It was a packed house Saturday night as people gathered to see an acoustic performance by Claudia Lennear, a musical pioneer and soul singer, at the Historic Garner House in Claremont.
Lennear worked professionally with many producers and artists during the 1970s, and performed and recorded the background vocals for artists ranging from Ike and Tina Turner, to The Rolling Stones and Elton John.
The audience members embraced her warmth and fun energy as they listened to her tell stories of her experiences as a backup singer. Everyone seemed to enjoy her set as they hummed along whether they were sitting on couches, on the floor or standing in the hallway.
Lennear dedicated her show to her best friend, David Bowie, and explained what meeting him was like for the first time.
“I was at a dinner party, and this guy behind me bumped into me,” Lennear said.
“When I turned around I was stunned because this guy was wearing the same dress as me!”
Lennear reminisced on her and Bowie’s friendship, and was inspired by the way he lived life.
“Some people are just here to express themselves, some hold it back, but he never did,” Lennear said.
Lennear and her guitarist, Glenn Kishi, have been performing together for the past four years.
“When you play with Claudia, it’s always really fun. As a background guy, you have to be on your toes because she can take you anywhere,” Kishi said, laughing.
One of the songs Lennear preformed was “Bird on the Wire” by Leonard Cohen. She invited an audience member to join in and sing with her, Deborah Groening-Rother, from Venice Beach.
“I was so lucky, it was amazing,” said Groening-Rother.
Groening-Rother first met Lennear a few years ago at a party in Groening-Rother’s backyard.
“I told her I love to sing and she said, ‘We should sing together some time!’ That was a few years ago,” said Groening-Rother. “Claudia emailed me about an opportunity to sing here tonight, and I said yes. I figured at some point in life you just need to say yes.”
Accompanying the performance was also a photography exhibit in the Ginger Elliott Center of some of the first pictures Lennear had taken of herself by photographer Norman Seeff in 1970.
Instead of traditional captions, the photographs were accompanied by song lyrics Lennear sang with other artists. Lennear and David Shearer, the exhibit curator, worked together to plan which photographs went with which song.
“It was interesting for me to look at the photography accompanied with the music,” said Shearer. “Now Norman Seeff is pretty famous, but this is one of the first shoots he did.”
Lennear met Shearer unintentionally at another exhibit he curated in the Ginger Elliott Center.
After meeting Shearer, Lennear got the idea to have her own event, and approached him to help her ideas come to life.
“I don’t know if my guardian angel is not on a coffee break, but things just kind of all fell in place,” said Lennear, as she admired the photographs on the wall.
“It’s the story of my life.”
Savannah Dingman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.