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Music Journeys: Ruthie Foster

Riccardo Piccirillo
Ruthie Foster

Musician Ruthie Foster returns to central Ohio tonight with a performance at Natalie's Coal Fired Pizzain Worthington. Foster's recording career dates back to 1997 with traces of blues, folk, gospel, rock, and soul found in her sound. 

In this edition of Music Journeys, Foster explains the inspiration for her most recent release Joy Comes Back.

Abraham plays...

Born and raised in Texas, Ruthie Foster grew up listening to her mom and other relatives singing in the church choir. As Foster saw how music made people feel, she quickly wanted to be more involved.

"I grew up with 22 cousins, so there were always big family gatherings," Foster reflected. "Music was a part of that, gospel music in particular. I heard a lot of blues and soul music too. Music was a huge part of helping me come into myself, because it was a way to get out of my shyness. Learning how to play the guitar and wanting to play piano from watching what music does to people, it was a healer."   

With her most recent release, the 10-track, Joy Comes Back, music healed Foster again. 

"It was tough on me because I had just come out of a long-term relationship," Foster said. "With a child, it was hard. I felt guilty not being home enough. I loved music, but it was also pulling me away from my family." 

Forgiven plays...

"This album started with the song Forgiven, which incidentally is the last track but it was the first song recorded," Foster recalled. "I had to get to a point where I had forgiven myself and not just forgiven the other person and what we put ourselves in and through. That song was a catalyst to wanting to go into the studio and make more music, more joyful music to make me feel good."

Joy Comes Back plays...

The title track features Derek Trucks on guitar. It represents Foster's state of mind at the time, being open and listening to everything around her, including the spiritual sounds. One of Foster's friends calls it "heart work." 

"Really looking at why I'm here," she reflected. "Because there comes when you're in a place like that, you question what you're here for and if you're doing the right thing. I have questioned whether I wanted to be in music, but I knew it would have to be part of my life. But I wanted to know why. I opened my mind up to different mediums of art, museums, and seminars. I went out to actually see some of these beautiful cities I toured in. It was about being curious. I got curious about being here, and it totally changed the way I look at music, and why I do it." 

What Are You Listening To plays...

"What works for me is you give," Foster said. "You get to a place where you can help somebody. Even a simple call to a friend you haven't talked to in forever. Just hear someone else's story. It's human nature for us to care for each other. I don't think anyone is happy being alone. I have a six-year-old so sometimes it's nice to be alone in increments. But you break that cycle by hearing someone else's story." 

"Yeah, the joy is here," Foster continued. "I guess being middle age, you realize that it's okay to forget that sometimes. But when you know the way back, that's a huge deal. I know the way back when I do have those moments when things are really tough. I know my way back."

Open Sky plays...

Foster's resolve has been tested again. We recorded the interview this spring, a short time after her friend and long-time drummer Samantha Banks suffered a stroke. 

"She's been my friend and drummer for almost 20 years," Foster said. "It's making me question where I want to take the music because she's been a huge part of the direction of that. I want to take a breath. I have a lot of shows, and I want to do these shows and be present for them. But I want to slow down and write more about what I want to say. And I'm still trying to figure out what that is. That's an ongoing thing. I want to write more of my own material. I want to give myself real time to do that."

Banks died on April 25th. In a post to her fans, Foster wrote that Banks "had a smile that made you feel like you had been best friends for life even though you just met. The definition of rhythm. She was the best." 

My condolences to Banks' family, friends, and fans ---  and my sincere thanks to Ruthie Foster for her time, sharing her feelings and stories, and especially her wonderful music. 

Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever plays...

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring emerging and established musicians, our Columbus-area and Ohio-based talent, and additional artists that inspire him.
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