I saw Lois Morton play a Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) showcase, then reviewed her debut CD, As I See It, for our December 2011 NERFA wrapup issue. I listened to a€?Side Effectsa€? about those TV ads for drugs and learned how perfectly Lois could encapsulate their lunacy. The wonder of all of this was that I was listening to a grandmother who had, for a number of decades, been a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL), an administrator and a therapist.
She was a little prodigy, always performing for the family and picking out songs on the piano. Lois was a voice major at the Music and Art High School (There were two coexisting schools, Performing Arts High School and Music and Art High School on West 46th Street.
At age 16 or 17, she could perceive how high the level of talent was at the school a€” television and stage actress and singer Diahann Carroll (Carol Diahann Johnson then) was in her senior chorus. She had taken piano lessons for two years in junior high school, but had such a good ear that shea€™d fake it a lot of the time and didna€™t practice. Lois played basic guitar and sang in a program called The Musicians Emergency Fund, which sent performers into hospitals to play for patients. After he died, Lois began to explore other avenues of coping and expression, entering several programs.
Lois described how the song gained exposure: a€?I was involved in a community theater group and we were doing a show at that time. In a€?The Cell Phone Song,a€? another of my favorites, written about two months after the Clutterholic song, she skewers egocentric, obsessive cellphone users perfectly with: It doesna€™t seem to matter, youa€™re assailed with noisy chatter when you only want a quiet, peaceful walka€¦ Pretty much everything I despise about those people is in that song a€” but humorous. Lois began playing open mics on Long Island and found that she could cross over into the folk arena. A big component in driving Lois to embark on a new career was having a source of purpose and income taken away from her.
As she perused her earlier resume as a teacher, therapist and author, she looked at what she was doing as a performer and thought, a€?Who is this woman?a€? At first glance, nothing seemed relevant. Both times I was confronted with a sly, satiric commentary on the idiocies of human nature. She had as keen a mind in viewing modern foibles as anybody Ia€™d ever heard and had only been pursuing this avenue of performance for a couple of years.
Her father died when she was an infant, so her mother moved to The Bronx to live with her parents. She decided to go into education, something a€?with a greater chance of successa€? than she foresaw in performing. She also advertised as an international songstress, doing a few shows she called a€?Around the World in Song.a€? Lois was in a Broadside concert during that time.


After teaching school in Manhattan full time for five years, Lois took a maternity leave and she and her husband, son and daughter moved to Long Island. The following year, 2007, she attended a conference of organizers in Minneapolis and got a standing ovation from 900 professional organizers a€” a€?Me, the client!a€? she exclaimed. She got her biggest response when she played the open mic at the Mansion at Acoustic Long Island in St. Shea€™s been using French in her songs for some time including the conclusion of a€?The Last Goodbye.a€? In 2009, an audience member, hearing her sing in French, asked her if she could do an Edith Piaf show, Lois asked, a€?How much time would I have to prepare?a€? The woman said shea€™d need it the following year. Therea€™s a new CD coming (one of her new songs deals with GPS users a€” whata€™s she going to say about that GPS womana€™s voice?) and a new concept show in the works a€” a show in Yiddish using a Jewish theme. She decidedA  to go into education, something a€?with a greater chance of successa€? than she foresaw in performing. It began with a€?Confessions Of a Clutterholic,a€? rising from her experience working with a professional organizer. As I See It is categorized by iTunes as a€?Easy Listening.a€? This is true only if youa€™re not paying attention. As I See It went on to lampoon a range of topics such as rude cellphone use, pack rat clutter, the weirdness of digital communication and kooky dieting. Her grandfather, a€?a little Jewish tailor from Russiaa€? had a voice like operatic tenor Jan Peerce. In junior high, a€?The Ballad of Rodger Young,a€? a song about a martyred World War II infantry hero, was one of her strongest pieces.
In 2009, she did another cabaret show in Manhattan and included the a€?Dieta€? and a€?20th Century Girla€? songs.
New York state licensing laws changed in 2006 and, uninformed about required paperwork, she was left unable to practice professionally. The torrent of descriptive terms dealing with the less attractive activities of homo sapiens demands complete concentration. She was supposed to teach drama to 6-year-olds, but the music counselor turned out to only play the tuba, a€?and he hadna€™t even brought it!a€? she said. Pete wrote back and encouraged her to keep writing and told her to send her songs to Sis Cunningham at Broadside Magazine. She decided not to do that after conferring with her husband, telling me cautiously, a€?It was not something that would have worked out. To date, shea€™s done about 25 Piaf shows, accompanied on a number of songs by Larry Moser on accordion. Although she might have chosen to give herself another title in order to practice, Lois had already made a conscious decision to commit to a career path as a performer.


A genre that I had not written in before came popping up, that was very Gilbert and Sullivan with some Tom Lehrer thrown in.a€? Because she and her husband never threw anything away, after he died, she began the process of letting go of clutter. Granted, there are some ballads that mean only to entertain, but theya€™re outweighed by tongue-twisting rhymes laced with brilliant sarcasm.
She had an aunt with a a€?wonderful singing voicea€? and an uncle who played a€?at least six instruments.a€? Like Lois, many in the family a€” her aunt and her cousins a€” thought easily in rhyme. The camp administration a€?put him in a canoe,a€? she said, a€?and I became the music counselor.a€? She played the morning sing-alongs.
One of the places was Queens College, where her husband was chairman of the Political Science Department. In early 2010, Lois screwed up her courage and asked Dave Dircks, the director, for a slot in the regular performance schedule. She got involved with making a CD and putting together promotional materials and getting them sent out.
Later in 2010, she made her first trip to the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA) conference, staying briefly, since she had Piaf shows scheduled that weekend.
She had to develop a mindset in which she did not fret about every cent it was costing her. In 2011, she was sponsored for a DJ showcase at NERFA by Barbara and Graham Dean of radio station WBCR-lp in Great Barrington, Mass.
As Lois described it, theya€™d role-play and her opening words to the person playing the patient were: a€?Hello!
She characterized this opening phase as a€?a different path on the mountain.a€? She wondered if she could write more like these. So, in May 2012, Lois did her own show and considers it her first successful gig in a folk venue The huge following she already had from the Mansion open mic was there for her. I worked with the organizer for about a year and a half, not so much in throwing things out, but in organizing it.a€? While they organized, she wrote a song about it.
In grade school she was, as she put it, a€?a big fish in a small pond.a€? This changed when she got to high school. These days when she plays for Alzheimera€™s patients or older ailing people, without using sheet music, she just asks what their favorite songs are and she always knows them.



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