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Checking in No. 3: Laura Ann Singh

Laura Ann Singh photographed by Peter McElhinney
Laura Ann Singh performs Brazilian music with the fluency and authenticity of a native Portuguese speaker. She founded the Richmond-based bossa nova group Quatro Na Bossa with guitarist Kevin Harding in 2003. Through her participation in the group Miramar, she has also delved into the rich tradition of boleros, the tragic love ballads that were popular in the Latin world in the 40's, 50's and 60's.  Photo by Peter McElhinney. 

This episode of Checking in features a conversation with singer Laura Ann Singh, whose voice will be familiar if you have ever heard her perform with Quatro Na Bossa. The Richmond-based Brazilian ensemble has been featured on VPM's jazz program several times. These have been some of my favorite broadcasts in the twenty years I've spent at VPM. Highlights from those performances are mixed in throughout this segment. 

Laura Ann grew up in Eastern Tennessee and attended college at the University of Richmond. Around the time she graduated, she was exposed to Brazilian music. A friend who had gone off to Brazil to live brought back some early recordings by guitarist and singer Joao Gilberto.

“I was just totally smitten” says Laura Ann, especially with his renditions of songs like Desafinado and Chega De Saudade.

“They're just really lyrical…They're really interesting melodies. As you get into the poetry, they're heavy, they're really deep, you know. They're not shabby little throwaway tunes. A lot of that stuff was written by really great poets,” says Laura Ann.

She was so taken by the music that she spent months living in Brazil to immerse herself in the language and culture. She’s such a fluent, authentic sounding performer that you could easily mistake her for a native of that country.

She met guitarist Kevin Harding, her partner in Quatro Na Bossa, at UR. He shares her passion for the music. Since they formed the group in 2003, what started as a bossa nova project has expanded to include a diverse array of the myriad styles of Brazilian music. You'll hear some of that represented in this segment with performances of songs by Joao Bosco, Dorival Caymmi, Antonio Carlos Jobim and others. 

When the pandemic hit, Laura Ann was on tour in Russia with the bolero group Miramar. “It was bizarre because we left the United States and came back to a totally different world,” she says.

Since she returned to Richmond, she's had a lot of time to take stock of the things she misses about being a working musician. There have been positives, like spending more time with family. But, she says, it’s made her grateful for every opportunity to make music.  

“It's like a balm when you get to play and sing and being,with friends, even masked and distanced and everything,” Laura Ann says. “So it's, it's been really challenging, I think, to have your rug ripped out from underneath you.”

Laura Ann views the pause brought about by the pandemic as a valuable opportunity. She says it provides a chance to try to really understand the issues surrounding the protests over racial injustice that have spread across the country.

“I think it's such a good time for listening. I think a lot of people don't know how to do that,” Laura Ann says.

“If, in like 20 years or 10 years, they're looking back and they find that COVID wasn't as serious as they thought, ….if all it did was give ground for this rise of public voice of the grief of the black community, the anger, the injustice that has just been sustained and ignored, you know, then Covid - the pause - was worth it,” Laura Ann Says.

Watch a video here of Mario Peixoto’s silent film Limite with a score performed by Miramar.