Still singing along

Helen McDonald singerHelen McDonald is still singing, but for her being online is no substitute for the live gigs in Brixton. She misses the atmosphere at POP, Hootananny, Upstairs at Ritzy, and Pure Vinyl where she remembers “great times”.

Helen’s been singing since she was five at Sunday School growing up in the Midlands. She had joined her first band by the time she left school at 16.

“I was always drawn to singing as a child it made me happy, and when I got older – about 14 – I learnt Jazz Standards by listening to the ‘Greats’ like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald,  Nina Simone and I’ve always loved Aretha Franklin, Jazz and Soul.’

She joined Brixton band Yaaba Funk as a percussionist and singer and formed her own band Future GrooveBoth are still going and she has travelled the world with them.

Growing up listening to Billie Holiday inspired Helen to sing her songs and write her own.

She wrote a play about Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald Time Travelling with the Jazz Queens.

Helen McDonald
Helen singing Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit at a Brixton Neighbourhood Forum meeting in Pop Brixton

“I do feel a little fearful as I’m a live musician that feeds off my audience and live gigs. It’s been a strange time away from friends and loved ones. I have been joining in on Thursdays to clap for the NHS.”

Helen pays her respects to Brixton artist Ty who sadly died from coronavirus and recognising the loss says “maybe we need to hail and big up our heroes while they are still alive.”

Although live gigs are out for the moment Helen remains hopeful and has a strong presence online.

“I have just received a grant to sing jazz standards and soul on the phone to elder people.

It is to lift people’s spirits and give older people who maybe don’t use or have access  to the internet a chance to use an old school phone and sing a long.” The funding comes from Arts Council England for Arts La’Olam.

Helen McDonalds Telephone Jazz Singalong

Helen sings jazz and classic songs that inspire memories and nostalgia which elders in care homes or at home can access by phone at any time.  Promoted in partnership with veteran senior citizen entertainers Duckie’s Posh Club the Telephone Jazz Singalong offers a joyous and anxiety-releasing interlude from the daily void that social distancing can bring.

She has also been working during Lockdown for Core Arts College for adults with Mental Health in the Hackney area where she goes online and does an ‘easy Jam’.

“I share a song from my class on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube Plus story telling on Zoom for children’s birthday parties too!

“I miss the Effra and of course the Jazz  band on every Thursday eve and pubs on a sunny day. But a lot is possible in this day and age and hope is always on my mind”

Hope – a favourite word for us all.

Check Helen McDonald out online youtube, FB or Instagram.