KRISTIN LEMS SINGS FOR TODAY'S TROUBLES - by Myrna Petlicki
Kristin Lems is a folksinger through and through. It’s not just the long hair, acoustic guitar and autoharp that give the Evanston resident away. It’s her total commitment to righting wrongs by performing original songs that get to the heart of important issues.
The messages may be strong but the lyrics are always witty and the messenger is genuinely warm and engaging. That’s why audiences are bound to love “An Evening with Kristin Lems,” a Hogeye Folk Arts concert at Lake Street Church in Evanston on Saturday, April 28.
A prominent voice during the women’s rights movement of the ’70s, Lems never runs out of ideas for her relevant numbers, as well as the songs she writes for fun. “I don’t have to wait for inspiration,” she said. “All I have to do is give myself the space to sit down and do it and an instrument so I can monkey around a little bit.”
Inspired by news
Keeping up with the news helps, though. “My job as a folk singer is to be a chronicler of what happens in my town,” Lems said.
One recent Lems song is about Jon Burge, who she described as “the torturing Chicago police lieutenant who was finally jailed after doing what he did for 25 years.”
The Evanston native has been immersed in music her entire life. “My mom is a concert pianist and piano teacher so I grew up in a home where piano lessons were being taught all the time,” she said. Naturally, Lem’s first instrument was the piano, although after a couple of years her mother wisely found a different teacher for her daughter. “She knew that the parental issues would get in the way,” Lems explained.
While attending Evanston Township High School, Lems played oboe in the school’s orchestra and band. She laughingly described that instrument as “an ill wind that nobody blows good.”
It was also during her high school years that a friend loaned Lems her guitar for one week. “I basically learned 60 percent of what I do today in that week,” the performer said. “All of a sudden, the whole universe opened up.”
Lems, who sang in an Evanston Township chorus, added folk singing to her list of musical talents. “By the end of high school, I was already playing for money,” she said.
She majored in English and creative writing at the University of Michigan, where she continued singing and strumming, and even ran a coffeehouse.
Her songs became more and more political. “I sang against the Vietnam War in college as an undergrad,” Lems said.
Following graduation, Lems taught in Iran for a year — singing in a Persian rock and roll band while she was there.
Her next stop was Champaign-Urbana, where she lived for 10 years. She started a record company and, in 1974, the National Women’s Music Festival. “I got very involved singing for the ERA and women’s rights and sang all over the country,” Lems said.
Lems continued her education while she was downstate, earning a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language. (She loves learning so much that Lems has since earned a second master’s degree and a Ph.D.)
After that, Lems taught English in Algeria for two years.
Becoming a mom — most of the time a single one — changed Lems’ focus. “For the next 15 years or so, I became a bona fide children’s musician,” she reported.
With her children grown — they’re now 24 and 20 — Lems has returned to performing music for adults. “I’ve been able to work my way back into the folk music I love,” she said. That includes performing on her own radio channel on Pandora.
Her return to “grownup” music is great news for Lems’ legion of loyal fans and the many new ones the dedicated singer/songwriter/musician is bound to attract.
Kristin Lems: press
singer-songwriter Kristin Lems, a charmer in the most literal and least artificial sense of the word, livened up the down-homey proceedings by wearing a shiny multicolored gown...delivered some nice feminist lyrics, and did a moving version of "George Jackson."
Thursday, March 18,2010
Kristin Lems is back
During the 1970s when Illinois became a battleground as a pivotal state in the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, many women and men spent a great deal of time and energy at the Capitol attempting to persuade our lawmakers and sway public opinion on the validity of the ERA. In the end, Illinois failed to ratify the proposed amendment and it never became a part of the US Constitution. Among the demonstrators was a young singer-songwriter named Kristin Lems who drove over from Champaign-Urbana to join fellow advocates in singing and playing original tunes and the songs of the day. This is back when folks actually played music for social change and expected it to do some good.
“I sang inside the rotunda many times with the ERA fasters and blood throwers,” said Lems, “and outside too, on the steps with demonstrators.”
In the middle of all this intense chaos she tells of “an amazing story” that as she relates it some 30 years later, still inspires a sense of awe and wonder in the depth and strength of the human spirit.
“A country-looking security guard approached me and struck up a conversation. He was definitely not liberal leaning, but said he enjoyed my music and wondered if I had any use for drums. His son had recently died in a plane crash and he wanted me to have his conga drums,” she said in a quiet voice filled with amazement. “I was there to protest and he was there to protect, yet he reached out to make this connection. I still have the drums.” She paused and then spoke in more upbeat tones. “Maybe he will read this and come to the show and I can give back his son’s drums.”
This is just one of the many incredible tales from the life of Kristin Lems, singer-songwriter, protester, union-activist, demonstrator, mother, writer, artist and now a back-on-the-scene performer. Through music and work she traveled extensively, received numerous awards and performed with distinctive artists and dignitaries, but several of her favorite stories begin and end here in the capital city.
“I’ve had a long-term relationship with Springfield,” said Lems, who currently resides in Evanston, just north of Chicago. “There is a good sense of place and people and pride — all the things that go along with a vibrant, juicy sense of community are here.”
She tells of playing Crows Mill School on “New Year’s Eve in ’77, ’78, ’79 — one of those years” and seeing the old wooden floor “go up and down” with the dancers while she sang, “Those Were the Days.” Her Springfield connection continued with performances at the Sangamon State University-sponsored Mother Jones banquets “a couple times in the ’90s” and a benefit for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom with Peg Knoepfle and friends in 2008. Throughout her career, along with a sincere devotion to the notion of personal and social empowerment through music, she also stayed committed to a balance of familial obligations.
“The thing about the Women’s Movement of the ’70s and ’80s — it was a totally different place back then. Politics and culture were not so separated,” she said. “But soon I became married with children and reinvented myself in that role.”
She dedicated her life to working, teaching and raising children until recently, when her last child went off to college. Now the urge to play music fits with the time available and Lems is at it again, playing house concerts and coffee shops, union meetings and schools, spreading the gospel of equality, decency and other nice and good stuff through her songs and lifestyle.
“The kids don’t want me to mope around and miss them, so I’m getting back on the road,” she admits. “I hope and believe I made an impact on people’s lives and opinions. And I’m not anywhere done yet.”
THE ALL MUSIC GUIDE
Kristin Lems is a gifted composer, songwriter, vocalist, and musician. Her mother, Carol Lems-Dworkin, was a concert pianist. Lems' father, a Dutch immigrant, was also musically inclined. It isn't surprising to find that Lems' own musical training began early on, starting with the piano, and later adding the oboe, guitar, composition, and voice. Lems was in her teens when she landed her first paying gig. It was a birthday party, and she earned a whole 20 bucks for her entertainment. By the time she entered college, she was performing in coffeehouses and the like. Her music is always enjoyable and often female empowering. That being the case, she has appeared at a number of women's events, like the Million Mom March in Chicago and plenty of benefits for civil rights and ecology. In 1974, she founded the National Women's Music Festival. Lems' music is a mixture of pop and folk and even a dash of rock. Her creative lyrics can make listeners think and the humorous touches she adds can make them laugh.
Over her outstanding career, she has shared the stage or opened for artists like Steve Goodman, Dan Fogelberg, Charlie King, Jane Sapp, and Peter, Paul and Mary. In 1978, Lems released her first album, Oh Mama. "Mammary Glands," "Talkin Gender Neutral Blues," "The Three Madonnas," and "Farmer" are some of the memorable tracks from this first offering. Lems didn't release her next full-length album, In the Out Door, until 1980. It was followed three years later by We Will Never Give Up. Born a Woman came out under the Flying Fish Records label in 1986. The album carries 13 original songs and won her positive reviews and a Top Ten folk/country album spot from Chicago Reader's. Two other albums followed, Sharing in 1989 and Upbeat! in 1994. For 2000, Lems' debut album was released again, this time on CD and with three new songs, with the extended title of Oh Mama -- Plus! "Ballad of the ERA," "How Nice," "Wrinkles," and "Open Sesame" are some of the tracks listed on her albums that are sure to please.
It's an outstanding singer songwriter from the Midwest, Kristin Lems.
She really is a great talent, and her Mammary Glands is always requested by our listeners at this time of year.
Scott Simon: Is she serious?
JN: No, this is one of her novelty songs, and overall her songs are really tremendous and she’s a great performer....
Thank God (or whatever her name is) there are people like Kristin to fight humor ("Boobs a Lot") with humor ("Mammary Glands")...imagine a very funny song about the very popular multimillion dollar breast fetish.
a one-woman argument against the notion that the women's movement has no sense of humor
Celebrate mom with Mother's Day music May 8, 2008 Recommended Evanston musician and folksinger Kristin Lems has a great way of celebrating Mother's Day. At 2 p.m. Sunday, May 11, she will perform a family concert at Niles Public Library, 6960 W. Oakton St., and invite her mother, Carol Lems-Dworkin of Evanston, to be her guest. Lems chose to perform on Mother's Day because, "I can tie it into all the wonderful themes about spring and new life and Mother Earth, and people's own biological mothers, and hopefully make it a holistic, nurturance theme," she said. Lems will play a guitar and an autoharp, and use some puppets. » Click to enlarge image Singer Kristin Lems will present a concert honoring mothers at the Niles Public Library. She will start the performance with a Native American song translated from the Lakota language, "The Earth is Our Mother. We Must Take Care of Her." "That will be an opening chant without the guitar," Lems reported. "Then I'm going to sing songs about a lot of nature themes. Since I know that at these library performances a lot of the children are very young, I'll have some [songs] that have hand gestures they can do so they can participate even if they're very, very small." For details, call (847) 633-1234.
Lems has a beautiful, bell-like voice with an extraordinary range...
[Cousteau said] "The songwriters today are the bards of our times. We must look to music to instruct and to inspire as we search to improve the quality of life." Country Joe McDonald, Susan and Richard Thomas, and Kristin Lems highlighted the evening program at Involvement Day III, and left the audience humming a tune, snapping their fingers, and thinking about the future of the world around us.
If you haven't heard of Kristin Lems before, you're probably not a big folk music fan. If you like folk even a bit, it'd be worth checking Ms. Lems out...a lot of the songs remind me of one of my all-time favorite albums from childhood, Free to Be You and Me. Lems makes you aware of bad things in the world (Chernobyl, sexism) and good things in you. The New Yorker called her a "charmer in the most literal and least artificial sense of the word," and I'd say the same.
Kristin Lems kept true to that spirit in a presentation of songs that poked humor at any number of sacred romantic cows.
[about Sharing tape and book] catchy singalong songs, including the funny "Squeaky Sneakers" and two retellings of favorite children's stories, "The Little Engine that Could" and "The Emperor's New Clothes." Lems...has recorded four folk albums that have won her praise and awards. a performance artist, teacher, and mother, she sings in a clear, melodious voice that charms her young listeners.
a wide-ranging, imaginative collection...even in her strongest protests, the message does not take precedence over the musicianship; her music is highly listenable.
Kristin not only has a beautiful voice, clear, crisp and powerful, but she is a very creative and thoughtful lyricist
clear tone and untrained honesty...through it all, Kristin Lems was able to shine
[review of original musical revue, Catch it on the Run]
wide ranging and very appealing songs....Lems' songs deserve special praise. They are unmistakably original, and as refreshing as spring. They embrace a wealth of subjects. Some sound noteworthy messages and strike serious notes. Others offer pure spoof and unadulterated fun.
[feedback on The Once and Future Woman show]
...amazing, getting raves from everyone!
Kristin Lems opened...with enthusiastic folk singing and witty jesting.
Kristin Lems' musical talent may have been a gift from the gene pool, but her songwriting and singing style is all her own.
[review of Oh Mama!]
Highly musical, humorous in places, thoroughly political throughout...if you enjoy beautifully rendered songs with a strong political overtone, you will certainly enjoy this album.
[review of National Women's Music Festival in Folk Festival USA]
One of the things that became obvious shortly after this festival began was the diversity of methods of the performers, exemplified by Kristin Lems, an energetic singer and songwriter who delivered fine topical songs.
[review of Upbeat!]
Lems possesses an extraordinary ability to infuse hope into her songs, all the while describing atrocities existing in the world....a smooth musical bomb that explodes with meaning...determined hope and pragmatic thoughtfulness...like the best folk music.
Songwriting and singing provide Kristin with a versatile career, combining and creative and performing arts.
Lems brought laughter and cheers from her audience