is a theatre publication here, where all the auditions are, and the theatre people write. So, it’s a very nice thing. It’s a very nice award to get. I was thrilled to get it. I guess it’s validating in a very nice way. It’s not a popular award. It’s a Critics Award. Is it a monetary thing? Does it shoot my career up into some other place? Perhaps not. But, it’s a very nice thing to get. How’s that for an answer?

Q – That’s just fine. Now, does it ever upset you to see other people come along who maybe don’t have your educational background, and can’t sing as well as you can, winning public acclaim? And, I’m talking here about having hit records, touring the world. Does that ever get under your skin?
A – (Laughs). You know, probably at some point in my life it would have when I was younger, but, I don’t do that anymore. It’s been many years since I would compare myself to somebody else in that way. If I wanted to make a lot of money, I would be singing other stuff. I sing what I want to sing. I don’t necessarily think it’s gonna make me famous, but, I do what I want to do and I’m much happier because of it. So, do I begrudge somebody else’s success? Absolutely not. They’re probably working twice as hard as I am, or equally hard and they deserve it. If that’s what they want-----that’s great. If somebody is singing and having success in the jazz and cabaret world like Maureen McGovern-----it just helps me. If they’re having success, it helps our whole genre be more successful.

Q – Where do you get airplay for your CD?
A – Well, a lot of stations have been very kind to me. WBGO in New York. WBAI. We have people who send out CD’s to radio stations. You just have to keep it out there. Get people to play it and hope people like it. You just have to build from there. I don’t know what else to say.

Official Link: karenoberlin.com

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