In 1974 her first album, a collection of self-penned folksy, blues-tinged pop and jazz tunes, zoomed up the charts. It earned a Gold Record, put her on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and earned her a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
Overnight, she was one the biggest stars around. And just as suddenly, she disappeared.
At the peak of her success she married a fellow musician, Phil Kearns, and in December 1975, they had a child. Their daughter, Valerie Rose, suffered severe brain trauma during birth and wasn’t expected to survive.
Defying the advice of family and medical experts, who urged her to institutionalize the girl, she decided instead to devote her life to loving and caring for the profoundly disabled child.
That decision cost her nearly everything, including her marriage, her money, her career and her own health.
For more than three decades, she stayed out of sight, paying the bills by singing advertising jingles for General Foods International Coffees (Celebrate the Moments of Your Life) and Stouffer’s Frozen Foods (Nothing Tastes Closer to Home).
Now she’s back. Today, as part of the BAM Rhythm & Blues Festival at MetroTech, Phoebe Snow gave a free lunchtime concert in Downtown Brooklyn.
The outdoor show was a love-fest, filled with devoted fans who have followed her career for 35 years and had brought their children and grandchildren along “to hear what real music sounds like.” While they waited for her to appear, the crowd swapped stories of the first time they’d heard her voice and what her songs meant to them.
After she — seemingly hesitantly — took the stage and shyly mentioned that it was her birthday, knowledgeable audience members rushed forward and handed the astonished singer gifts and flowers.
Her distinctive, soaring voice, as strong as ever, moved the crowd through a set that included R&B (Do Right Woman, Do Right Man), blues (Piece of My Heart), rock (Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu) and her biggest hit, Poetry Man.
A particularly powerful moment occurred when she sang You’re My Girl, a song she originally composed for her mother, which she has rewritten as a tribute to Valerie Rose.
Welcome back, Phoebe Snow.
BAM at MetroTech
Bloomberg: Phoebe Snow Revisits `Poetry Man’
Don Shewey:The Blues of Phoebe Snow
NY Times: Phoebe Snow, Singing Her Way Back to the Top
Roger Friedman: Saying Goodbye to Valerie