A n n e... H i l l s
Born in Moradabad, India, to educational missionary parents, Anne Hills has literally and figuratively come a long way to arrive at her current status as an adventurous and creative talent in numerous artistic fields and as a committed social activist. Perhaps her birth in a different time zone has enabled Anne to pack more activities into a 24-hour day than the rest of us. . .
Anne’s musical spark was first kindled as a student at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where she was raised. On hearing an album by future collaborator Tom Paxton, Anne discovered “that it was possible to do what was done in theater and speeches in just one four-minute song . . . That a writer could change the world for the listener and change their political point of view from a personal place.” Anne soon formed a folk trio at the school and served as female vocalist with the Interlochen’s Big Band, which turned out future jazz greats Peter Erskine (still one of Anne’s musical associates), Bob Mintzer and Chris Brubeck.
She moved to Chicago’s fertile folk scene in 1976 and co-founded the folklore center Hogeye Music, still a force in the area’s music scene. Her first three records, 1982’s The Panic is On (with Jan Burda, produced by Bob Gibson), 1984's I Don’t Explain, and the “Chicago Folk” Christmas album, On This Day Earth Shall Ring, were released on her own Hogeye Records label. By 1983, she had joined forces with folk luminaries Tom Paxton and Bob Gibson to tour as a trio for 18 months while developing her own style of songwriting and performing. Although no studio recordings were made, a 1985 live set by Paxton, Gibson and Hills was released as Best of Friends in 2004 by Appleseed Recordings.
Shortly after the release of her second solo album in 1987, Anne began her occasional but very fruitful musical partnership with Cindy Mangsen and Priscilla Herdman, which has led to three trio albums, two duo albums with Mangsen, guest appearances on each other’s recordings, and membership in Fourtold, a folk supergroup comprising Hills, Mangsen, Steve Gillette and Michael Smith, which recorded an eponymous CD of story-songs for Appleseed in 2003. Hills and Smith recorded their own duo album in 1999, Paradise Lost and Found, and Anne’s 1993 album, October Child, featured all Smith-penned songs and reunited her with former classmate and noted jazz drummer Peter Erskine, who produced the record.
In 1998, Anne released Bittersweet Street, her fifth solo release and the second (after 1995’s Angle of the Light) to highlight her own compositions. By this time, Anne was reaping the full acclaim that her talents as a singer and songwriter deserved. Already the recipient of the Kerrville Music Foundation’s Outstanding Female Vocalist of the Year Award in 1997, Anne was bestowed with a Parent’s Choice Award for her 1998 duet children’s album with Cindy Mangsen, Never Grow Old. Subsequent musical honors, aside from an ever-growing popular and critical following, include a Washington Area Music Award (a “Wammie”) for her much-anticipated duo album of socially conscious contemporary folk songs with mentor Tom Paxton, 2001’s Under American Skies on Appleseed. In 2002 she received the World Folk Music Associations’s Kate Wolf Memorial Award.
Anne’s latest recording, The Things I Notice Now: Anne Hills Sings the Songs of Tom Paxton , was created as a 75th birthday present for her friend, mentor, recurrent collaborator, and fellow Appleseed artist Paxton, born in 1937 on Halloween. The CD includes three duets by Anne and Tom, as well as a new Paxton song co-written with Geoff Bartley, “Redemption Day.”
Despite her busy touring and recording schedule, Anne has long explored other avenues of creative expression. In 1997, she turned her song “Dreamcatcher” into a children’s book, illustrated by Michigan artist Liz Paxson. As a poet, her work was recognized with a Second Place in the Atlanta Review’s 1999 International Poetry Contest. As a writer, she received a 2005 Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts Project Stream grant award (for the 2007 premiere of her theatrical production, An Evening of James Whitcomb Riley), and received the same grant the following year for her premiere of The Heartsongs of Opal Whiteley. These ambitious projects, which respectively set poems by the Victorian-era “Hoosier poet” Riley and the childhood journals of naturalist Opal Whiteley to music, became Beauty Attends: The Heartsongs of Opal Whiteley and Ef You Don’t Watch Out!: Anne Hills Sings the Poems of James Whitcomb Riley, Anne’s two previous CDs.
Throughout her career, Anne has taken time to do occasional theater projects such as Quilters (Buffalo’s Studio Arena and Chicago’s Northlight, 1985-86), The Courtship of Carl Sandburg with Bob Gibson (in 1984 at Chicago’s Apollo and Northlight and Lansing’s Boarshead) and co-writing the music with Jay Ansill for, as well as performing in, Lovers (Philadelphia’s Arden Theater 1995), Scarlet Confessions (Victory Gardens Theater July 2002) and The Heartsongs of Opal Whiteley (a multi-media production) at The Maureen Stapleton Theater in Troy, NY, in September 2007.
In her “day job” as a social worker (when she’s not touring or performing), Anne has received a Polizzi Award for Dedication and Service in the Field of Social Work, and a Master’s Degree in Social Work with honors.
Anne Hills can also be heard performing “I Come and Stand at Every Door” on our Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger set; she joins Pete Seeger on “Flowers of Peace” and Seeger, Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, and Steve Earle on “Bring Them Home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam)” on Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3 (with the latter song also appearing on Sowing the Seeds – The 10th Anniversary; and the Paxton/Hills/Gibson version of “Bottle of Wine” from their Best of Friends CD also appears on Christine Lavin & Friends’ One Meat Ball.