Back in their era of the late 70s and early 80s, three people ruled the Chicago folk scene, which had (and still has) its heart at the Chicago School of Folk Music -- Steve Goodman, John Prine and Bonnie Koloc.
John Prine is probably the best-known nationally of them and still has a respectable career. Steve Goodman is the most beloved of the three, but never got near the same national attention, though had some fame as a writer and even won some Grammys for a couple of songs Outside of Chicago, Bonnie Koloc is the least-known -- but in the city her name is still held in high esteem. (And her name, I should add, is pronounced KOH-lock.)
Bonnie Koloc was sort of a Joni Mitchell -- Judy Collins -- Joan Baez type of performer, with a touch of Linda Ronstadt, though she blended blues and jazz more with her folk. She had a gorgeous, pure, clear voice that could soar and cut through a melody. She also wrote many of her songs. Oddly, though, despite all that talent and being beautiful, as well, the only thing she ever broke through nationally was one commercial for United Airlines, where she was sitting on a rock overlook, singing about the joys of flying the friendly skies, which was based in Chicago.
She almost did break through, though in an unlikely way. A theatrical producer knew of her, and offered her a supporting role, though the female lead, in a new musical he was getting ready for Broadway. However, as the story was told, she didn't consider herself an actress, and thought that appearing in a musical would have been completely wrong, so she turned it down. The musical, by the way, was Pippin, and the part eventually went to an up-and-coming actress who sang well, Jill Clayburgh. It's hard to say that turning down the role was a mistake, because if she was really a singer and couldn't act, then trying it for the first time on Broadway could have been a disaster.
She did have a couple of songs that did get at least some national attention. "Roll Me on the Water," which she wrote, and "You're Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning." But, like Steve Goodman, she deserved a great deal more. Happily, Koloc is still singing -- her website even shows an upcoming concert date in Washington, D.C. -- and is an artist and illustrator, as well.
So, for those of you who've never heard Bonnie Koloc, you're in for a treat. For those who have, I have a pretty good idea you're already smiling.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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