"One fun project I am currently involved with is a trio called Paper Moon. It consists of another female vocalist, a piano player who sings and me. We specialize in tight harmony and perform songs such as... Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Da Do Ron Ron and Mr. Sandman."
A Singing Pre-Schooler
I’ve been singing since the age of 4, when I would sing for relatives at every family gathering. I started my singing lessons at a small neighborhood place, Marietta’s Music Studio at Cheltenham Ave & Large St, around the age of 11. And I was hooked! I studied vocals at the Russ Faith School of Music (Frankford Ave near Church St.), the Settlement Music School and with noted jazz pianist and educator Jimmy Amadie. I am currently studying with a wonderful classical teacher, Jacqueline Smith. It’s important to keep growing musically.
A Professional Singer by My Junior Year
I began performing professionally in my junior year at Frankford, singing with a local band. After high school, I was a full-time singer for six years—playing local clubs, restaurants, casinos and private events, eventually playing a summer at the shore in Avalon. And, I never stopped singing. Even, during a successful, 32-year career with the Department of Homeland Security, I continued to sing professionally.
Although I love singing jazz and the Great American Songbook, being versatile is the key to staying employed so I try to cross many genres. I can sing Broadway show tunes, jazz, country, the great American songbook, a church wedding ceremony, or the latest popular songs. Some of my greatest influences are Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Dianna Krall and June Christy.
I’ve performed in many different venues including: supper clubs, hotels, casinos, senior centers, festivals, fund raisers, house concerts and private parties such as weddings and corporate events. Very recently I’ve performed at local venues including Salon 33, Oscar Hammerstein’s Living Room, Moonstruck Restaurant, The Hop Angel Public House, Brauhaus and Paris Bistro.
Each year I participate in community events in the area, booking talent and performing at Fox Chase Art in the Park and the Annual Tree Lighting. I currently sing with duos, trios, and artists. One fun project I am currently involved with is a trio called Paper Moon. It consists of another female vocalist, a piano player who sings and me. We specialize in tight harmony and perform songs such as Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Da Do Ron Ron and Mr. Sandman.
I also sing with my church choir and an ecumenical choir, Musica Concordia, performing selections by J.S. Bach, Buxtehude, and Mendelssohn. I sing as a cantor during Mass at my church almost every Sunday. I’ve worked with local big band leaders including Brian Pastor (yes THAT Brian Pastor), Al Raymond and Paul Buck.
Sharing the Joy and Making a Difference
I recently started performing at senior centers; and I’ve found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my singing career. And, that it’s essential for the residents. The therapeutic benefits of music and other forms of entertainment in enhancing the quality of life for those residents are well known. I work with the activity directors at each facility to tailor a program to fit their needs.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen residents come to the shows looking disengaged, tired and not speaking. But as the music starts, I can see a foot begin tapping here and there, and then a smile and often they begin singing along. By the time the show is over, I feel a connection on a personal level, and the audience is much more engaged and social, saying good-bye, smiling, and looking rejuvenated.
Residents become energized and more talkative. It’s not surprising that music promotes health and wellbeing, reduces isolation and enriches the lives of the participants. But I think I get as much out of it as they do.
And then Along Came COVID-19
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has impacted the senior facilities in a big way. Performers are not allowed into the facilities and this isn’t good for the residents. Two weeks ago, I performed outside in 92 degrees heat at the Birches in Newtown. It was so good to see many of the same residents attending the show. We were all distanced and wearing masks.
Many watched and listened to through the open windows of their rooms. And I have a few more outside performances scheduled. I’m also looking into doing virtual performances.
I have been blessed to be able to pursue this invigorating path.
F-A.Com: I know you are a wonderful professional singer. Tell us about your current singing career. (See above.)
Leslie: Since many of us (like myself) have multiple side hustles. Do you have any outside of singing?
Singing WAS my side hustle for many years.
I worked for the Federal Government for 32 years. But I never stopped singing.
I retired from Department of Homeland Security in 2016, then singing became my job.
F-A.Com: Besides singing, what are you passionate about?
Leslie: Being grateful for all of my blessings.
F-A. Com: How did Frankford prepare you for the adult world?
Leslie: At Frankford, I met so many wonderful people. I saw so many different people from all sections of the city, getting along and working together. It was beautiful. I loved my time at Frankford. I made so many new friends, participated in choir and various committees.
High school can’t give you all the answers to life’s questions, but it instilled in me the confidence to express myself and my opinions.
F-A.Com: Who inspired you at Frankford?
Leslie: The other students were inspiring, very accepting and friendly, especially Mr. King, our choir director. I was always proud to say that I went to Frankford. And I still am proud. There was a supportive, inclusive “family” feel that was very inspiring.
F-A.Com: Who inspired you to become a professional singer?
Leslie: My dad sang around the house all the time. I remember my parents playing Frank Sinatra, Eydie Gorme and Tony Bennet records constantly. My grandfather was a professional musician. And I decided that I was just going to be Linda Ronstadt. And that was that!
F-A.Com: What was the most memorable experience in your career?
Leslie: There have been a few:
I was honored to sing the national anthem for a graduation at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and also at the installation of a new Director of Field Operations in Baltimore.
I was also thrilled to sing in Oscar Hammerstein’s Living Room as part of an event to raise funds and awareness for having the Hammerstein home in Doylestown designated as a museum. And, to actually sing in the room where Mr. Hammerstein wrote the lyrics for so many iconic show tunes was an honor
F-A.Com: What advice would you give today's Frankford students?
Leslie: Enjoy your time in high school. Be aware of events in the world around you. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
F-A.Com: How are you handling the Covid-19 pandemic?
Wearing a mask.
Keeping my 96-year old Mom healthy and engaged.
Spending the down time learning new songs.
Taking a music therapy class online.
Just relaxing and trying to enjoy the down time.
And praying for this world—for a vaccine and peace in our time.
F-A.Com: If you found a way to time-travel back to high school, what would you say to your 17-year-old self?
You’ll be fine. And I’m so glad you paid attention to your gut. Gut feelings kept you out of a lot of potentially bad situations. I’m proud of you for listening to them.
Write more poetry because poems can turn into songs. It would be good if you could write songs.
Don’t be quite so concerned about what people think about you.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
Never turn down a gig even if you’re not quite sure.
Go to college.
F-A.com: How long have you been married? Can you tell us about your husband/family?
My husband and I will be married 39 years in October 2020.
Although we have no children, my 96 year-old mother lives with us.
I have a younger sister who lives in Maryland with her husband and family.
F-A.Com: Finally, what is your favorite quote?
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt
“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Ella Fitzgerald