Arts and Culture Community

Joan Osborne headlines tonight’s Waterfront Wednesday concert.

The singer-songwriter, who broke into the national music scene in the 90s with hits like “One of Us” and “St. Theresa,” grew up east of Louisville, in Anchorage, Ky. She said performing before a hometown crowd can be nerve-wracking.  

“I try to just sort of forget that it’s the hometown crowd while I’m on the stage,” she told WFPL News. “Because otherwise, those sort of creeping thoughts of who might be out there: is that my elementary school friend, and what about my family? These are not things that you want to have in your head when you’re trying to be in the flow of the music and not feel self conscious.”

Growing up in Kentucky has shaped her though, both as a person and artist, Osborne said.

Below are excerpts from Osborne’s conversation with WFPL, edited for clarity and brevity.

On her childhood and hometown’s influence on her art:

“I was part of a family of six children, and I was the second oldest, the oldest girl. So I sometimes feel like that sort of position of, I wouldn’t say authority with a capital A, but within my family, I had some responsibilities for my younger siblings. And I feel like that transferred in many instances to the work that I do, working with musicians in a band. And having that feeling of being capable, I think, is something that was ingrained in me from a very young age. I also had a great music teacher when I was in elementary school, a woman named Carolyn Browning. And from the time that I was probably 11 or 12, I was in the choir at school. She would give us these fairly complicated six- and seven-part harmony pieces to learn. And so I feel like that was good training in hearing harmonies, and just sort of getting a little bit more of a sophisticated musical understanding, at least of Western music.”

On going to film school in New York:

“I certainly loved film and still do love film. But I think there’s something about the process of making a film, from your initial idea to the finished product, it takes teams of people, lots of equipment, lots of technology, lots of money, lots of time. Whereas singing is much more immediate. Of course, if you’re a singer, and if you’re a musician, you prepare by practicing and working on your instrument and all of that, but the actual performance of live music is totally immediate. And in particular, if you’re a singer, it comes out of your body. So it’s not about technology, so much as it is just being very much at home in your body. I feel like there’s something very emotional, and it’s very galvanizing. It touches every part of you as a human, it’s your spirit and your body and your soul. And, for me, it was just really electrifying to stand up in front of people and do that.”

On her 2020 album, “Trouble and Strife,” her most political yet:

“What happened in 2016, with the election of Donald Trump, it came as a shock to me. I have a daughter, and I was sitting and watching the election return that night with her expecting to be with her as we both saw the first female president being elected in the United States. Of course, it turned out very different. So I was very aware that she was watching me and sort of gauging how I was going to react to something like that. You can respond to those sorts of larger events as a citizen, you know, contact your representatives and write letters to people. You can go to demonstrations and you can donate money. You can do all those things. And I thought, ‘Well, if I was ever going to try to write political songs, this would be a way to take these feelings that I have and shape this into some kind of a response.’”

On what’s inspiring her and her music now:

I am listening to a lot of instrumental jazz, like classic 50s and 60s jazz groups. And I’m not really sure why I’m drawn to that right now. It might be because most of that music doesn’t have lyrics… I’m in the process of writing songs for another record, which I hope to get into the studio either by the end of the year or beginning of next year to write. So I think it’s helpful to me to hear things that are just about melody and just about rhythm, and not so much about words.”

On whether she ever gets tired of singing her 90s hit “One of Us”:

“I think I’ve gone back and forth with it over the course of my career where, I think especially early on, there was so much else on that album that was different than that one song. And I did sort of feel pigeonholed as ‘Oh, here’s a pop singer.’ But the fact is a lot of people picked up that record because of the success of that one song. And they were able to hear all the rest of the songs as well. And I’ve been doing this for 30 years now. And not everybody gets to have a career that’s that long. So, I’ve really come to appreciate it as something that has enabled me to have this life in music and be able to do this for my job, which is a rare privilege. [And] it’s a song that is, I think, unusual for a pop song. It talks about matters of faith in a way that is very open. It’s not about telling you what you ought to believe. It’s about asking what you believe and where the concept of God can fit in your life.”

On what music Wednesday night’s Louisville crowd might hear:

“I think the ‘Relish’ album because it was the biggest success that I’ve had, and the one that’s best known. In a way it’s a little bit of hometown-girl-makes-good kind of a moment in the show, where you step in front of your hometown crowd and you start the strains of a song that people almost certainly will already have heard and will know very well. To me, there’s something really special about that.”

Editor’s Note: Joan Osborne is performing at WFPK Waterfront Wednesday. It is produced by Louisville Public Media and Waterfront Park.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.