At almost 83 years old, singer, songwriter and musician Judy Collins is on tour again, playing hits like “Both Sides Now” and “Send in the Clowns,” but also songs from her new album, “Spellbound,” which she released last month. Asked how she can take on the grueling demands of a tour, she said she’s done it for 61 years and that it’s her art that actually keeps her going.
Collins is scheduled to perform at 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center on the College of the Canyons campus, and she’ll share her art that’s the result of the good times and the bad times she’s experienced over the years.
“Touring is my life,” Collins said in an interview with The Signal on Thursday. “I’ve done it all my life.”
Collins seemed to be born into the musician’s life. Her father was a singer, pianist and a radio show host, who would sing the ballad “Danny Boy” to her over and over again when she was a child. She learned to play piano at a young age and said it was the song “The Gypsy Rover,” featured in the 1954 Alan Ladd film “The Black Knight,” that sealed her fate with folk music.
“I heard it,” she said, “and it changed my life. Totally.”
Collins would go on to become a staple of the 1960s music scene, evoking through her art, as stated on her website, “both the idealism and steely determination of a generation united against social and environmental injustices.” She’s been nominated for and won many awards, including a Grammy for “Both Sides Now.”
Collins also became very involved in social activism, even testifying in support of the Chicago 7 — Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Lee Weiner, who were charged with conspiracy to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. During her testimony, Collins sang Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
“I love those guys,” Collins said. But she does not love the 2020 film interpretation, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” written and directed by Aaron Sorkin for Netflix. That’s because Sorkin didn’t include her part in the trial. “I was bummed. Because it was historic. And it should’ve been in the movie.”
Over the years, Collins certainly has seen her share of tough times. At 11, she spent two months in isolation due to contracting polio. In 1962, she spent six months in a sanatorium after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. She experienced divorce in 1965, suffered from bulimia when she quit smoking in the 1970s, and she dealt with years of alcoholism, but kicked it in 1978. In 1992, she lost her only child, who was 33, to suicide following his battles with clinical depression and substance abuse.
Through all of this, Collins says that it’s her art that allows her to survive.
“The world is a terrible place,” she said. “It has been — always. There has always been wonder and there has always been terror. Read your Marcus Aurelius and you’ll find out.”
However, the legendary singer emphasized that the good times have equally fueled her art, but that art, indeed, is the secret to life.
“I think people need art and they need beauty — they need all the arts,” she said. “They need painting, they need music, they need poetry, because that’s what keeps us on the planet … I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t an artist. I’m quite sure of that.”
During a lightning round of questions, Collins answered that she doesn’t regret missing Woodstock, that one of her favorite musical artists of the past is Pavarotti and that one of her favorite musical artists of today is Jimmy Webb, that she doesn’t really stay in touch with any of the musicians from the 1960s and 1970s, though she’s still close with Joan Baez, and that her favorite cover of one of her songs is “My Father” by Nina Simone. In answer to the question, “What was the best part of your career?” Collins responded, “My dear, right now. You just have to live long enough.”
Unpack that one.
For tickets to see Collins on Sunday, go to pac.canyons.edu/shows. You can also learn more about the music legend, link to her new podcast called “Since You’ve Asked with Judy Collins,” find other concert dates, and purchase her books at JudyCollins.com.