I was born Raleigh, North Carolina and raised on Chopin, Debussy, country blues and soul. When I was seven years old, my Momma told me I was going to start taking lessons, and I could study piano, ballet, or tap dancing. There were generations of piano players in the family, so in my mother's efforts to make a neutral presentation, there was a thinly veiled push toward piano. My mother played by ear and I loved her saloon-style rendition of Night and Day. I chose piano and started lessons in the fall when I returned to school to begin third grade.
[Photo 1: Here I am with hot dogs for sale from my cardboard store, serving my regular customers, my wood Pinocchio doll—almost as big as me—and Tootsie the cocker spaniel.]
When I wasn't in school, running shirtless in the yard, or investigating the endless intriguing rocks in the woods, I practiced for my mother, showed off for "Big Mama" Aunt Hattie who played only Bach on the harpsichord, and tried to keep up with the difficult repertoire provided by my first music teacher, Annette Kahn of Raleigh. I will never forget Mrs. Kahn always scheduling me last in every recital program. In the photo at left, you can see Hattie with hot dogs for sale from her cardboard store with her wood Pinocchio doll and Tootsie, her cocker spaniel, the regular customers.
The summer I was 10 [Photo 2], every Saturday my mother drove me to Greensboro to study with Hungarian concert pianist, Lili Keleti. After the lesson, my momma would stop and buy us each a cheeseburger and fries and we ate in the car before heading home. This was almost as exciting as watching Miss Keleti sing, stomp, and wave her arms in the air in her determination to lead me into the eye of a greater understanding of dynamics. The next summer, I was inspired by the high-energy of Chapel Hill pianist Betty Hanson.
At 13, after Mrs. Kahn presented me in a solo recital, I was accepted for study by Loren Withers, head of the music department at Duke University. Not wanting to practice four hours a day like my idol Yoko Nazaki, and despite Mr. Withers' great enthusiasm for my strong back and shoulders, I soon discontinued private lessons. I was the oldest of four daughters born within five years and when I was 15, my mother remarried and moved us all to Hawaii! What a wonderful world of new culture I landed in to finish growing up!
At 17, I returned to piano study as a music major at Mills College in Oakland, California. After college I returned to Hawaii, then relocated and got married in Alaska, living in Anchorage and Homer, for two glorious years in the far north. Moving back to Hawaii, I lived five years without a TV. I remember one afternoon practicing for an band audition. I was belting Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Pat Benetar) with my practice PA. When I stopped singing, I heard a round of applause from invisible neighbors. I lived in an old plantation-style cottage, and the single-wall construction and dense lush tropical foliage was no volume barrier and I'm glad my neighbors were not disturbed and sent me their aloha. That same year, I experienced one of the grandest days of my life when my love of piano and modern poetry came together on Oneawa Street in Kailua, when I wrote my first song with words. I became a songwriter in the land of aloha, blessed by the long music heritage alive and well in the islands.[Photo 3 is me on the grass in Ala Moana Park, Honolulu.]
A few years later, I moved to LA and was privileged to study songwriting with Jack Segal (SGA Hollywood), notation with jazz pianist Paul Conrad of Honolulu, and voice with Janet B. White and Bonnie Fink of San Diego. My favorite music teacher of all is the inspiring pianist—and music personified—Rinna Livshin, from Odesa and Moscow, who teaches in San Diego.
I wrote the modern piano ragtime piece "Miss Hattie Moran's Augusta Georgia Rag" in honor of my great-aunt, Hattie Dermott Moran (1891-1951) of Augusta, Georgia [Photo 4], a stride pianist and vocalist who performed regularly for the Lion's Club, The Exchange Club of Augusta, local theatre, and for St. John's Methodist Church for more than 30 years.
In 2006, I was selected one of six finalists in the compo10.com International Blues Songwriting Competition and flown to Finland for the finals performance at the Backass Jazz Festival in Vantaa. I didn't win, but was thrilled again by the far north and my comrades in blues. I visited Fiskars Village, and the Sibelius Monument and the rock church (Temppeliaukio) in Helsinki, enjoyed Kiasma, and seeing the city from the Gulf of Finland. (In 2019, I discovered I am a descendant of 13 generations of Finns!) Before we had to say goodbye, we sang the blues, smoked cigars, and drank some damn fine Irish whiskey.
My music has been licensed by PBS, the Oxygen Network, and independent film. And as much as I love writing melody, much to my surprise I won prize money for lyrics (Pop/Soul/R&B). I am grateful every day for the joy of music expression that I inherited from the my music-loving Momma, my Aunt Hattie, and great-aunt Hattie Moran. I have lived to see my first royalty check, and happy that my future checks will not all be posthumous. You can read my words without music lurking at Camroc Press Review, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Haggard & Halloo, as well as on my blog, writingwithoutahelmet.com.
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Currently, Hattie lives in New England [Photo 5]with her son Evan and her cat Louie where she continues to bare her southern soul in gospel-flavored country and blues, and instrumental music for media.