March 2, 2006 — Musician Ruthie Foster sat in a lounge sipping mint tea before her performance in front of juniors, seniors, and music students at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Thursday morning.
Foster and her backup singer and percussionist, Cyd Cassone, had a highly successful show at Tillett Gardens the night before, but Foster said she plays at high schools "any and every chance" she gets.
"I remember myself being in high school, having someone come from the outside world to my school," she said. "It gives you hope. Maybe this outrageous idea I had of being a musician and traveling around the world wasn't so outrageous."
A high school music teacher said students were so excited that they were asking for CDs before Foster's concert started.
Foster took the stage with a gospel song, then moved onto the blues. By the end of the second song, Foster and Cassone were receiving rousing applause, whistles and hoots from the pink-and-maroon uniformed audience.
"Man, she is good!" one student said to another, clapping.
Foster and Cassone interspersed the concert with stories about the inspiration for their songs.
Foster said she wrote "Crossover and Overcome" after meeting numerous people involved in the civil rights movement. She dedicated the song to Coretta Scott King, wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott King died in January.
Before a song, Foster invited the students to sing along. Foster wasn't going to make everybody sing, "but you music students," she said, laughing, "I expect more from you."
Most students did sing with Foster and Cassone for Bob Marley's "One Love," though many students were a bit shaky on the lyrics.
Foster hosted a question-and-answer session after her concert. In addition to questions about her inspirations and training, two students requested that she play more.
Students also asked to whom Foster is compared.
"Because you don't find a lot of black guitarists, I get compared to Tracy Chapman, but I think I'm different than her," Foster said.
She later joked she'd like to collaborate with Chapman to see if people could tell them apart.
In response to a question about her favorite place to play, Foster said, "St. Thomas is ranking pretty high right now." Students responded with applause and hoots.
Foster's concert was entirely free to the school.
Foster went to school in Hearne, Texas. She came from a musical family, she said, and started playing piano and singing in church. She went to college in Waco, Texas, and later joined the Navy. She played in the Navy band for four years before moving to New York.
She moved back to Texas in the early '90s, and met Cassone at a local radio station. Foster has played the PBS syndicated show, Austin City Limits, and has performed at the Strawberry Music Festival in California, the Willie Nelson Picnic and many other festivals. She has also played in the United Kingdom and Denmark and plans to travel to Australia soon.
Cassone toured with gospel, folk and rock groups until the early 1980s, when she stopped touring to have her own family. She worked in Texas for years and started to manage the Ruthie Foster Blues Band in 1994. She started performing again in 1996.
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