True to her country roots
FFWD Magazine - Sandra Vida

Posted by on 10 May 2004

Ruthie Foster mixes blues and gospel with style

Ruthie Foster’s music has been called a hybrid of blues, gospel, roots and folk, and her strong voice has been compared to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin. But her recent wave of success establishes her as a unique talent with a sound all her own. Her recent work shows fidelity to her country roots, but bears the imprint of her own particular style, achieving a universal appeal in the process.

"The first instrument I played was the piano," says Foster. "It was an agreement I had to make with my mother. I wanted to play the guitar, but she wanted me to take piano lessons first."

After she’d toiled on the keys for a couple of years, Foster took up guitar around the age of 11, but she never forgot that training on piano, which gave her the background to play all sorts of styles.

"The gospel side of my music comes naturally from how I grew up," she continues. "My mom and aunts – all the women in the family – sang gospel in church. And my grand-uncles had a gospel quartet that would sing at church and community events. And being in rural Texas, country music was everywhere."

Later, in the early ’90s, Foster’s musical life evolved further when she was in the U.S. Navy band. "I was the vocalist for a Navy band and we did Top 40 stuff, going around on recruiting tours to urban schools. Then I spent some time in New York playing with various other musicians, picking up some jazz influences."

Foster’s musical range has grown over the course of three CDs, beginning with 1997’s Full Circle, a collection of Americana-style songs she remembered in New York when she was missing her home in Texas. Then came Crossover in 1999, her first release with manager-turned-musical-partner Cyd Cassone.

"We were just trying to put together a demo and then ended up mastering it and getting it out on the shelves," says Foster. The success of her latest disc, Runaway Soul, has surprised Foster, as she and Cassone tried to meet the demand of up to 1,000 CD sales a day during her 2002 Canadian tour.

Now, Foster has returned and is looking forward to her summer tour of Canadian folk festivals. She loves the eclectic nature of the country’s folk scene, especially its inclusion of world music.

"Live shows are what it’s all about – people singing and clapping and talking to us," she says, adding that she’s learned a lot in that regard from Pete Seeger, whom she met early in the course of her career. "I was impressed by his focus on getting people involved, in getting them singing. You don’t necessarily have to be an activist, but I like to see people get involved with something – family, community, whatever."