Judy Collins will be live in studio when WNED-TV premieres "Judy Collins: A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim" on Thursday night at 7:30. While reflecting on Collins' career it's easy to get lost in her connection with the giants of entertainment, but it should not obscure the growth and strength of a voice that first appeared on the popular music scene more than 50 years ago.
"Much stronger, much more flexible and much more dependable" is how Collins characterizes her voice today, crediting her vocal strength to the instruction she received from the same teacher for three decades. That extended range will be on display in "Judy Collins: A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim."
Though her studio appearance at WNED-TV will not be open to the public, the event will be televised live starting at 7:30 Thursday night.
"Buffalo has been very good to me. I've sung there a lot over the years. I've sung with your symphony (Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra)," Collins told WBFO.
"So, I've developed a long relationship with Buffalo audiences."
Collins' relationship with the music of Stephen Sondheim began in the 1970s with her hit recording of "Send in the Clowns," which, she says, is the only Sondheim song to become a top ten hit. Now, she's expanding that repertoire.
"I really traversed a whole landscape of Sondheim that interested me and I wanted to sing, in my way, and bring it to people in a new way."
Her body of work also contains the lyrics of other legendary songwriters like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, who recently passed away.
"I have a personal history with Leonard," Collins said.
"When he came to New York to play me his songs, nobody knew him. I heard the songs, I said, 'Wow!' I was finishing up an album called 'In My Life.' I put two (Cohen songs) of them on that album which bolted 'Suzanne' into, as they would say nowadays, 'it went viral,'" Collins recalled.
Their relationship grew. Collins credits Cohen with encouraging her to write her own songs, something that she calls "an enormous gift." She started writing in the 1960s and continues composing and recording her own lyrics today.
"So, it's been a very deep relationship, a very close relationship, and like everybody else, I'm devastated that he's gone."