Q&A with multi-talented artist, Janice Harrington, renowned singer of Blues, Jazz and Gospel, producer and actress

"In this day and age everyone can relate to the Blues just take a look at the unrest all over the world if that isn't the Blues, I don't know what is. Gospel on the other hand is healing the Spirit. Every morning I wake up giving thanks to God for a new day. Jazz blows all you cares away. "But it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing"."

Janice Harrington: The Great Grand Ma

Introducing the multi-talented North American artist, Janice Harrington, renowned singer of Blues, Jazz and Gospel, producer and actress. She resides in the quaint city of Lüneburg, Germany, with her German husband, the talented trombone player and piano-builder Werner Guertler. Ms. Harrington's (formerly known as Jan Dome) international career began in 1969 with tours for the USO to South East Asia, where she entertained USA military personnel during the Vietnam War. Throughout 1975 to 1977, she appeared at the Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel. Her acting credits include national tours of Norman Is That You?, Two Gentlemen From Verona. She was featured in the American television series Days Of Our Lives. Ms. Harrington has worked with such artists as Billy Daniels, Lloyd Bridges, Frank Sinatra Jr., Sammy Davis Jr. and Lionel Hampton.

In 1982, Ms. Harrington was the opening act for Joan Armatrading in Oslo. In 1989, she performed with the Kenn Lending Blues Band as the opening act for B.B. King in Copenhagen. Special guest appearances include being on shows with Rockin Dopsie, Buddy Guy, Champion Jack Dupree and Luther Allison. In 1993, Ms. Harrington toured Switzerland with Big Jay McNeely. As a Jazz performer, Ms. Harrington has appeared with Nat Adderley, Papa Bue’s Royal Viking Jazzband, the Humphrey Lyttleton Band and the Dutch Swing College Band. Ms. Harrington has been concentrating more on working with school children and people with disabilities, producing Authentic American Music Workshops (Sing Out) and concerts over Germany. She has also produced the amazing Gospel Show The Roots Of Gospel And Spirituals. Now, Ms. Harrington has a passion for introducing the next generation of children to the Roots of Blues, Jazz and Gospel with her School Workshops (Sing Out). Her Blues album "Move On" released in 2019, with The Farmersroad Blues Band. Her new album titled "Janice Harrington - 80 Years of International Friendship" (2022). Janice says: "It has taken me over 37 years to finish this project, but better late than never. What a great way to celebrate my 80th Birthday!". Janice recently announced her upcoming 2023 US Tour dates.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe your songbook? How has the Blues, Jazz and Gospel influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I write from emotion, usually when I am in love or angry. Many people ask me when did I begin to sing and my answer is "In my mother’s stomach" she was a member of the gospel choir and I was born hearing her sing and hearing the giants of Jazz and Blues like Bessie Smith, Louie Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Count Basie and Muddy Waters. I knew at an early age I wanted to be a singer at the age of 6 I use to sit on the front porch and listen to my uncle Walter play the Blues- Through music I have had the opportunity to meet people of all races, creeds and colors. Music is the international language and allows an instant contact with one another. Just open your heart and mind and let the music flow.

What do you learn about yourself from the Afro-American Roots music? What does the blues mean to you?

As a young child Blues, Jazz and Gospel were the main music in the house Blues because my mother loved Bessie Smith and played her records, at a young age I decided I was not going to worry about any man treating me mean and leaving me. If he treated me mean I was going to leave him. (a lot of these type of lyrics were sung back in the day) This is my 4th husband and it has lasted 34 years... I grew up in the church and Gospel and Spirituals always brought me joy... I loved to sing in the youth choir.

"I can say the Europeans respect old school music, Jazz, Blues and Gospel. I am happy that I have the opportunity to make "Sing Out workshops" in schools with my musical partner Dylan Vaughn. Old school music is not so often programed on radio and television, and it is important to pass this music down to the next generation. I hope I have the opportunity to make some school workshops as well as concerts." (Photo: Janice Harrington)

How do you describe your 80 Years Of International Friendship experiences? What do you think is key to a life well lived?

I came to Europe in 1980, before that I was performing in various countries for the USO singing for the military, in Vietnam, Southeast Asia, Panama Canal, Scotland, Ireland, Newfoundland (Canada), Iceland etc... and performing in Las Vegas... I have had the opportunity to work with great musicians in many countries... My new CD "Janice Harrington 80 Years of International Friendship" will introduce the listener to my friends from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria and will hear that music is the International Language. No stress, Trust and Romance. My requirements for my husband.

How do you want the music to affect people? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

Joy and Happiness. “Mirror Image”, “Old Age”… Most of these songs were recorded in 1982 and 1985 Old Age was written in 2021, the arrangements are fresh, and the restored sound is excellent... The lyrics tell the story.

In 2023, you'll back in US for a tour. What would you say characterizes European music scene in comparison to US?

As I have not lived in the states since 1980 I cannot answer that question. However, I can say the Europeans respect old school music, Jazz, Blues and Gospel. I am happy that I have the opportunity to make "Sing Out workshops" in schools with my musical partner Dylan Vaughn. Old school music is not so often programed on radio and television, and it is important to pass this music down to the next generation. I hope I have the opportunity to make some school workshops as well as concerts.

"I came to Europe in 1980, before that I was performing in various countries for the USO singing for the military, in Vietnam, Southeast Asia, Panama Kanal, Scotland, Ireland, Newfoundland, Iceland etc... and performing in Las Vegas... I have had the opportunity to work with great musicians in many countries... My new CD Janice Harrington 80 Years of International Friendship will introduce the listener to my friends from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria and will hear that music is the International Language." (Photo: Janice Harrington with her husband, Werner Guertler)

Why do you think that the Blues/Jazz music continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?

Blues, Jazz and Gospel speak to the heart and soul.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I am an old fashion girl and not a fan of the Digital music. I am happy that I had the opportunity to hear ,see and work with some of the giants of Jazz ,Blues and Gospel. I have my memories and I have my wonderful collection of LP's, cassettes and videos. I know I cannot bring them back but I can continue to teach about the Mothers and Fathers of Jazz, Blues and Gospel. I hope that Young people have the opportunity to learn about the foundation of modern pop music that is why it is my mission to make "Sing Out" workshops in Schools.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I also had the opportunity to work with Lionel Hampton he was not amused that I took the opportunity to tell a joke in between songs and told me later that two Aries should not work together and I should get my own show. Best advice I ever had, so I came to Europe in 1980 and I am very happy with the move because I found a Wonderful husband, we are now married 34 years to my husband, and an exciting career... While living in Norway I heard a concert of Dizzy Gillespie in Bergan and was so impressed not only with his playing but with his humor and learned how important it was to have a good contact with the audience and to have fun, then it becomes a one on one feeling with your audience. Meeting B.B King on many occasions and being his opening act in Denmark with The Kenn Lending Blues Band. Singing for Bishop Tutu at the Nobel Peace prize dinner in Oslo.

"Through music I have had the opportunity to meet people of all races, creeds and colors. Music is the international language and allows an instant contact with one another. Just open your heart and mind and let the music flow." (Photo: Janice Harrington and the late great Bishop Tutu, Oslo 1984)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I was the opening act for Joan Armatrading in Drammen, Norway in the early 80''s the promoter said to me, no Blues or Jazz I had just finished writing some lyrics  to  a funk song and it was so new I had to write  the lyrics on  a sheet of paper and only had a red pen to write with .I put the paper on the floor so I could see it. When the lights came on they were all red lights and I could not see a thing so I just made up some Blues verses to a Funk beat. It worked.

In 1984 we were the opening act for "Dollie De Luxe" who had just represented Norway in the Eurovision contest. I came on stage with over 2,000 teens in the audience and said "Do you like the Blues" they said NOOOOOOOOOO, I turned to the band and said Route 66 "Rock". It also worked. I was often a guest at the Stockholm Blues and Jazz Festival in the 1980's when Bosse Steinhammer was the director- I told him I would like to present my program A Tribute To Dinah Washington and use the original Band, He approved the idea so I contacted Keter Betts who was the original bass player and also for many years played with Ella Fitzgerald. He contacted Jimmy Cobb who was also in the original trio, then Lloyd Mayers came on board, a marvelous piano player who had played as a sub in the original group.

I said we have a 10 day tour and the deal was done or so I thought, one day before their arrival I got the news the tour was canceled and I had to call Keter and tell him, at that time I made a counter offer and said if you come we will record and I will give you the same money you would have gotten for the tour. Being the kind person, he was he accepted and Dinah Washington "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow" was born. A very good title because it really tells the story. It sat in the can for a long time because I had no money to bring it out and did not know how to shop it to a label. 25 years later Nagel Heyer Records in Hamburg put it out. That was YESTERDAY!  TODAY! It is still available for sale. TOMORROW! Time will tell.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Check your ego at the door when joining the band and be prepared with knowing your keys.

"There would be no sampling of music everything must be live like the old days, real instruments, real vocals, no computers." (Photo: Janice Harrington and the late great bluesman BB King)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

There would be no sampling of music everything must be live like the old days, real instruments, real vocals, no computers.

What does it mean to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

It is also a Woman's World and I am happy that women are now taking control of their lives. There should be equal opportunity not only in music but in all fields. A woman's happiness and success should not be dependent on a man. I am a mother of 5 children, 23 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. I say "A man is like a bus; you miss one another one will come along" and "You got to love yourself if you want somebody to love."

What is the impact of the Blues, Gospel and Jazz on the racial, spiritual and socio-cultural implications?

In this day and age everyone can relate to the Blues just take a look at the unrest all over the world if that isn't the Blues, I don't know what is. Gospel on the other hand is healing the Spirit. Every morning I wake up giving thanks to God for a new day. Jazz blows all you cares away. "But it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing".

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

To an evening in the late 70's at the Coconut Groove in Los Angeles. I took my mother out to hear the Lionel Hampton Band... She was my best friend, and we had a wonderful time.

Janice Harrington - Home

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