The Back Story


Fertile Ground

My mom was a beautiful, talented, tiara-wearing, lyric soprano. She sang with Portland Opera, Seattle Opera, and filled my life with musicals and Gilbert & Sullivan performances. My dad, a physician, had a rich lyric baritone. Growing up in a house filled with music, plus an arts-rich education, created fertile ground for exploration in all the arts. I danced, wrote poetry, studied calligraphy and book making, acted in small theater productions, played piano, and sang.


Getting Cosmic

Valerie and John 1975

I left home the first time at age 16 and moved into a hippie commune in NW Portland called the First Cosmic Bank of Divine Economy (the currency was karma — what you put in you get out + interest). It was at the Cosmic Bank that I met John, who would become my partner in life and in music. I worked in restaurants. Cleaned movie theaters. Accompanied dance classes. Cleaned houses. Finished high school — barely — thanks to an alternative program that allowed me to study music and dance at Mt. Hood Community College and the local arts high school, Jefferson High.


World Music & Jazz

Valerie, Brian Davis, Caton Lyles, and master drummer Obo Addy

After the commune dissolved, John and I became jazz hippies and plunged into the world music scene. I fell in love with Latin percussion, and after a two-year hiatus, went back to school to study jazz at Portland State University and then in Seattle at the Cornish Institute of Allied Arts. I played in Latin Bands and Kukrudu, Ghanaian master drummer Obo Addy’s band.


                       Nu Shooz

Nu shooz plays Neighborfair 1985

I also played in a 12-piece horn band that John started called Nu Shooz. I sang backup and played percussion, but every once in a while, I stepped out front to give our lead singer a break. When he left the band, I went from back up singer to lead singer — in one week. We continued playing in clubs around the Pacific NW for seven years. Then, through a series of incredible pieces of luck, we were signed to a record deal with Atlantic that lasted another seven years. Our first album went gold, and we were nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in 1987.


Another Life

Our family 2008 photo by Tasha Miller

After the ride ended in 1992,  John and I had a son, Malcolm. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us. For more than two decades, I stuck close to home and taught voice and sang jazz while we raised him.

It was a wonderful life. Every once in a while, we were asked if we would do a Nu Shooz show. We always said no. (That was THEN! This is NOW! We’ve moved on!) Like they say — never say never. When Malcolm graduated from high school in 2013, we finally said yes. Turns out the 80s are more fun the second time around! Since then, we have been having a blast, playing for audiences around the globe and recording with our band.

What I've Learned


Life truly IS more about the journey
than it is about the destination.


Success & Failure

The career I chose early on turned out to be an AMAZING ride, with some successes, but many, many more failures. And I wouldn’t trade those for anything. I‘m still learning, struggling, and growing, and I hope to continue doing that till the day I die (maybe with a little less of the struggling part!).


Teaching & Learning

Hello Kitty Bookshelf.JPG

Sometimes the things that happen to you that seem the worst turn out to be the best. When I first became the lead singer in Nu Shooz, I developed nodules (calluses on the vocal cords) and was told by an ENT that I needed to quit singing for at least a few months to let them heal. Talk about freaked out! We had GIGS! If I took time off, who knew what would happen to the band — or my place in it. Long story and three voice coaches later, I found a teacher, Tom Blaylock -- who taught me more about the voice than I ever would have learned had I not been in such serious vocal trouble. I not only was able to keep singing while the nodules healed, I ended up on the other side of that experience with the tools to keep my voice healthy for the rest of my life — and the chops to sing more of the sounds I heard in my head than I ever had before. I’m indebted to Tom for saving my career, AND for teaching me how to teach. I’ve been a certified teacher of his method for over 20 years now.

Speaking of teaching … it’s the best way to learn. I’ve learned as much, if not more, from my students in my 20+ years of teaching than they’ve probably learned from me! People are infinitely complex and interesting. I never tire of trying to answer questions like, Who are we? What makes us unique? In what ways are we alike? How do we learn, grow, change? My bookshelves are filled with books about the brain, psychology, and the social sciences.


Know Thyself = A Sustainable Life

Which leads me to a personal, psychological reveal — I’m an introvert (who knew!). According to the Meyers-Briggs profile, I’m an INFJ. I’m also a highly sensitive person (HSP). Knowing both of those things has been hugely helpful to me in creating a sustainable life in music. Learning how to make time to repair, restore, and reflect has proven to be essential for my physical, emotional, and mental well being — and I know it's important for all singers to learn these skills.

What REALLY motivates me!


I love playing music and performing, but what really motivates me to get up in the morning? A desire to create, a yearning for authentic connection, and a longing to contribute  something that will help others. Plus, I have all those books to read! So, that’s what I’m about ...

Musician, mother, educator, neuroscience/psychology geek, creative explorer — not necessarily in that order. So …

What's Next


I woke up one day feeling a shift in life direction about to take place. I’d been on a sabbatical from teaching for about three years. Was it time to go back? Maybe, but I realized that I needed to do it differently than I ever had before. After a year of soul-searching, exploration, and vision-questing -- Living A Vocal Life was born.


In the coming months
I’ll be launching some offerings that
I am hoping will be of service to singers.

An eCourse to help singers who want to create a sustainable LIFE in music. From body awareness to branding, picking a song to connecting with an audience, booking shows to signing contracts, we will look at where you are on your journey, create clarity around where you'd like to go, and then embark on a path that will take you there, one step at a time.

And a Podcast where I interview singers who have succeeded in creating a LIFE in music. You’ll hear from vocalists of all genres, in different stages of their careers, including singers who’ve been on the Billboard charts and those who are teaching the next generation. What do they have in common? They're all performers with amazing stories to tell and experiences to share.



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Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
— Mary Oliver

Have some thoughts about what would help you in your one wild, precious ... vocal life? I’d love to hear about what would be most helpful to you as I create the Living A Vocal Life eCourse. Please send me your thoughts here on my Contact page. Thank you!