In preparation for Night of Vocals: Collaborations we spoke with Carmen Woodruff, one of our newest voice instructors! Carmen discussed her life before she joined us and how music has played an integral role. Check out our conversation below and come to the show Friday, April 19th starting at 7pm in The Underground.
Tell us about your background; how did you get started working in the music industry? What inspired you to work in music?
I’ve always had a passion for music. I credit West Bloomfield Public Schools here in Michigan and the Metro Detroit community. I was able to perform, record and share the stage with many local and national artists beginning at an early age. I remember being onstage with Motown’s Martha Reeves and the Vandellas at the age of 17 and that’s what really marked the moment for me when I knew that I wanted to be a singer. Martha Reeves treated me so well and took me under her wing from that point on and we are still in touch to this day.
I was also introduced to jazz music at an early age and granted the incredible opportunity to perform at the Detroit Jazz festival with an all-women’s ensemble consisting of Straight Ahead and Ursula Walker. All of us young women were paired with a mentor in jazz who represented our instrument/area of study (Sunny Wilkinson’s Sisters in Jazz program). My start is rooted in Detroit and for that I am grateful. I appreciate my parents too because they took notice of my interest in music and enrolled me in piano lessons when I was three years old. That moved into flute and ultimately vocal music.
One of the biggest honors of my lifetime will take place next week when I am inducted into West Bloomfield High School’s inaugural Fine Arts Wall of Fame. I’m excited to be back home in Michigan after being away for 20 years and to celebrate the evening with friends, family, educators and administrators who were by my side as a young person pursuing music and the arts. I hope to one day have the same special impact on my students.
What do you do when you’re not working at DIME?
When I’m not at DIME, I work in media and communications. My first degree was earned in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to my musical and performance endeavors, I always strive to keep that side of myself active, whether it may be working as a consultant, writing, fundraising or marketing/publicizing an organization or client. I also teach private contemporary voice lessons online and in-person domestically and abroad. Remaining active in professional organizations is important to me as well.
I just recently had an exciting gig at the University of Michigan. I provided the music along with my colleague Lamar Willis and Miss Michigan 2018, Emily Sioma, served as the keynote speaker. I’m also working to present my one-woman-show in tribute to Ella Fitzgerald to the city of Detroit, which has just been approved for performance next year. For inspiration, I’ve been taking classes at Go Comedy! Improv Theatre and dabbling in the world of social media with some “Jazzy Pop-Up” performances on Facebook and Instagram.
What is your favorite class to teach at DIME?
I’ve had a blast teaching Artist Inquiry II alongside DIME Instructor Cory Allen. It’s very interesting to me how the students are able to channel the historical significance of the time period into each song they’re assigned to perform each week. I’ve watched them grow leaps and bounds just within a few weeks and even between the start and finish of each class period. Music history is absolutely essential for everyone to learn, especially up and coming musicians.
The songs our students are learning serve as the soundtrack throughout those monumental moments in history, which shaped our culture and brought us to where we stand today. It’s fascinating how history repeats itself and how many events are surfacing again in 2019. What can we learn from the past and how can we apply those lessons? We’re currently working through the 70s and 80s when rock and roll signified protest, freedom, independence and self-actualization. The students never cease to amaze me with their talents and interpretations.
What has been your proudest moment as a DIME Instructor?
I’m a new DIME Instructor but I’m really looking forward to collaborating with the second year singers and friends, including Aron Bell from admissions at the Vocal Showcase on Friday, April 19. It has been a gift to work with the second year students in Artist Inquiry and I can’t wait to put all of their hard work into action in real time!
Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
Natalie Cole, Beegie Adair, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Israel Houghton, Kari Jobe, Smokie Norful, Michael Buble, John Mayer
What are you listening to right now? Do you have any recommendations we should check out?
Right now, I’m listening to the Oscar Peterson and Beegie Adair on streaming radio. I love instrumental music, especially when I am working or driving and encourage all singers to spend time exploring instrumentalists. I believe anyone can enjoy some good piano music when working behind a desk or on the run. It makes the day more colorful and less mundane!
For more information about Carmen: