Music Scene

 Vol. 10, No. 40

October 3-9, 2002

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Locally Grown Music:
Anita O’Connor ‘Feeling Lucky Today’
by April Falcon Doss

It’s Friday night, and Chesapeake Music Hall has been transformed. Theatrical sets have been stowed away, and a four-piece band commands the stage. Local singer Anita O’Connor is belting out the words to Mary Chapin-Carpenter’s “I Feel Lucky” in a jubilant alto voice and pounding out the song’s infectious rhythm — as well as a mean piano solo — with an energy that would make Jerry Lee Lewis proud. At a table in front, a woman who looks every bit of 80 sways, bobbing her head, clapping her hands and bopping along to the exuberant beat. Farther back, O’Connor’s five-year-old daughter, in ponytail and flowered dress, watches from the audience. Would this be a cool mom to have, or what?

Mixing family and music seem natural for O’Connor, who pairs her sequined top with sensible shoes, conservative black pumps with a one-inch heel. She laughs as she confesses her greatest fear: that her daughter will tell her kindergarten teacher that she sings in a bar on Friday nights with her mother.

Anita O’Connor has sung professionally for 20 years, since she first crooned “If You Believe,” from the The Wiz, while representing Pennsylvania on the Miss America stage. Appearing on that stage gave a girl, who had by her own account been overweight growing up, the courage to do what she had always wanted. Singing has been her yellow brick road ever since, leading her from bands to teaching voice and piano and appearing in the occasional musical. It’s led to her current Friday-night piano-bar gig at the Annapolis Radisson hotel (where daughter Sarah sometimes joins her) and to her three-year tenure as musical director for Chesapeake Music Hall. And it’s led to this concert celebrating the release of her second CD, entitled If You Believe.

It’s an apt title, for cutting a CD was another dream realized. With her husband’s encouragement and the help of bassist Dave Hughes, friend and longtime bandmate, O’Connor released her first CD, dedicated to her daughter Sarah, in 1998.

“Since we’d done one CD dedicated to Sarah,” O’Connor explains with a smile, “we had to do another one for our second daughter, Hayley,” now two.

It’s fitting, then, that the ties between parent and child, and friends and lovers, are central to the songs O’Connor performed during her two live sets and to the tracks on the CD.

“I’m a lyrics girl,” O’Connor explains, and it shows in the precise delivery of her singing (listening to her, I finally understood lyrics to songs I’d heard countless times before) and in her choice of songs (from Tricia Yearwood to James Taylor, from recent country hits “I Hope You Dance” to “Love Me). She sings ballads with the smooth strength of Anne Murray and belts out rock-n-roll tunes with the steady power of Linda Ronstadt.

The house was packed for this CD party. The surprisingly gray-haired crowd cheered and whistled and danced in their seats, singing along with the upbeat songs and closing their eyes with a tear or a smile during the slow ones. O’Connor shines in this intimate setting, keeping up conversational banter between each tune, encouraging her audience to sing along and inviting everyone to an impromptu piano bar after the show.

Sitting in Chesapeake Music Hall with a cup of coffee at my elbow, a basket of snacks alongside and my husband across the table, feeling Dave Hughes’ bass pulse through the floor boards and Anita O’Connor’s warm alto voice moving through the air — I find it hard not to believe that all is right with the world. For O’Connor fans, this CD recalls the warmth that infuses her live performances, that transforms standard pop and country songs into something more like time spent with a friend who believes the words of the Martina McBride song she says describes her life: “I have been blessed.”

Catch up with O’Connor at [email protected].

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly