by Bambi Weavil
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Terese Genecco, an openly out performer who is celebrating the life of Frances Faye by performing her work all across the country. Terese was named by Time Out New York as one of their Top Ten Cabaret Shows of 2006 and has been wowing audiences all over. Terese is currently San Francisco’s reigning “Entertainer of
the Year.” Terese’s upcoming appearances include October 20th in Oakland, California and November 7-9th in New York City at The Metropolitan Room. Here is our interview with the incredibly talented Terese Genecco:
Bambi Weavil: What inspired you to become a performer?
Terese Genecco: I loved watching movies, television, acting in community plays, and singing in school musicals. I was apparently pretty good at it, and people seemed to really enjoy my singing voice. I loved to make people laugh. I used to memorize entire comedy routines of people like Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Cheech & Chong… you know, really appropriate material for a little white girl in 8th grade to be reciting at the end of gym class! But people seemed to really dig whatever I did, so performing just seemed like a natural thing to pursue.
I became really serious about music during high school. I got my first paying gig at age 15, playing piano and guitar, and singing Top 40 songs at a local restaurant. My friends all had summer jobs at the amusement park, or at fast food restaurants, working long, hot hours, and making minimum wage. I was working a few hours, three nights a week, and making around $250 to $300 per weekend! I saved up a lot of money for college that way.
At one point, I decided that I wanted to play professional basketball…but now I’m pretty sure that was because I had a crush on half the Varsity team, not to mention the coach! I practiced like crazy, trying to make the team, but the coach finally told me to focus on my music, so I got the picture, and that helped renew my focus on music and theater.
BW: Your style is jazz-fused yet can sweep in many directions – what can people expect to see from you at your shows?
TG: It has always been difficult to pin me down to any one style or genre, and I finally decided to embrace that, because there is something in my shows that will appeal to a very broad spectrum of audience. I have been compared to a lot of fabulous singers and musicians over the years, but I think what people are trying to comprehend by making those comparisons is that by suggesting multiple styles, I’ve actually created one unique to me. I naturally crave variety in the entertainment I personally seek out, so I assume my audience appreciates the courtesy of the same.
BW: What I like about you is your voice is powerful but so is your stage presence – what songs are your favorite to perform?
TG: Thank you for the compliment! I sometimes think I need to back this voice way down, but then you’re right, there’s the big personality to deal with, so I guess it’s the right combination. It’s really hard to pick one overall favorite song, but I’d say that mine would be Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind.” I’ve been playing and singing that since I was 14 years old, so we have a history! In the show I do now, called “Drunk With Love: A Tribute To Frances Faye!” my absolute favorite moment in the show is “St. James Infirmary.” You’ve got to hear the story, matched with what the band is doing on that one, to really feel the blues. It’s down to the bone on that one, and my trumpet player really smokes it. I think my favorite in my new show is going to be “Frankie And Johnny.”
BW: Your show is dedicated to Frances Faye, an openly gay performer. What of Frances’ life connected with yours?
TG: My show is a complete homage to her. It’s a tribute to, and a celebration of, everything that was Frances Faye, in life and in performance. She is my idol. I only wish I had had the privilege of meeting her and seeing her perform live. I’ve done years of research, and I’ve amassed quite an impressive collection of vinyl, CDs, tapes, and video of her performances, but I was never in a room with her. All I can say is that it feels like we’re together when I’m on stage in these shows. I’m not her, and I’m not trying to impersonate her, but she comes through me somehow. It’s the spirit that I respond to. She’s completely “camp” and off-beat and laid back and risqué and smart and funny and talented and courageous and hard-working and beautiful in so many ways. Her voice cuts through everything, even though it’s not traditionally beautiful. She was so REAL. There isn’t one ounce of artificiality to her. And man, could she swing! She’s authentic on stage to who she was off stage. She lived a bold and proud life and fought for everything she got. She partied with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, The Animals, and taught Peter Allen everything he knew about building a show and entertaining an audience. She was a best friend to the stars and she was admired by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Sammy Davis Jr. to Buddy Hackett to Mizti Gaynor to Judy Garland! When I put her live CD, “Caught In The Act,” into my CD player for the very first time, my heart was racing and my palms were sweating by the end of the opening number. I couldn’t believe she had existed and that I had not known about her. She bucked the system and still made an amazing living as an entertainer. She said what she wanted to say, but she had the kindest heart, and was always there for a friend in need. She could be a little gruff, but a maverick, and a leader who sometimes had to make tough choices about how much to give and when to withhold. She was a strong woman in a misogynistic man’s world in every way. I think she was amazing, and I’m proud to be the one to get her name out into the world again in a bigger way. She was a huge part of our gay and lesbian history, and she was a civil rights pioneer, and yet practically no one in the LGBTQXYZ community even knows her name, let alone her music and her personal legacy! She was respectful of any audience, and any human being really, as long as they were tolerant and respectful of one another, and of her. I truly wish I had known her, but I’m as close to her as I will ever be. If she and her partner of 31 years, Teri Shepherd, had had a kid, I think it would be me! I’m sort of picking up the family business now, and carrying it on, into a new generation. I’m honored to be connected, in some way, to this remarkable woman.
BW: Your career is quite a story as well so far! You were in an all-girl rock band, performed spoken word poetry, as well as stand up comedy, authored a play and you manage your own indy record label! How do you do it all? (laughs)
TG: I have an amazing team that gets down and does the dirty work at the production company. They take direction very well and they’re easy to manage. As for all of the artistic things that came before my current career, it probably very closely mirrors my own personal journey to become an out, gay performer. I tried so many avenues of expression, because for many, many years, I was struggling with my sexuality. The thing you are born to do, and are meant to do, comes eeking out of you, whether you want it to or not, until you finally embrace who and what you are. As a performer, I couldn’t be the singer and musician and poet and comedian that I wanted to be, until I embraced who I was, at my core being, and held my head high and proclaimed it, calmly and with grace. I had to learn that it was more true to my art and to my audience to be authentic, rather than throw all of my angst and unfulfilled wishes at them. I seemed angry and had a lot to say. Now I just sing, I’m happy, and everyone has a ball!
BW: You are now an openly gay performer. What was your coming out story like?
TG: I came out in fits and starts, to some friends, to a few family members, people I could trust to keep my “secret.” Then I “met” Frances’ music and I started performing “Drunk With Love.” Do you know that the man who wrote that song, Bruz Fletcher, committed suicide in 1941 at the age of 35 because of his own issues with his homosexuality? Frances new that, and she included that song in almost every performance. It was a code for gay people everywhere that it was okay to be who you are, at her shows, in the 1940s and 50s! How could I do a show in tribute to that kind of bravery (and tragedy) and not embrace my own sexuality too? It was hypocritical and inauthentic. I guess I was so drawn to Frances Faye that I finally learned from her too. I remember the very first performance I gave in San Francisco as openly gay, and it was the most liberating two hours of my life. I couldn’t go back after that. It cost me a relationship with a loving woman, because we were both in the closet in our business careers, and she wasn’t ready to make the same leap that I had made. It was impossible for her to openly partner with me under those circumstances, especially as I became more and more open in the press about it. I think it has helped her too, though. We often need someone close to us to live by example, so we can see that the big scary stuff isn’t as bad as we think it’s going to be. For me, there was a monster in the closet, but once I came out, it vanished into thin air.
BW: We at OutImpact believe in making a positive impact. What are some nonprofits you support?
TG: I’m always available for any benefit that raises money and awareness for GLBTQ issues. I have often performed for San Francisco-Bay Area based AIDS charities, including Under One Roof, and will continue to do so. I’m a big supporter of the Richmond Ermett Aids Foundation here in SF. Of course, I’m thrilled to take part in any and all PRIDE festivities. I also support the musicians and other survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and have done several benefit performances to raise money to aid those folks who have been so badly abused by our system of government. I’d like to save the world, as is the case with most artists, and I have a bent toward political activism. Basically, when time allows, I give what I can to the organizations that align with my political and social views and hope that I’m helping to make a positive difference in the world.
BW: Where can people pick up your CD, if they can’t make it to one of your live performances?
TG: I have about a million websites, I think. The best place to find the actual CD is through www.cdbaby.com/cd/teresegenecco. I have also set up a website dedicated to the CD. It has liner notes and thank you’s and samples of songs. I wanted to put out as “green” a product as I could, so I skipped the plastic jewel cases and the inserts and plastic trays and went for a simple sleeve. Everything you’ll ever want to know about “Drunk With Love” is at www.drunkwithlove.com! I’m also on iTunes for digital download, and many other digital music sites. It’s a beautiful thing…getting “I Wish That I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” for 99 cents!
BW: What other projects are you working on?
TG: “Drunk With Love: VOLUME 2″ is going to have its debut in New York City, at my favorite venue there, The Metropolitan Room, during the first week of November. It’s 15 new songs recorded or performed by Frances Faye, done in a similar style, with my 7-piece *little big band* wailing! I’m also performing in the annual Cabaret Convention, produced by the Mabel Mercer Foundation, at Jazz At Lincoln Center, that same week (November 5-9.) I’m also collaborating with a young man I used to baby sit for…who just graduated from college… with a degree in music and composition. This kid is absolutely brilliant. His name is Bobby Halvorson. He’s in San Francisco now, and we’re writing and arranging my/our newest creation, which will be a combination of covers and original tunes, presented from the perspective of a gender female singing traditionally male lyrics. It’s hard to explain, because it hasn’t been done before, but it will most definitely break the mold of the traditional rock-n-roll, girl singer! Been there. Done that. Moving on! Plus I know there are a couple of women out there who wouldn’t mind having a lesbian Joe Cocker sing “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” or Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” right?
BW: What would be your advice for gay musicians looking to breakout with their artistic talents?
TG: Don’t put it off. No matter how good you are, it takes many years of hard work, practice, experience, and almost singular focus to get to the top of any profession. Music and art are the same as anything other career. Do not learn some other skill to fall back on. Do your thing now. Work your craft. Take gigs. Learn everything there is to learn about what you love to do. Then do it. Do it more. Everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard. If yours is saying something beautiful, meaningful, or just plain entertaining, it is a gift. Share it with us. Your audience will find you if you put yourself in their path. Make others happy by finding happiness within yourself. Sing out, play out, be out. Change the world, one note at a time, one poem at a time, one painting at a time. At the end, your body of work will make a difference to so many. Look at what Frances Faye did. Persevere in the face of adversity. Live your dreams and make the world a better place.
Thanks, peace, love. XO “T”
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Out Impact is your gay online magazine for gay men and women in the LGBTQ community and our allies, encouraging readers to create a positive impact in the gay community. Our content focuses on activism/philanthropy; expert advice for your professional life; pet care by leading experts; a yoga/wellness column in health, spirituality and wellness; as well as columns in food, comics, fashion, an expert travel specialist; engaging features in the arts and more. We have movie, music and book reviews, as well as the latest interviews. Out Impact also produces events benefiting various non-profits around the country, as well as comprehensive media campaigns to raise awareness for various philanthropic causes while bridging the non-profit, activism, artistic and gay communities. OutImpact.com – Making a positive impact in the gay community. Make yours.
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