Judy Collins has had quite the storied career. She’s won Grammys, charted more than a dozen hit songs, written a memoir and novel, was a guest on The Muppet Show, and made waves for her “naked” cover sleeve on the 1979 album, Hard Times For Lovers.
The singer is a testament to the old adage “some things get better with age.” Now 77, the legendary singer continues to make new music and perform around the country.
“I love it, I make a living at it and I feel I’m getting better at it,” Collins says. “I feel very fortunate to be doing this and be creative on my own time and also continue as I’ve done. You’re always trying to be better than you were the year before.”
As the daughter of a radio DJ, Collins used to sing on her father’s radio show, as well as play piano with the school orchestra, sing with church choirs, and perform opera at the local opera house.
Along with Joan Baez, she was one of the two major interpretive singers to emerge from the folk revival of the late ’50s and early ’60s. By the time she was 22, she was already a force to be reckoned with in the music world, and over the decades she has achieved great success with songs such as “Send in the Clowns,” “Both Sides Now,” and “Amazing Grace”—all of which to have led to Grammy wins.
Collins will be performing Dec. 27 and 28 at the Birchmere, a venue she has been playing for decades.
“I’ll be doing some of the songs from the new Irish TV show, as well as some of the more recent songs, and of course, the classic Judy Collins songs people like to hear, and hopefully, everyone will enjoy it,” she says. “My concerts are fantastic experiences. Thank God for all the wonderful places to work around the country.”
One of her favorite things about her concerts today is that the audience is filled with people of all ages, as grandparents and parents are there with their kids.
“I tell a lot of stories at the shows,” she says. “They’re getting a show that no one else has seen before because I change it up every night.”
Last year Collins released a new CD, Strangers Again, and she says working on new projects keeps her engaged and young.
“Keep learning, doing new things and looking for new challenges. That’s the secret to lasting,” she says. “You need to keep the shows fresh and that’s always been important to me. You always wonder when you’re going to be ‘found out.’ I still feel like I’m making it.”
One of the ways Collins stays young at heart is by going to concerts of some of her favorites and grasping on to their energy. Recent shows she’s gone to include Randy Newman, Ringo Star and Michael McDonald, to name a few, and she even hit the stage for a few of them as a surprise guest.
She admits that travel is challenging at times—especially compared to the way things used to be, and getting her music heard takes some work.
“You have to keep yourself out there or people forget. You do everything you can think of,” Collins says. “The PBS specials are wonderful, iTunes, social media, it all helps.”
Looking ahead, Collins just wants to continue playing concerts and making new music, and she doesn’t care what sort of venue is welcoming her.
“My father was a performer and I was taught at a very young age not to pay attention to the size of the venue or the size of the audience; it doesn’t make a difference,” she says. “You do the show you want to do and you’ll stay in the public eye.”
That advice certainly worked for Collins.