The Rural We: Wanda Houston
Singer, actor and vocal coach Wanda L. Houston grew up performing – acting in her father’s theater company and singing with her mother, brother and sister in the Houston Singers. After receiving her undergraduate degree in Vocal Performance (with a concentration in Opera), Houston moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to continue her work on the musical theater and concert stages, which included touring with Mary Wells, The Platters, and Martha and The Vandellas; singing in Las Vegas at the Sands Hotel in Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon; and acting in theater productions that toured the world. A stint in NYC saw her performing on and off Broadway, and singing with a Grammy-nominated gospel choir. Since 2011, Houston has lived in the RI region (most recently, she settled in Sheffield, Mass.) but that hasn’t put the brakes on her busy schedule. You can find her at venues throughout the Northeast performing with The Wanda Houston Band, as well as with the gospel group Brothers and Sisters, the HBH Band and in jazz duos and trios, and at the Goshen Congregational Church where she directs the choir.
I’m originally from Chicago but after college I moved to Los Angeles, for far longer than I ever should have. While I was there, I toured in a show that visited Germany, Austria and then went off to Australia for a year. I nearly stayed in Australia, but I’d always wanted to live in New York City. It had been my dream since I was a kid; my mom brought me there when I was 15. I was the second runner-up in Miss Teen Talented Chicago in 1975; I didn’t win, but we went to New York anyway. They were building the World Trade Center towers at the time. When I moved to NYC in 1999, I performed in an off-Broadway show and I was working in the producers’ office when the towers went down. Right after that I ran into an old friend from Chicago who had a theater in Sharon, Connecticut, and that’s when I first came up here, to do a show called The Diva at TriArts Sharon. That got me coming up here every weekend.
I moved here full time in 2011, which was when I moved everything, including my piano. I’ve had it since I was 7 years old and I always say, “If my piano’s there, I’m home.” When I was younger, we’d take camping trips – we were probably the only black family doing this in the ‘60s – and I always wanted to live in one of those places we’d visit. And now, it’s incredible to be able to live in one of the most beautiful and peaceful parts of the country. I’ve lived up here for 10 and years and I still turn the corner and think “how beautiful.”
I’m really fortunate to have met musicians here in the Berkshires that I get to work with. There’s so much talent in this area, it’s mind-boggling. They’re just as good or better than musicians in the city.
My parents were both in the business and also raised a family, though it was tough for them to do both. For me, it was too much to also have a family. But there’s something beautiful about what performers get to do; we get to meet people and share their lives in a way that other people don’t. The arts help people experience other ways of life. We’re in rough times right now politically and we need each other more than ever. Some people say we shouldn’t talk about religion and politics, but we should talk about that because that’s life. And art helps us do that in good times and bad; we turn to it to make sense of it all.