“You have to sing it like you mean it”

Ethel was my driver from the airport. She was from Nigeria, and had moved to the US (San Francisco) when she was a little girl. It was late, and she had just finished a singing class that she taught. She used to be a real estate agent and was now retired.

“What do you sing?” I asked.

“Oh, everything, but I love jazz and the classics. Most young people nowadays think music is rap,” she bemoaned. “All the kids I speak to have no interest in the classics, or jazz, or gospel music. Some of the stuff they listen to—that’s not music.”

“Are there no young people in your group?”

“There’s absolutely no one in the jazz class.”

“What do you like about jazz and classical music?”

She brightened. “It’s intelligent! It makes your mind think in different ways. The different rhythm forces you to think outside the box, and it’s very mathematical at the same time. And the classics, well, they’re…classic.”

“How did you get started?”

“Well, I took lessons when I first moved from Nigeria. I felt all alone, lost, my parents had to work all day and sometimes nights to make a living, and one day I was walking home and heard opera music coming from a woman who lived down the street. I stood there for twenty minutes. I didn’t move.”


“After that, I begged my parents to have lessons. And at school, I joined the choir. I have a big voice, so it was easy for me to be the star.” She smiled.

“Did you ever want to make it a career?”

“No. I didn’t even think about it. It’s just something I love to do.”

“What’s the most important thing about singing?”

“Singing?” She reflected for a second. “Well, everyone will tell you different things, but for me, when you sing, you have to sing it like you mean it. That crosses over into everything else you do. If you don’t mean it, it’s not worth much.”

About the artist

Iris Hopp loves traveling and exploring the world. Her illustrations here will help you travel to the world of “Riding Up Front!”