As my song, The “Big Blue Water” says, I was born on the shores of Lake Michigan. Raised in the small resort town of South Haven, I grew up with the sand between my toes and the old red lighthouse in full view.
Our house was always ringing with music – Burl Ives, the Inkspots, Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Teresa Brewer, the Kingston Trio, Odetta, Rosemary Clooney. . . My mother loved Luciano Pavarotti, theatre, and poetry. She played the piano while the entire family stood around, singing. Dad sang “Old Man River”. . . badly, and my sister and I laughed until we cried. It was a Norman Rockwell painting, and it was real.
When I was eight, I began singing for audiences- talent shows, service clubs, resorts, school programs, etc. I took piano and voice lessons, and eventually picked up a guitar. I was in the high school musicals and the choir, and sang in church too. For six summers, I worked at Van Buren Youth Camp in Bloomingdale, Michigan, and learned by the seat of my pants how to lead songs with children.
In college I became enamored with the music of Joni Mitchell, Buffy St. Marie, and Judy Collins. With that inspiration, I began my first efforts at guitar playing and songwriting – most of it quite forgettable, but it was a start.
After college I lived in Florida for a while, where I had my first teaching job and met the man I would marry in 1970. He and I moved to upstate New York and formed a folk duo. We sang together for 17 years as Fred and Chica Sang. Beginning in 1974, we spent year in London, England, teaching in an American School and collecting songs.
After returning to Michigan, we had two sons, Brennan and Philip. I became a thyroid cancer survivor in 1979. Initially I could not sing at all – a very scary thing for me – but in time my voice came back, thank goodness. I became very active in community theatre. I also taught in a public school for 17 years.
Fred and I parted amicably in 1987. I set out to sing on my own, and eventually performed on a riverboat for three seasons with Glenn Coleman, and after that with a jazz trio, with a Dixieland Band, and on my own with just me and my guitar.
At the same time, I worked as an educational consultant for a county-wide agency in the fields of Gifted and Talented Education, School Improvement, and Curriculum Development.
My first CD, Coming Down Easy, came out in 1995. I loved the recording process, and was blessed to work with amazing musicians. It was like the birthday of my life!
My mother had Alzheimer’s Disease and needed care, so I took an early retirement in 1997 and moved back to South Haven, the small town on the shores of southwest Michigan where I had been raised, to take care of her. She passed five months later. I was blessed to have had that time with her.
I stayed on in South Haven and began my own consulting business, all the time singing and writing new songs. In 1999 I released Joy in My Heart, a collection of mostly original songs that reflect a new spiritual direction for me. I had become a seeker – and it all came shining through in the lyrics of the CD.
In 2001 I collaborated with the Reverend Margie Towne to create a CD of three guided meditations, called Inner Journey. It was a true labor of love.
In 2002, I released Everything is Alright, featuring the “Peace Canon” and a number of other original songs. This album, and all of my others, were recorded at Arcadia Recording in Kalamazoo, at the hands of my dear friend, John Stites. John is a brilliant sound engineer, and I am deeply grateful to him for all of his great work.
Although I had been singing with children since I was 14 years old, it wasn’t until 2004 that I recorded a CD with kids in mind. A Little Sunshine is a family CD, with songs gleaned from a lifetime of singing with people under three feet tall, as well as adults.
Some of the songs on A Little Sunshine feature the All God’s Children Community Choir of Southwest Michigan. They are a delightful group of children from two very diverse communities. Larry & Sandy Feldman brought these kids together as part of a larger effort to bridge the gap between the communities and to build understanding and friendship. They are an awesome group of 70 kids, ages 3-14, who have formed great friendships and are a beacon of hope to us all. They are living peace. Awesome!
In 2004, the All God’s Children Choir performed with me for President Jimmie Carter when he was in Benton Harbor with Habitat for Humanity. He applauded the children enthusiastically and actually blew me a kiss at the end of our performance!
A year later, the choir and I sang for 3,000 people at the Michigan Reading Association Conference in Grand Rapids. It was a big screen event, a general session featuring the keynoter, Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. The kids were terrific! We were rewarded with cheers and a standing ovation.
In 2004 I received a generous stipend from The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, a caring community of key women educators, to support the family CD and a companion book, A Little Sunshine for Teachers, which was published in July, 2005.
In 2013 I released my album, “One,” the first of my albums to feature all original songs. I’m very proud of this CD and grateful to the musicians who helped me bring it to its feet ~ especially Andru Bemis and Elfi Stern.
I had been singing in churches and for weddings, funerals, birthdays, banquets, and the like for many years, but as the years passed by I began mixing in a message with the music, more and more. Eventually this evolved into musical keynote addresses. I sing – and I also leave a message. I’ve also been working a lot with women’s groups and conferences. The response has been very gratifying, and I have found the work I truly want to do – teach about life, love, and Spirit through music.
Like everyone else who has walked this planet for a few decades I’ve been through some struggles and painful times, but at this point of time, I have found peace of mind and great joy in my work, my home, my friends, and my family.
In 2007 I married a wonderful man – and a singer! – Peter Michael Wehle. Just nine months later Pete went into heart failure. The story of his struggle to stay alive and his eventual heart transplant is told in my new book, “For Pete’s Sake.”
Life has been very good to me. If the music I sing speaks to you, touches your heart, then I feel immensely grateful. I think it is why am here.