Musical tonic

Sarah Blacker sings songs in many colors.
- Sarah Blacker sings songs in many colors.

Sarah Blacker is used to being the only woman on stage. But she doesn’t let it change her tune: in fact, she is fulfilling a dream she had since high school, watching talented artists like herself perform at festivals around New England.

Now a professional music therapist who works with kids affected by cerebral palsy, Blacker sees music as a form of communication that can bring people together and help define emotions.

Whether she’s singing solo or backed by her band, All Kinds of Sugar, you can bet to see Blacker singing her heart out in her trademark red cowboy boots, spreading her message of hope—and perhaps inspiring the next female musician in the audience.

A recent nominee of the Limelight Music Awards' singer/songwriter of the year and female performer of the year with New England Music Awards, Blacker was most recently seen at the No Place Special house concerts in Mashpee last fall. She also played at the Naukabout Music Festival in August, where InsideOUT caught up with her for an interview.

InsideOUT: How do you incorporate music therapy into your performance career? Is your music therapeutic?

Blacker: The music is the structure I can count on, and it’s therapy if it works. Music definitely builds community, and provides an outlet, an escape. To be completely honest, I start to cry when I see people in the audience who relate to the song. I really like to interact with the audience. It’s so powerful when people really get what you’re putting out there.

I/O: What singer-songwriters influence you the most?

Blacker: I’d say I’m mostly writing from my own heart. Whether it’s love or fascination with a person or place, I love imagery with words and the emotions conveyed through storytelling. My goal is to inspire people and write songs they can relate to. Once you can separate an emotion or event from yourself, you have a clearer perspective.
Musically, I try not to emulate anybody. But I grew up listening to Bo Jackson, Joni Mitchell, Regina Specter, Paul Simon…

I/O: I hear you’ve even done an electronic dance track, “Am Alive” with an Egyptian DJ?

Blacker: I was living in Kansas, waitressing at a Middle Eastern restaurant, and a guy that worked there said he was this big deal DJ [Shiha]. He gave me this track, and I loved it, and wrote lyrics for it. He said it was exactly the words and melody he was thinking. I definitely want to do more of that, I love dancing and listening to electronic music.

I/O: It seems from the photos and videos on your site that you’re a fan of cowboy boots. How many pairs do you have?

Blacker: My best friend in Texas had these red cowboy boots, and I just had to get them. I’m not incredibly superstitious. I’ve got a few pairs.

I/O: You were one of the only women playing at Naukabout this year. Do you find that’s the case at a lot of festivals? How do you make a name for yourself as an independent female artist in the industry?

Blacker: If you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, you can go out and make it in a male dominated industry. I’ve never personally encountered discrimination because I’m a woman. To be honest, in high school I used to go to festivals all the time. My goal was to be one of the first women to play at them. I considered myself a one-woman jam band. This summer is somewhat of a realization of that dream for me.
I like to have fun and work the crowd, and just be myself on stage. When I first started performing, I was offered the sex symbol route. I was like, “Uh-uh, I write my own songs.” Quite honestly, it’s hard to see someone like Rihanna who’s this beautiful woman and incredibly talented, but I’m sure she signed a contract that said you can’t wear clothing.

I/O: You’re a board-certified music therapist. How did you end up becoming a performer?

Blacker: I only started doing this full time [two years] ago. I was dating a guy, but had given up on the dream—if you don’t know what you want, it’s like throwing darts in the air. I learned a lot from him, and took the reins and decided I want to do this. It’s just about setting small goals and making friends. If you can help each other that makes a big difference. I’ve been really lucky.

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