Singer/Songwriters Share More Than A Love Of Music

May 9, 2014

Susan Werner, left, and Bonnie Koloc
Credit Elgin Community College

Singer/songwriters Bonnie Koloc and Susan Werner come to Elgin Community College’s Arts Center for a concert on Saturday, May 10. The two have a number of things in common.

First, the obvious: They’re both from Iowa and for both Chicago has been a second home. But they also share something else: They both have broken out of the folk singer/songwriter box that so many would like to keep them in. Werner, who considered a career in opera before making the leap to folk, has recorded albums featuring jazz, blues, gospel, pop and country influences.

Werner says what she’s done is sort of like serial monogamy for a creative person:

“And that means falling in love with a new style every two years or three years, whether that be the songs of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, or my most recent project ‘Hayseed,’ all songs about farms. To find new things, new subject matter, new styles of music to fall in love with, and really have a romance with, and then move on to the next one, so that there’s a fresh source always.”

Bonnie Koloc has been dubbed the “Queen of Folk” and, in the 1970s, she -- along with John Prine and Steve Goodman -- helped define the sound of folk music in Chicago. But if Werner has strayed from folk at times, Koloc has gone even farther afield, pursuing careers in acting and and art. But, Koloc says, she never left music behind.

"I started out a drama major in college, and then I switched to an art major, and then I started making a living at singing. And so I always did a little bit, but they were never separate for me. I just kept singing, but I had a studio and I worked in my artwork too. They all go together, and you're just using different mediums to express yourself."

Werner says she’s thrilled to be sharing the stage with Koloc. Werner says she has one of Koloc’s records on vinyl for many years, and learned all the songs by heart.

“I listened to them until I wore the grooves out. So Bonnie has been on my radar for a long time. I’m having kind of a gush moment, but I’m a big fan.”    

For her part, Koloc says she has nothing but admiration for Werner, adding that she looks forward to more opportunities to work with her. Koloc says another bond between them is that, as women in the music business, they’ve had to put up with a lot people -- let’s say it, men -- trying to tell them what do with their music and their career. Koloc says she’s in a good place now but, no matter what, there’s always the music.

"Singing is my first joy. When I sing, I know why I was born. I mean, I can't tell you, making music is just a gift. It's a wonderful thing."

Susan Werner says much the same. It’s just one more thing the two artists have in common.