Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Awakening

How Toni Childs got her voice back

Express Staff Writer

Every few years, there is a song that becomes an unofficial anthem—for a country, for a movement or even just a viral video or commercial that leaves an indelible mark.

After 10 years out of the spotlight, chipping away at the foundation inside her that made her susceptible to the auto-immune disorder called Graves disease, working her organic farm in Hawaii where she soothed herself with the songs still in her head, Emmy Award-winning musician Toni Childs embarked on a revolution. She would return to music, the thing she knew sustained her throughout her life, the thing that prompted The New York Times to declare her "one of the most promising among a new generation of composers and performers" and had her opening for Bob Dylan and in duets with Peter Gabriel and Al Green. Even though she had albums like "Union," "House of Hope," "The Woman's Boat" and "Keep the Faith" as her legacy, she felt it was time to bring back the person, in person, to deliver the message.

This time, she would do it on her own terms. No longer the puppet of a corporate music industry, she was going to share what she says thousands have begged her to share again, all on the strength and commitment of her fans to help raise money for the production of a new album and an on-demand tour.

And so this week she sits in a recording studio in Canada putting the finishing touches on the album "Citizens of the Planet." The funds came largely from Facebook friends, invited along on the journey and to help be a part of its creation by pre-buying her album described as a blend of roots, rock and pop music.

And thanks to one local and highly motivated fan, Chapter One Bookstore owner Cheryl Welch and her sister Amy Harris, a close friend who works with Childs, one of the earliest stops on her U.S. tour will be here, Friday, Nov. 11, at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum.

"She's just a beautiful soul and so down to earth," Welch said. "She is bringing with her a message we need to hear."

"She has a gift that she is called to share," Harris said. "There is a depth to her and a generosity that makes her remarkable."

Every revolution needs an anthem, and Toni Childs thinks there might be one in her new music. It could be the one titled "Talk to You."

"I think we as humanity need to talk," she said. "As a global village we need to talk. I guess that I am at an age and a stage in life that I can say I'm seeing some things. I've lived on this planet long enough, and this album is relevant to our times and speaks to where we are emotionally as a species."

Her first anthem of note was written at the request of Eve Ensler, writer of the wildly insightful traveling show "The Vagina Monolgues" and founder of the V Club, aimed at stopping violence against women. Childs was performing the play in Hawaii in 2003 and Ensler met up with her afterward and implored her to write a song to empower women.

"I was in full farmer mode and she said, 'What are you doing on this rock? You need to be making music. I want an anthem to inspire an end to violence against women,'" Childs recalled. "I ruminated on it for about six months and tried to get my head wrapped around the idea. Could a person write a song that could end violence? And I decided that the first step is to stop the violence we women commit against ourselves."

The result was the Emmy Award-winning "Because You're Beautiful," a song about giving up hating the things that make us human.


"I made what I call a musical touchdown," she said with a giggle. "I gave it over as a gift and I realized that's what I have to give and I want to be making music again."

Her decade on Prosperity Farm in Kapaa, Kauai, where she grows the organic food she says cured her of Graves disease, and where fat animals frolic among the bounty, was as much about grieving as it was healing.

After being a transient spirit floating on destiny, talent and good will most of her career, she had now stepped in to a world with limits. She was trapped within a disease that would leave her depressed, exhausted and possibly physically altered with the bulging eyes that often comprise the symptoms. Sufferer Marty Feldman used the disease to comic effect, former first lady Barbara Bush just muscled through it with tenacity, and now Childs was going to have to learn how to cope.

Thanks to an Oklahoma uncle she lived near when she was 9, she knew a bit about farming, and her time there had helped her set a life goal.

"Developmentally, it's where I wanted to end up," she said. "I wanted to live rurally. It gave me a compass."

Even though her health might prevent performing, Childs never stopped using her voice, which is husky and pain-filled, sultry and deep, then energetic and motivating, usually all in one song.

"I sang to sooth myself though the grieving process," she said. "I sang to the dirt, I sang to the chickens. If I never made another album, I would never have stopped singing."

Childs said she finally feels as though she has been able to harness her emotions and use them to reflect back on herself to allow her to check in and evolve.

"When I was a kid, if I had an emotion I didn't know how to express it and I would have to run and hide. It still feels that way when I pick up a guitar, but now the words come tumbling out in just the moment I am feeling them and I am able to capture them and listen to their relation to where I am in my life."

Australian women in particular have been big fans, embracing her song "I've Gotta Go Now," about a wife in an abusive relationship deciding to take the kids and run.

"Alcoholism has been a big thing in Australia—a lot of women there need an anthem," she said.

On a flight to Australia less than a year ago, Childs met the man who would complete the end of her self-imposed exile in healing, Mik Lavage, an acrobat with the hip hop circus troop Tom Tom Crew. They will marry Jan. 3 on her farm.

"I feel fortunate to finally have met that person that is my person," she said. "We both feel that way, and we are both late in the game, but we won't waste this time."

He helped her with her mission to truly become an independent recording artist and she got hooked into the social media network. During the recording process, Childs made video streams available to the public and sold individual songs for $1.30, encouraging buyers to send the music on to their friends, in a pyramid-like scheme, only this time, everyone really does win and nobody gets hurt.

"This is my dream," she said. "My project is about human-to-human, and by diffusing the load among friends, everyone who wants to can be a part. I wanted to see if we could create that. It's a little scary. For me, it really is every day a test of faith that this is happening. It flexes the invisible muscle we call faith every day."


See Toni Childs

Friday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m. with special guests Blaze and Kelly.

Tickets are $40, or $100 VIP tickets which include a front row seat, a special event at Chapter One Bookstore. For more information, call 726-5425 or stop by the bookstore on Main Street in Ketchum.

Every few years there is a song that becomes an unofficial anthem. Sometimes, for a country, for a movement, or even just a viral video or commercial that leaves an indelible mark.

Jennifer Liebrum:

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