Judy Collins and Stephen Stills were dating (and breaking up) 50 years ago when he wrote the song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” forthe debut album by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Collins says whenever she hears the song on the radio she calls Stills. “I can because I still have his number,” she laughs.
After the romance faded the two became friends and have been part of each others lives ever since. They have not performed together until now, which is in support of a belated album of duets called “Everybody Knows.” The music icons will perform at Atlanta Symphony Hall on June 13 as part of a promotional tour for the record.
Collins, a veteran of thousands of interviews, is concise in her answers about big questions. She says being gifted comes with responsibility, something she learned from her musical father. She says of resilience that artists are always re-inventing themselves, “it is the secret to staying alive.” She says painters don’t stop painting and singers don’t stop singing. “I’m just getting started!” exclaims Collins, who just turned 79.
What Collins loves to talk about are her songs. She is famous for many songs, but a few stand out like “Chelsea Morning,” a Joni Mitchell cover she recorded for her first album, which so impressed a young couple (Hillary and Bill Clinton) that they named their daughter after it. Another favorite, “Amazing Grace,” was recorded after Collins heard the old hymn sung by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. She said she sang it at the end of a contentious encounter group and her producer, who was there, insisted she include it on her new album. It gave the old song new life and connected her with Steve Turner, who was writing a book about the song and its connection to the slave trade. Collins is widely known for her work on progressive issues.
Perhaps her most famous song so far has been Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns”. She’d never heard of Sondheim A friend brought her the song to consider for her 1975 album “Judith.” Collins says songs just come to her in serendipitous ways. I asked her about one of my favorites, her cover of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.” She said, again, someone brought it by the studio where she was recording and it was the last song she recorded on the album that would bare it’s name.
Collins is delighted to be touring and performing with Stephen Stills, who remains a dear friend. They will perform songs from their individual repertoires and songs they have written together. Collins hinted that they might even sing a duet of an old love song, one that Stills wrote for her at the end of their youthful romance.
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Franklin Abbott’s latest project is a double CD of songs and poems, Don’t Go Back To Sleep.