When T.J. calls, you just say yes’!
They’ve spent decades on the stage but this performance is a special one for Gita Blakeney Saltus and Sheila Smith. The Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts opens Saturday with women as its focus. Lifestyle spoke with the two singers about it.
Q: Excited about the 44th annual festival? What about it in particular?
Gita Blakeney Saltus: I am so very thrilled Sheila and I have been selected to be the opening act of the 2019 Bermuda Festival, and hence setting the tone for the theme of the festival of empowerment of women, which will be interwoven throughout each of the festival performances over the next few months. I believe the power of women is authentically manifested, as we support and nurture each other, and music is a beautiful conduit to bridge gaps and celebrate life.
Sheila Smith: It is very exciting to be a part of the festival this year, particularly because the theme speaks to the empowerment of women.
There is an old cliché that says that there is strength in numbers. In such a small community as Bermuda, it is crucial that we see the importance of strengthening and encouraging one another. There are social ills that plague us that can be tackled if we systematically stick together as women.
Q: What will you be performing? Is it your first time performing together? How did the match come about? How do you think you complement each other?
GBS: We are appreciative that T.J. Armand, [the festival’s] executive director, brought us together for this opportunity.
We would like the selections to be a surprise but the audience may be assured that our medley aligns with the theme and the songs that we have chosen resonate with us personally and provide a brief musical journey that will be both nostalgic and fun.
I have been blessed to have a longstanding friendship with Sheila that transcends our mutual admiration and respect as vocalists. She is my “sister of song” and, although we have shared the stage on a few occasions, this is a unique musical moment of collaboration which has been both inspiring and enriching.
SS: This is not the first time that Gita and I have performed together. I think the first time goes back some 20-something years ago when we had done a gig at the Elbow Beach Hotel. Oh gosh ... before that — at the Clayhouse Inn!
We also shared the stage of the Bermuda Festival together on February 23, 2013. For that performance we were accompanied by the incomparable Mr Toni Bari.
We performed separate sets of smooth jazz in our own styles. [For this year’s festival], Gita and I were matched through a process of brilliant brainstorming on the part of [T.J. Armand] and Gita Blakeney Saltus, who is also the deputy chairman of the festival.
I received a message to contact T.J. and when T.J. calls, you just say “yes!” I’m not sure of the initial process, but the meetings that followed had me agreeing to be a part of this exciting event. Gita and I have been friends and soul sisters for years. We both have been performing on stages throughout Bermuda over a period that spans about three decades.
In that time, I have come to learn the nuances about Gita that make her shine. That knowledge lets me lean on what our common denominators are and what our comparability factor is. First, it is our love for music and most importantly, our respect for each other’s talent.
Q: You’re both veteran performers. What keeps you on the stage?
GBS: Music is ma raison d’être and I have been fortunate to have a range of experiences in this genre over the years of my musical career. Although my time on stage is constrained as a result of my other endeavours, my soul is always nurtured when I am able to emote musically and share my gift of song. As long as I have a song in my heart, I will sing — and I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity.
SS: As veteran performers, we are still on stage because we take this work and these musical gifts of ours very seriously. It is not what we do, but rather who we are.
We know the importance of being diligent enough to be ever learning, being humble enough to take direction and being confident enough to get the job done on stage.
• Gita Blakeney Saltus and Sheila Smith will perform at the Fairmont Southampton on January 19 at 8pm. Tickets, $95, are available at ptix.bermudafestival.org