Before there was Lady Gaga, there was Phoebe Legere. The New York City based musician, first signed by Epic/Sony at age 17, emerged in the early 1990’s as a young singer of promise with extraordinary vocal range and quality. In the years since, she opened for David Bowie (1991), and has recorded, written, produced and performed 15 albums, two plays, a musical, an opera, children’s TV programs, founded a museum and also an association for children in art and music. Her story and her work were featured on NPR, PBS and national network television.
Phoebe Legere is a composer, soprano, musician, painter, poet, film maker and costume designer. A “transmedia artist,” her works of art include many different media: film, music, installation, electronics as well as performance. Although her life is saturated in music and the visual arts as both a creator and as a promoter, outside of the New York City, Miami, and Berlin, most of North America is unaware of Phoebe Legere.
After leaving Epic, Phoebe graduated from Vassar College with a degree in Performance Art and did post graduate study in film scoring at New York University. She studied voice at Julliard, and developed “an operatic vocal range…. from Edith Piaf to Chuck Berry.” In spite of her ability as a classically trained pianist with nowhere near such virtuosity on the piano accordion, Phoebe Leger boldly started a punk band, in the late 1980’s, one of the first and few alternative groups to use the accordion at the time.
Phoebe Legere performed regularly and was enmeshed in the New York counter culture of the 1980’s and 90’s. “I came to New York City at age 15 to study jazz with African Americans. I came here to get the funk. I learned to swing hard, as only New York musicians can swing….” “My band, the “4 Nurses of the Apocalypse” was “Riot Grrrl,” postpunk. I wore a Nurse’s costume made from the pages of New York daily newspapers. Everything was based on medical themes and the need for Universal Health Care.” From punk and rock, Phoebe became very involved in live performance and cabaret. She states, “Cabaret is hand-made music made by real musicians.” “Art needs air. This is why I became so deeply involved in Live Art Performance”. “Art should be like a meal prepared by your mother. You eat it, you love her, it disappears, on to the next meal.”
“As a ‘transmedia artist,’ my gut tells me what it wants to do and I listen. I work across disciplines daily. I start from a concept and then explore it using different parts of my body. It’s like when people work out and work the legs one day and the core the next. I use my inner hearing in the morning, and my inner seeing in the afternoon. Songwriting combines inner hearing with inner seeing. Art and music are processed in two different areas of the brain….(therefore), transmedia makes you smarter!”
Phoebe Legere has always been an advocate for the local music scene in New York City. “When jazz musicians in Europe hear New York musicians their jaws drop. We got rhythm and higher intervals. We got funk. We got realness.” But she says that she suffers in New York City now, and spends most of her time in Maine and Canada. “That is my soul place—the Northeast Coast.”
“Legere is my real name,” she states. “My father’s family is French Canadian…. The Legere’s are one of the original 17 Acadian families from Nova Scotia.” “I am active in the drive to recover our American, French culture and language…. My cousin Jesse plays accordion and Ray plays fiddle… (I brought together) a family reunion in Canada. The Legere’s from Southwest Louisiana drove up in their pickup trucks with gorgeous Acadian flags flying… wearing cowboy hats…I loved it.” “At some point in the (1920s), we were turned from a nation of people who made music together as families, as groups—into a nation of passive consumers of music. Before (then), each family, like the Legere’s, made their own music. This created a natural harmony within the family, blending the generations and relieving tensions. Now, only a handful of people in America are allowed to sing and write songs and this is very, very, very sad for the human animal. People don’t even know what they are missing.” “The first thing about music is of course, that you can’t own it. Where is the family united in the harmony of group singing? We need to make music. All of us. This culture is all about PR. You have to pay to be famous. You have to pay for PR to raise the value of your work. OR get someone else to pay.”
“I advise young artists not to think about the crisis of American culture. Let the heads of foundations stew about that. You have better things to do. You have to work on technique and your next idea. Just keep doing strong work and try to stay healthy. What makes us artists is what makes our world: human sense perception. As artists our real medium and our real reality is the Imagination.”
“Don’t watch TV every day. Don’t listen to the radio too much. Keep your mind a “hollow bone” as the Shamans say. The true art is not in museums and galleries. True art is not in time and it’s not in space. Art lies within each and every one of you. Please reject trends. Do the opposite of whatever is hip.”
“…it is happening every hour, every day, all over the world, people ignoring people who are there for them, People squander precious moments with the people who care about them… while they stare wildly into the blank, absent, simulacrum of a cell phone. We are lonely. We are hungry. We are thirsty. We are chasing angels with our cell phones.”
“What has been proven over the years is that the people who are really famous are not the people that matter ultimately. I don’t believe in time. I don’t believe in death. I think what we’re going to find is that the blue chip artist, creating value for the one percent in blue chip galleries will not be the people who are remembered and celebrated by the art and music lovers of tomorrow.”
“Wars don’t matter, and ultimately, governments don’t matter. The only thing that lasts is art, and so the artist has a duty to reject all the mechanistic materialism of today’s commercial music and commercial art. The artist has a duty to create from her ovaries. Remember young artist! You are the prime mover. You are at the absolute center of your world….”