Singer Judy Collins speaks onstage at the 5th Annual Elly Awards hosted June 22 by the Women's Forum of New York in New York City.

Singer Judy Collins speaks onstage at the 5th Annual Elly Awards hosted June 22 by the Women's Forum of New York in New York City.

Singer-songwriter Judy Collins grew up in Colorado in a musical family. She was a piano prodigy but as a teenager joined the folk music movement and began performing at clubs. In 1968, Collins released “Both Sides, Now,” written by Joni Mitchell. The song became a major hit, making Billboard’s top ten. Since then, Judy Collins’ musical career has spanned five decades and includes several top-ten hits and gold- and platinum-selling albums. Collins plays more than a hundred live concert dates every year, and her newest album is a collection of duets titled, “Strangers Again.” Diane talks with Grammy Award-winning singer Judy Collins about her life in music and the secret to her enduring success.

Guests

  • Judy Collins Singer, songwriter, activist and author of numerous books, including the memoir, "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music" and the novel, "Shameless."

Live Video

Listen: "When I Go," A Duet With Willie Nelson

“When I Go,” a duet with Willie Nelson, is one of 12 tracks on Judy Collins’ new album, “Strangers Again.”

When I Go - duet with Willie Nelson by Shore Fire Media

Watch: "From Grace," By Judy Collins And Thomas Dybdahl

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Legendary singer-songwriter Judy Collins musical career spans five decades. She's best known for chart-topping hits like "Both Sides Now" and "Send In The Clowns." Her landmark 1967 album, "Wildflowers" is in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Collin still plays more 100 live shows every year. She's just released a new album titled "Strangers Again."

  • 11:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMIt's a collection of duets with Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald and others. The album just hit number one on Amazon's music charts and Judy Collins joins me in the studio. You are, of course, welcome to join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Judy Collins, I can't tell you how great it is to see you again.

  • 11:08:04

    MS. JUDY COLLINSHi. I'm happy to be here. It's a thrill.

  • 11:08:07

    REHMYou look just wonderful.

  • 11:08:09

    COLLINSAnd so do you.

  • 11:08:09

    REHMIn your gorgeous blue silk outfit, which people can see because we are live video streaming this as well.

  • 11:08:22

    COLLINSOh, that's wonderful.

  • 11:08:23

    REHMSo they can see your beautiful white hair. They can see your beautiful blue dress. So I am so delighted.

  • 11:08:33

    COLLINSOh, me, too. I've always loved your show. I love you. It's been a long time and we...

  • 11:08:38

    REHMIt's been a long time, Judy.

  • 11:08:40

    COLLINS...as I said, we stay at it and we work like hell, you know.

  • 11:08:44

    REHMThat's exactly right. Talk about this new album and how you selected the people with whom you wanted to sing duets.

  • 11:08:57

    COLLINSOh, it's been so exciting. This has been such a treat. I found a song called "Strangers Again," which is written by Ari Hest and sung by him with me and Ari is a wonderful young singer/songwriter who's been on my shows, a number of my shows over the past three or four years and I've recorded with him before on my Irish show at the Dromoland Castle in Ireland a couple of years ago.

  • 11:09:23

    COLLINSThat's a PBS special. So I went back through his material and I found this song, "Strangers Again," and I said to him, you know, this is the kind of song that Diana Ross should've recorded, but I'm going to record it. And then, I had to build something to get this song out. And so I called a bunch of my friends and starting with the great Jackson Browne, the great Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, I called up Glen Hansard, Don McLean...

  • 11:09:58

    REHMAnd Ari Hest.

  • 11:11:49

    REHMSo Judy, clearly his voice and yours blending very well and that had to be one of the reasons you made these various selections.

  • 11:12:06

    COLLINSOh, absolutely. When I called up -- talked to Don McLean. I've been doing some concerts with him and he said, would you -- I said, what would you do if you were going to sing a song with me? And he said, well, I would sing "Send In The Clowns" with you. What do you think? He said, you're probably laughing. I said, well, I'm not laughing. And, of course, it turned out to be a spectacular version.

  • 11:12:32

    COLLINSWhen I met Jimmy Buffett recently, it's funny, Jimmy and I hadn't known each other and we met at a party last summer and he said -- I told him about the project, among other things. We had a great talk about history and the places we've been and so many people we know. And he said, well, I've had a dream my whole professional life of singing "Someday Soon" with you so let me do that.

  • 11:12:56

    REHMOh, how wonderful. Oh, that's just great.

  • 11:13:28

    REHMJust a wonderful song.

  • 11:13:30

    COLLINSIsn't that lovely?

  • 11:13:31

    REHMI wish we were strangers.

  • 11:13:33

    COLLINSYes.

  • 11:13:33

    REHMAgain, again. Meeting for the first time. I must say, the idea of you and your wonderful voice pairing up with all these different voices, did you have any hesitation?

  • 11:13:55

    COLLINSNo, no.

  • 11:13:56

    REHMNone.

  • 11:13:56

    COLLINSNo, it had not -- I had none because I -- the people I picked are so -- first of all, they're so professional. They're such good guys, every single one of them. I had not known a couple of them well, but some of them I knew over the years. It was a pleasure to talk to them, to get to spend time with them. You know, and then you talk about all sorts of things, not just the music.

  • 11:14:20

    REHMOf course. How long did it take you to complete the album?

  • 11:14:25

    COLLINSWell, it's been about an 18 month -- that's about normal.

  • 11:14:28

    REHMIs it?

  • 11:14:28

    COLLINSYou think of it, you get it together. You figure out what you really want to sing and then you start talking to people about it and give them choices or nt. Sometimes I would present a couple songs that I thought might work and then, well, in the case of Jeff Bridges, now I was surprised because he said, no, I want to sing a song with you called "Make Our Garden Grow," which is from "Candide."

  • 11:14:55

    COLLINSWell, I never heard it. So there was an education for me 'cause I'd listened to "Candide," of course. Love it a lot. But all of it was a pleasure, very exciting and to work at a very high level with people who work at a very high level.

  • 11:15:10

    REHMI want to hear a little of that duet with Jeff Bridges.

  • 11:15:22

    COLLINSSuch fun.

  • 11:15:22

    REHMWe've got them all.

  • 11:16:25

    REHMI can see you're almost there back in the studio.

  • 11:16:31

    COLLINSYes. It was great fun. And he's such a doll. He's such a kind and loving man. You know, he has a foundation. He chose this song -- I thought, oh, he'll want to sing "Crazy Heart" with me. And when he chose this song, he also told me that he has a foundation that raises money to feed children in the United States. Not in other parts of the world. He says, you know, there's a huge population of children who are in poverty and who are hungry.

  • 11:17:00

    COLLINSAnd this is the song he sort of uses in his concerts to help draw people's attention to this problem.

  • 11:17:07

    REHMIsn't that wonderful?

  • 11:17:09

    COLLINSSo I think -- I love Jeff Bridges and I think he's doing humanitarian work, as well as being a great singer/artist. He has an album out now called -- with his group called "The Abiders" and he sings. I went to see him in Richfield at a concert of his and he has a wonderful band, wonderful group that plays with him.

  • 11:17:29

    REHMHow long have you known him?

  • 11:17:31

    COLLINSWell, I knew him at the beginning because he was in a movie with an old lover of mine, Stacy Keach, whose brother Jim produced a movie called "The Long Riders" about Jesse. And the brothers were all in it, the Bridges, the Keaches and the Carradines. So I met them all 30 years ago, 40 years ago.

  • 11:17:55

    REHMJudy Collins and we're talking about a whole range of issues, hearing music from her new album. We'll also hear some old favorites, singles of Judy's, take your calls. We've got a lot to do in this hour.

  • 11:18:17

    COLLINSYes, we do.

  • 11:18:18

    REHMStay with us.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Of course you were listening to Judy Collins singing "Albatross."

  • 11:20:10

    COLLINS"Albatross," yes.

  • 11:20:11

    REHMAnd it's such a pleasure to have her here in the studio. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. You know, you said at the beginning of the show, it's luck and it's work like hell.

  • 11:20:31

    COLLINSYeah.

  • 11:20:32

    REHMYou've got a very, very strong work ethic. Talk about that and where it came from.

  • 11:20:39

    COLLINSWell, I think it all started in my family with my dad. He was extremely successful at what he did. He had a radio show for 30 years. He never missed a date, never missed a broadcast, always woke up happy every morning, singing -- no matter how drunk he was the night before, by the way. I mean, it was type-A all the way and he expected a lot of his kids. And I, of course, started playing the piano and becoming a musician when I was four or five years old. So I was very trained. I have a friend who says, she was trained rather than raised. And that was certainly true for me.

  • 11:21:16

    REHMWhat about your mom?

  • 11:21:18

    COLLINSMy mother was amazing. You know, she raised five kids. She died at 94 with a very, very -- with five children and a lot of grandkids and a lot of joy in her life. And she was amazing and smart and well-read and had a book club that read everything, including all of Faust, which I was so jealous of. She was an amazing woman. And she really supported my father. I mean, you can't raise kids -- my father was blind, which was not an issue. I mean, he was -- he -- that was the least of his problems, in a way.

  • 11:21:53

    REHMWas he blind from birth?

  • 11:21:54

    COLLINSHe was blind from about four years old.

  • 11:21:56

    REHMI see.

  • 11:21:57

    COLLINSBut he had been well trained and well brought up and well schooled in how to deal with that. You know, he used to say, Well, it has its advantages. Like, I can read in the dark. So he was, I mean, he took his work seriously. He took raising his kids seriously. He took getting us to be readers and exposing us to literature and to his ideals, which were absolutely liberal, absolutely Democrat.

  • 11:22:25

    REHMAnd yet, here he was an alcoholic.

  • 11:22:29

    COLLINSAnd he was an -- he was up against a demon that he couldn't -- he didn't have any understanding of, of course. Nobody did in those years. And so he was struggling with this. And, you know, this is something that people get in their DNA and in their genetic pool. And sometimes it blossoms into a real illness, as it did with me, and sometimes it doesn't. It's sort of the luck of the draw, I think.

  • 11:22:55

    REHMHow long did it grab hold of you?

  • 11:22:59

    COLLINSLong enough to nearly kill me. And I was -- as I was trained to be, I never missed a show, I never -- until the very last year and that was 1977, I missed everything. Everything you could -- you name it, I missed it.

  • 11:23:17

    REHMBecause?

  • 11:23:18

    COLLINSBecause of the drinking. And so I was very fortunate because I got into treatment in '78 and have been sober ever since, thank you, God.

  • 11:23:28

    REHMThank you, God.

  • 11:23:30

    COLLINSI just am so grateful.

  • 11:23:32

    REHMWhat about smoking? Did that go along with it?

  • 11:23:35

    COLLINSI smoked and I quit smoking in 1970. The hardest thing I ever did. But -- including stopping drinking.

  • 11:23:42

    REHMEven harder than alcohol?

  • 11:23:43

    COLLINSEven harder than -- yeah, even harder.

  • 11:23:44

    REHMReally?

  • 11:23:45

    COLLINSI just think smoking is, you know, I once said to somebody, why isn't smoking up there with -- why aren't there just as many recovery programs for smoking as there are for alcohol or food or whatever? And a friend of mine who's a physician said, well, I don't -- I think it's not a spiritual problem. I don't think that's correct. I think it is a spiritual problem, just like all addictions are, truly.

  • 11:24:10

    REHMYour mother, I gather, did not suffer from these kinds...

  • 11:24:15

    COLLINSNo, she didn't. She was one of those people that, you know, she could have a cigarette on New Year's Eve...

  • 11:24:21

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:24:21

    COLLINS...and a drink...

  • 11:24:22

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:24:23

    COLLINSWell, she drank wine, actually. But she could have a cigarette and then never smoke for another year.

  • 11:24:27

    REHMHow did she put up with your father?

  • 11:24:31

    COLLINSNot very well. Not very well. She had a hard time. But she somehow -- I always thought, well, you know, after last night and that terrible argument, she'll probably be leaving. She did once leave. We were in Denver and he had had some kind of a -- they'd had an incident. And she picked us all up and she took us all to the park. That was the thing she would do. She'd take us to the park in Denver and we'd all look at the zoo. We'd go to the zoo and look at all the animals for a few hours. And then we'd go home. And by that time, he was fine. So he could be a problem.

  • 11:25:10

    COLLINSBut, you know, the main thing was, when he was sober, he was wonderful. And he was a wonderful person and a smart and a funny and an interesting person and people adored him. And he was just, you know, he had the luck of the Irish. He had the drinking problem.

  • 11:25:26

    REHMDid he do his radio show by use of Braille?

  • 11:25:31

    COLLINSYes. He always wrote his script in Braille. And he wrote his -- and he typed it for his engineer.

  • 11:25:37

    REHMHow wonderful.

  • 11:25:38

    COLLINSSo, and I never learned Braille. I mean, I thought, I don't need to do that. But then he read out loud to us, always. He had these big Braille books. He'd get them from the Library of Congress and they'd go right up the wall, they were stacked. You know how a Braille book is huge. It takes, like, 15 feet to get "Moby Dick" into its -- all of the books that it takes.

  • 11:26:00

    REHMJudy, when did you actually begin drinking?

  • 11:26:06

    COLLINSOh, 15, I think. I think I must have been 15. I drank for about 23 years, I figured out. And it was always my go-to place. You know, it was -- as I say, it was an addiction and I got into it. But I was always looking and trying to find solutions. I got into therapy very early. I was in therapy for years. I was always hunting for solutions, reading books, going to EST, going to various programs, doing yoga, finding priests, going to see the maharishi, you know, anything I could do to try to get over this I tried.

  • 11:26:46

    REHMWhat finally triggered?

  • 11:26:50

    COLLINSNear death, I think. I just had had it. I was finished. And I was fortunate because I found a doctor who said, Well I know what's wrong. I thought I was crazy. You know, most of these years I just thought, Well, I'll wind up in an institution somewhere. He said, Well, you could. He's the great Dr. Gitlow from New York. He was the friend of alcoholics and somebody who really understood the disease. He said, I know what's wrong with you. All you need is to get sober and I can show you what to do. And he sent me to a treatment center and my life totally changed.

  • 11:27:24

    REHMAnd that was it.

  • 11:27:25

    COLLINSYeah, that was it.

  • 11:27:27

    REHMI'm so glad for you.

  • 11:27:28

    COLLINSOh, I'm so glad for me, too.

  • 11:27:30

    REHMThere is a song here, one of my favorites, "Send in the Clowns," with Don McLean. What did he say when you said you wanted to sing this with him?

  • 11:27:48

    COLLINSHe said, I'd love it. Let's see what we can do.

  • 11:30:17

    REHMJudy, that harmony and...

  • 11:30:20

    COLLINSIsn't that something?

  • 11:30:22

    REHM...the instrumentalist in the background, the cello.

  • 11:30:26

    COLLINSYes.

  • 11:30:27

    REHMTalk about that.

  • 11:30:28

    COLLINSI'm so lucky to have this great group of people. My musical director, Russell Walden, who orchestrated this with a slight difference in the melody in the middle, he's brilliant. He did the whole album, of course. And the cellist on this is Yoed Nir, a wonderful young man that we've worked with a lot over the years. He played on my Metropolitan Museum Concert. He played -- it was in the Temple of Dendur. It was also for PBS. And the other musicians on this album were Gerry Leonard and Doug Yule, and Zev Katz, my old friend I've worked with so much, playing the bass, and Robbie Kondor, who's a great player of the keyboard. So it was a beautiful, beautiful ensemble.

  • 11:31:34

    REHMI had to hear that very last note.

  • 11:31:37

    COLLINSYeah, that very last note. Yeah.

  • 11:31:38

    REHMJust had to.

  • 11:31:40

    COLLINSThat's a great song. Sondheim is such a great writer.

  • 11:31:43

    REHMJudy, how do you keep your voice in such gorgeous shape?

  • 11:31:48

    COLLINSWell, I'm lucky. I have -- I'm very healthy. I don't smoke anymore. I don't drink. I don't scream. I don't go to ballgames and, you know, whoop and holler. I suppose that's part of it. I had -- and I also had a great teacher for many years. I studied with him for 32 years, actually, through thick and thin, through the before, during and after.

  • 11:32:11

    REHMReally?

  • 11:32:11

    COLLINSAnd I got lucky because he was such a genius. And I learned to do a few things. Simple -- they're simple things.

  • 11:32:18

    REHMSuch as?

  • 11:32:19

    COLLINSSuch as working like hell for 32 years to figure out how to do it. You know, simple things are supposed to be simple and they are simple, but they take a long time to get to sometimes. And what I -- what he taught was something called the bel canto method, which means two things. He said, when he was dying, he said to me -- I went to see him just before he died in the hospital -- and he said, Now, don't worry. All you have to think about is clarity and phrasing. I said, Well, that's it?

  • 11:32:56

    REHMThat's it. I mean, really.

  • 11:32:58

    COLLINSYou don't sing through your nose or your forehead or your throat.

  • 11:33:01

    REHMHuh. Huh.

  • 11:33:01

    COLLINSOr you don't concentrate. He said all you have to do -- you know, it's like Wayne Dyer had it, always, who died recently unfortunately, always talked about intention. And I suppose that what I learned was intention. I think intention is very important. What do you intend to do with the song? What do you intend to say? Do you intend to make it clear and understandable? And is it phrased in a way -- sometimes the phrasing can be the last thing people think about.

  • 11:33:31

    COLLINSYou know, when I'm trying to memorize something, like I sang for the Washington ball team yesterday, Nationals, and I sang the great "Star Spangled Banner." It's a song that we all know really well. But I was focusing on the -- I was listening and thinking about -- because you have to sing it without lyrics out there.

  • 11:33:57

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:33:58

    COLLINSYou're scared to death. I'm more nervous about that than singing at Carnegie Hall. And so I was thinking about the phrasing and the way the poetry works. That's what I guess I always have to do...

  • 11:34:09

    REHMHmm. Hmm.

  • 11:34:09

    COLLINS...to get the song down. I have to think about the meaning.

  • 11:34:12

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers. Let's go to the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Charlotte, N.C. Carl, you're on the air.

  • 11:34:35

    CARLHey, good morning.

  • 11:34:36

    REHMHi.

  • 11:34:36

    COLLINSHi, there.

  • 11:34:38

    CARLI have a story to tell and I bet Judy is not aware of this. I was a senior in high school in 1972 and I think lasers were just kind of making their way on the scene. So we had a presentation, an assembly on the various things that lasers are capable of.

  • 11:35:02

    COLLINSOh.

  • 11:35:03

    CARLAnd one of the things that they did was that they played some songs. They played Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, a few others that I can't remember. And they ran the songs through the laser and they projected the image up on a screen in a kind of horizontal red line. All of the singers: Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, their red laser lines all looked a bit like small ocean waves...

  • 11:35:39

    REHMHuh.

  • 11:35:40

    CARL...where their voice kind of went up or down off the line.

  • 11:35:44

    REHMOkay.

  • 11:35:46

    CARLBut the fellow that put on the presentation said that Judy Collins had the most perfect human voice. And to prove it, he played one of her songs. And unfortunately, I don't remember the song.

  • 11:36:01

    COLLINSYou only remember the red line, right?

  • 11:36:03

    CARLThe horizontal line...

  • 11:36:05

    REHMHow about that, Judy?

  • 11:36:07

    COLLINSThat's an amazing story. Well...

  • 11:36:08

    REHMHad you ever heard anything like that before?

  • 11:36:11

    COLLINSWell, I know it's true because I know that that's what I learned to do. But, I mean, I know that there has to do -- everything -- you know, I visited Cleo Laine in England, and she has a theatre called The Stables. I'm going to be there in October actually. She was a -- is a wonderful singer. And she said that her husband John Dankworth, who was the flautist -- I believe she was married to him -- anyway, that he kept saying to her, Now, if you get a wobble, you have to stop singing. And she said to me, after I sang there a couple years ago, she said, You don't have a wobble so you can go on singing.

  • 11:36:51

    REHMI guess I would have had to give up the radio a long time ago.

  • 11:36:56

    COLLINSWell, see it does -- but the thing about it is that it doesn't really matter. Because, for instance, in your case, your phrasing and your diction and your beauty and your speech is what makes sense out of your -- what you do. And you are amazing. And in the case of -- for instance, he was taking about the wobble that Sinatra has -- well, we used to listen to Sinatra for his phrasing. It's all about phrasing. It's all about...

  • 11:37:21

    REHMIt's all about phrasing.

  • 11:37:23

    COLLINS...phrasing and clarity, so that we know what you're saying, there's never a problem with that. Somebody said that, you know, singing is like praying. And I think it does come close to the spiritual, don't you?

  • 11:37:37

    REHMI do, indeed. Judy Collins, you'll hear more when we come back. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd welcome back. Judy Collins is here. We've got her brand new album, "Strangers Again." She sings duets with people like Ari Hest, Michael McDonald, Willie Nelson. That's one I want to hear.

  • 11:40:24

    COLLINSYes, oh.

  • 11:40:24

    REHMYou've heard "Make Our Garden Grow," a duet with Jeff Bridges, and "Send in the Clowns," a duet with Don McLean. Here is an email from Sara, actually it's on Facebook. She says, I put my daughter to sleep every night for almost two years when she was a baby with Judy Collins' "Baby's Bedtime" CD playing in the background.

  • 11:40:58

    COLLINSYes.

  • 11:40:59

    REHMI could sing that entire CD by heart for years afterwards.

  • 11:41:05

    COLLINSOh, I loved making that. There were two of them. There was "Baby's Bedtime" and "Baby's Morning." And my daughter-in-law used to say they're the best records you've ever made.

  • 11:41:16

    REHMAnd are they still available?

  • 11:41:18

    COLLINSThey are. You can get them.

  • 11:41:20

    REHMOh, I'm so glad.

  • 11:41:21

    COLLINSLaser Light or something, but you can just go online and go to YouTube.

  • 11:41:26

    REHMAmazon or yeah, absolutely.

  • 11:41:27

    COLLINSAnd you can get them.

  • 11:41:30

    REHMHere's an email from Beth, who says, Diane, what a delicious show with Judy Collins. I want to tell her she gave me one of the best days of my life. She was on the TV show "Girls," and I was her stand-in. It was in the wonderful Café Carlyle.

  • 11:41:53

    COLLINSYes, it was.

  • 11:41:53

    REHMI witnessed Lena Dunham hearing Judy for the first time. Lena ran out of the room gasping for air, saying she sounds like an angel. And you do, Judy. I was so honored to stand on your stage to provide everyone eye line in your stead.

  • 11:42:16

    COLLINSOh, that's so funny.

  • 11:42:18

    REHMThank you, she says, for enduring.

  • 11:42:22

    COLLINSWell, you know - oh, enduring. That's it. You know, we just have to keep going.

  • 11:42:24

    REHMWe keep going. We keep going.

  • 11:42:26

    COLLINSIt's amazing. And that was such a thrill for me. Lena is such a wonderful woman, and I -- as she was running out the door saying you sing like an angel, I was saying, stop, honey, where are you going because she ran out in the middle of a song. So that was on television. That was on her show. And then the next season that last year, the end of "Mad Max," they played "Both Sides Now." So I always say, I mean my version, I always say that now my nephews and nieces know what I do for a living.

  • 11:43:01

    REHMI want to hear the duet with Willie Nelson. Tell me about this one.

  • 11:43:09

    COLLINSThis is a song by a writer named Dave Carter, whom I never met. I never knew him. But he died about 2004. I think it's a magnificent song.

  • 11:43:19

    REHMIt's titled "When I Go."

  • 11:43:20

    COLLINSIt's "When I Go."

  • 11:46:13

    REHMOh, Judy.

  • 11:46:15

    COLLINSIsn't that a beautiful song?

  • 11:46:15

    REHMJust gorgeous.

  • 11:46:18

    COLLINSYeah, Willie got a -- sent me an email today saying, we sang good together, huh? He's the best. You know, I -- again, I just adore him. He's -- I've been on FarmAid, and I think he does such wonderful things for the world, and what a great songwriter and singer and still at it.

  • 11:46:40

    REHMHe was not on the banjo on this.

  • 11:46:46

    COLLINSNo, and I -- I'm afraid to say I don't know who was on the banjo. We tried a number of different people and then got somebody who did a beautiful job. And if I had a CD with me, I'd look at it, but you know, it came out, the album came out five, six days ago. I have one copy at home. I couldn't get enough. They have to go to the record stores, to the -- I'm doing a bunch of book signings at Barnes & Noble's in Washington, D.C., here today. And so -- and I'll be in Chicago tomorrow.

  • 11:47:18

    COLLINSThey have to have the CDs. I don't get them.

  • 11:47:20

    REHMOf course, of course they have to have them. Well, it is a gorgeous song. Did you always, in your own mind, think of yourself as a singer, or was there ever a time when you thought, I'll do something else?

  • 11:47:43

    COLLINSWell, of course I had to think what am I going to do a couple of times in my life because I could always sing. You know, I always sang, I always played the piano, I always performed. I had shows, I had -- but then in the '60s, in '65 I got -- I lost my voice entirely singing. I couldn't do anything. That's when I found my teacher. And then he helped me.

  • 11:48:04

    REHMHow did you lose your voice? What happened?

  • 11:48:07

    COLLINSJust from strain.

  • 11:48:10

    REHMStrain.

  • 11:48:10

    COLLINSJust because I was drinking and smoking and screaming and singing and getting on the buses and the planes and traveling all over the country. And then I found my teacher in it. But then the next thing that happened was that I began to have all these allergies, and I had to start having shots for them, and then I had to have -- I had what's called a hemangioma on my vocal chord, and I couldn't sing. The last year of my drinking and my work, I had to cancel shows over and over and over again because I couldn't sing.

  • 11:48:48

    COLLINSAnd my doctor said to me, well, you're never going to sing again unless you have the surgery, which is a brand new -- I thought that's what the guy on the phone was going to mention when he said lasers because he -- he said there's a new laser surgery. And I -- this was 1977. I had had to cancel everything, including "The Muppet Show," and then go back to England and do "The Muppet Show" thinking I'm never going to sing again after I get through this show.

  • 11:49:15

    COLLINSTook all the drugs I could figure out to make it work and then came back and had the surgery. But he said if you don't have the surgery, you won't ever sing again. If you do, there's a little chance that you might, and I lucked out.

  • 11:49:25

    REHMYou may.

  • 11:49:27

    COLLINSBut I didn't sing professionally for about a year and a half after that surgery.

  • 11:49:31

    REHMReally? Where did you have that surgery?

  • 11:49:36

    COLLINSIn New York.

  • 11:49:37

    REHMIn New York.

  • 11:49:37

    COLLINSWith a doctor who's now unfortunately gone, but he was -- Wiseman (sp?) was his name, he's wonderful. Other people have had the surgery and not had such good luck with it. So I mean, I just count myself as being blessed because, you know, it can happen to anybody, really.

  • 11:49:55

    REHMAfter you knew you were going to be a singer, did you want to go through college, as well?

  • 11:50:05

    COLLINSOh, no.

  • 11:50:05

    REHMNo?

  • 11:50:06

    COLLINSNo, I was -- I went to college for a year, but it was a very unpleasant situation. No, I already probably knew that there was something else for me and that I was probably going to wind up making music professionally. That's what I was -- it was the only thing I knew how to do. My husband said, my ex-husband, my starter husband I always call him, he said to me, we were living in Boulder, he was in school at the University of Colorado. I had a job filing papers after a lifetime, well, until I was 19, playing the piano, singing, playing with an orchestra, learning folk songs, performing at the shows, being on my -- he said, why don't you get a job doing something you know how to do, which is sing.

  • 11:50:55

    COLLINSAnd so I got my father to get me an audition down at Michael's Pub in Boulder, Colorado, and the guy said, you know, the kids love you, all these college kids, you know, in this room filled with smoke, and they were all drinking beer, but they stopped and listened to me, and he said, I'm going to hire you five days a week, three shows a night, all the beer you can drink. I didn't know what I was getting into.

  • 11:51:21

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:51:21

    COLLINSAnd all the pizza you can eat. And he said, but I do want to tell you something. He said, I really hate folk music.

  • 11:51:28

    REHMBut he realized that his customers...

  • 11:51:30

    COLLINSHe realized, that's right, yeah. He was, before I sang there and before I started my first, my first hiring, I stayed there for about three months every night, you know, except the -- except Sunday and Monday I think I was off. And before that, he'd had string - barbershop quartets.

  • 11:51:54

    REHMOh my.

  • 11:51:56

    COLLINSAnd accordion players. You heard about the accordion player who leaves his car -- his accordion in the car, and he comes back, and there are four accordions there. It's a terrible story, but you'll understand.

  • 11:52:10

    REHMJudy, what's been the worst time in your life?

  • 11:52:15

    COLLINSOh, the worst time. The worst time of my life, of course, was when my son committed suicide in 19-- I think I've seen you before that, I mean after that, before that and after that. And of course it's been a long recovery because you don't ever get over it.

  • 11:52:32

    REHMNever.

  • 11:52:33

    COLLINSYou know, you don't ever get over it.

  • 11:52:35

    REHMNever.

  • 11:52:35

    COLLINSYou get through it, and I've written a number of books. In fact, I think I was here on the show talking about one of those books, and I've written songs about it, I've gone to therapy, I've -- I now, when I do speaking engagements, in part thanks to you, Diane, because you helped to get the word out about these books, but when I do speaking engagements, often they are for suicide survival groups and for mental health groups. And that's something I do maybe six or eight programs a year that are for speaking engagements to raise money for that kind of organization.

  • 11:53:13

    COLLINSSo I've tried to help people to get through it and to understand that it's a taboo, but it should be talked about, and it should be educated about.

  • 11:53:25

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. I realize it's something you can never get over, but is there some place in you that understands what happened?

  • 11:53:48

    COLLINSOh yes, oh yes I think so. I -- suicide's a mysterious thing, of course, and we all -- not all of us have that as a sort of go-to place. But enough of us have it that my old friend Ed Schneidman, who started the first suicide prevention hotline in 1949, when everybody said to him, well, you can have a hotline, but you can't use the suicide because people can't say that out loud. But he said it's never going to be a zero-suicide world because life is too hard. But of course there are things to do, there is therapy to have, there are -- people can become aware when a person in the family or in their friends' group is having problems.

  • 11:54:31

    COLLINSAnd depression is a leading cause, of course, but everybody who's depressed does not kill themselves. It's a specialty unto itself, I think. But I do understand because I tried to kill myself when I was 14.

  • 11:54:42

    REHMYou did?

  • 11:54:43

    COLLINSAnd yes, and who knows why? Depression, yes, certainly. And I've treated my depression my whole adult life with exercise, with the right diet, with -- of course stopping drinking didn't hurt. So I've always dealt with it because that's something that can come with the genetic package, as well. So you have to be careful being born because you never know what you're going to run into that you're going to have to deal with.

  • 11:55:07

    REHMBut you also have to thank God.

  • 11:55:11

    COLLINSOh yes.

  • 11:55:12

    REHMThat you had the strength not to commit suicide.

  • 11:55:17

    COLLINSAbsolutely, and the person at most risk from suicide is the survivor, the closest survivor, the mother, the father, the wife. So we have to be particularly careful, and we have to be vigilant, and we have to determine that we are going to live.

  • 11:55:36

    REHMAnd therefore the last song we're going to hear, and so appropriate to our conversation, is "Amazing Grace." Let's hear it.

  • 11:57:24

    REHMJudy Collins, you are my birthday gift.

  • 11:57:29

    COLLINSHappy birthday, Diane.

  • 11:57:29

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:57:30

    COLLINSYou're such a beautiful, brilliant woman, and I'm so proud to have been with you for this hour on your birthday.

  • 11:57:38

    REHMThank you. And thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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