Biography

 

lk_color4She started out singing in Chicago bars. Then, barely out of high school, Lucy Kaplansky took off for New York City. There she found a fertile community of songwriters and performers—Suzanne Vega, Steve Forbert, The Roches, and others. With a beautiful flair for harmony, Lucy was everyone’s favorite singing partner, but most often she found herself singing as a duo with Shawn Colvin. People envisioned big things for them; in fact, The New York Times said it was “easy to predict stardom for her.” But then Lucy dropped it all.

Convinced that her calling was in another direction, Lucy left the musical fast track to pursue a doctorate in Psychology. Upon completing her degree, Dr. Kaplansky took a job at a New York hospital working with chronically mentally ill adults, and also started a private practice. Yet she continued to sing. Lucy was often pulled back into the studio by her friends, (who now had contracts with record labels) wanting her to sing on their albums. She harmonized on Colvin’s Grammy-winning Steady On, and on Nanci Griffith’s Lone Star State of Mind and Little Love Affairs. She also landed soundtrack credits, singing with Suzanne Vega on Pretty in Pink and with Griffith on The Firm, and several commercial credits as well—including “The Heartbeat of America” for Chevrolet.

Then Shawn Colvin—who was itching to produce a record—hooked up with Lucy, her ex-singing partner. They went into the studio, and it all came together. When Lucy’s solo tapes got into the hands of Bob Feldman, president of Red House Records, he was blown away. Suddenly, Lucy was back in the music business. She signed with Red House and started playing gigs. Red House released The Tide in 1994 to rave reviews, and within six months Lucy signed with a major booking agency—Fleming Tamulevich & Associates—and began touring so much it required leaving her two psychologist positions behind.

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Lucy’s second album, Flesh and Bone (1996), was produced by Anton Sanko (producer of Suzanne Vega’s Days of Open Hand), and it clearly showed a performer and songwriter stepping into her own. Some of Lucy’s favorite singing partners joined her in the studio, including Jennifer Kimball (formerly of The Story), Richard Shindell, and John Gorka. Where The Tide had showcased Lucy’s formidable interpretive skills, Flesh and Bone emphasized her development as a gifted songsmith. The album is graced with eight absorbing original songs, as well as four sharp covers.

After releasing, The Tide, Lucy’s success took flight with back-to-back hit albums Ten Year Night and Every Single Day. Both received the AFIM award (Association For Independent Music) for best pop album of the year. Lucy’s rising popularity has led to appearances on the CBS Morning Show, NPR’s Weekend and Morning Editions and All Things Considered, Mountain Stage, and West Coast Live. Lucy also contributed her story to a unique book, SOLO: Women Singer- Songwriters in Their Own Words, which includes some of the best known women on the music scene today: Ani DiFranco, Shawn Colvin, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan and others. She was also featured in Lipshtick, a collection of essays by NPR commentator Gwen Macsai, published in the fall of 1999.

In 1998 Lucy teamed with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell to form supergroup Cry Cry Cry, and recorded some of their favorite songs written by other artists. The resulting album, Cry Cry Cry (which The New Yorker dubbed “a collection of lovely harmonizing and pure emotion,” and to which Entertainment Weekly gave an “A” rating), was an astonishing success in stores and on radio. A national tour of sold-out concerts by the trio served to introduce Lucy’s luminous voice to a new audience.

The Red Thread followed and marked Lucy’s tenth year (and fifth album) on Red House. It wove together themes of motherhood, home and the family with beautiful production.

Lucy’s new life as a mother has enhanced the emotional depth of her songwriting. Her 2007 release Over the Hills explored universal themes of love, joy, loss, and dreams for the future, through reflections on family. After the release of Over the Hills, The Boston Globe referred to Lucy as “becoming the songwriter laureate of modern city folk.”

Kaplansky’s voice has continued to remain in high demand by her peers. Her song “Guilty as Sin” was featured in the NBC television show Ed. In addition, she can be heard on recent releases by Bryan Ferry, Nanci Griffith, and on the Greg Brown tribute album Going Driftless (also featuring Ani Difranco, Iris Dement, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams and others).

RedHorseIn 2010 Lucy joined up with acclaimed singer-songwriters John Gorka and Eliza Gilkyson to record an album as part of new folk super-group Red Horse. Awash in gorgeous harmonies and simple acoustic production, the album features the singers performing each other’s songs. Red Horse has received rave reviews and was the number one album on Folk Radio for several months in 2010. Since the album’s release, the trio were interviewed on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” with Liane Hansen and appeared on NPR’s “Mountain Stage.”

In 2011 Lucy released an EP, Kaplansky sings Kaplansky, featuring songs written by her father, famed University of Chicago mathematician Irving Kaplansky, including live performances of the two of them performing together in California. This is Lucy’s first venture into 1940’s style swing, reminiscent of the work of Kaplansky’s former student Tom Lehrer. Lucy is also featured on a new Bob Dylan tribute album, A Nod to Bob 2, featuring her performance of the Dylan classic “Every Grain of Sand.”

Lucy released “Reunion”, her seventh solo CD, in 2012. For this album, Lucy reunited with her impressive core of musicians–Buddy Miller, Richard Shindell, Jonatha Brooke, John Gorka, Eliza Gilkyson, Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter, J. Geils Band), Jon Herington (Steely Dan) and producer/drummer Ben Wittman (Paula Cole, Don Byron)–creating a true masterwork.

The title song “Reunion” celebrates Lucy’s pioneering immigrant grandmother and her journey from Poland to Toronto, where the matriarch and business woman founded the Health Bread Bakery chain in the early 20th century. Depicted on the album cover in a painting by noted political cartoonist Avrom Yanovsky (one of the original bakery workers and father to Lovin’ Spoonful’s Zal Yanovsky), the bakery was the center of the Kaplansky family’s life. Although raised in Chicago, Lucy attended many family reunions in Toronto, reuniting one last time with her cousins in 2011 after the passing of her parents, aunts and uncles.

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“It’s inevitable that as you get older and your life deepens you find more ways of connecting to an even larger circle of people,” says Lucy. “This album is largely about reunions with family and deepening social connections with friends and audiences through my music. I find myself clearer about my priorities, my purpose, my politics and my faith.”

Like the title track, each song on Reunion tells its own unique story. Lucy and co-writer Richard Litvin connect us to our common humanity through songs of family, origins, loss and discovery–from watching parents pass on (“I’ll See You Again” and “Sleep Well”), to witnessing a daughter blossom (“Mother’s Day”), to chronicling the journey of an abandoned child refugee (the radio-friendly “Scavenger”). These poignant originals are woven with unique covers of Woody Guthrie/Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, Amy Correia and The Beatles. Together these tracks create a tapestry that is at turns deeply moving, joyful, meditative and rollicking.

Lucy continues to perform all over the world. When not performing, she lives in New York City, where she enjoys spending time with her husband and nine year-old daughter.