Sing Out! and Texas’s Next State Musician, Activist Sara Hickman

April 13, 2010
By Donna W. Hill

Songwriter Sara Hickman blends music and community activism. She discusses Sing Out! magazine and the recession’s impact on the folk music community

Since winning a Daughters of the American Revolution award for her first song at age eight, Sara Hickman has never doubted that she would always make music. Decades later with many albums and awards, she brings a community activism sensibility to her work. Sara, who replaces Willie Nelson as the Official State Musician of Texas in May, spoke to Suite 101 about her journey and Sing Out! Magazine.

Singer-songwriter and Community Activist

"I’ve been through the ringer in this industry," Hickman says, "and I’ve felt on top, too. It’s a pendulum. I’ve tried to stay focused on what my music can accomplish and bring to my audiences more so than what kind of income I’m making."

What Hickman’s music has accomplished is astonishing. Beyond the enjoyment of her beautiful voice, her well-crafted and insightful songs and her musicianship, she has such a loyal fan base that, when Electra stopped promoting her album, her fans helped raise $50,000 to buy it back. She uses her music as a platform for promoting social causes as diverse as breast cancer research and defeating Texas’s death penalty.

"I like making a difference in my community," Sara explains, "and making people feel and think through my songs."

Hickman received the 2000 Humana Women Helping Women award for her contributions to charities such as Habitat for Humanity, the SPCA and the Race for the Cure. Through her first self-released children’s album, Newborn, Sara donated over $50,000 to the Hill Country Youth Ranch (aiding abused and neglected children) and to the Mautner Project in Washington, DC (helping lesbians with cancer).

Hard Times Hit Folk Music Community

The daughter of a painting professor and a fiber artist, Hickman (47, Austin), grew up in Houston. She is a musician, singer-songwriter, producer & "creative elf." Originally with labels like Windham Hill and Elektra, she now has her own label, Sleeveless. Twice a guest on The Tonight Show, she recalls "enjoying VH-1 back when it was onto something special: the music."

The recession has had its impact on the folk music community. Clubs have folded and those still open are paying less. Sara, whose music career is the sole support of her family, says she often makes more selling merchandise than the clubs pay. 15% goes to her booking agency. She doesn’t begrudge them that, but admits that things are tight.

"It is scary, when I have a family at home, depending on me," says Sara, who has two daughters (9 and 13), "We scrape by every month. We have so much laughter and joy in our house. I don’t miss the money, just the security that my kids will be ok, we won’t lose our home. So, I live on faith that things will turn around, the arts will become an important aspect of every day life, and venues like theatres and clubs will have an upswing and respond in kind with the artists’ contracts."

From recording commercials for Southwest Airlines and Fannie Mae to creating artwork for other musicians, Sara Hickman is a versatile artist and businesswoman. Her new album, Absence of Blame, comes out this spring. In 2007, Sara and business partner Alan Luecke founded SUPER PAL UNIVERSE, a teen rock band that creates "pop driven activism". Despite her many hats, Sara spends most of her time with her children. She enjoys painting, bowling, gardening and hanging out with her husband.

Sing Out!

With Sara’s zeal for activism and her acoustic folk music roots, it’s no surprise that she connected with Sing Out! The nonprofit includes the quarterly magazine, a publicly available multi-media resource center and an online store of recordings and books. The songs range from traditional folk, blues and ethnic music to contemporary songwriters like Sara. The magazine features lead sheets and a CD. Sing Out! celebrates its 60th anniversary starting May, 2010.

"I LOVE Sing Out!," says Sara, "They had my music in there, and it was so cool to see the song in sheet form for others to learn."

The song, "Joy," is about a homeless woman Sara befriended. It also became the first video she produced, directed, and shot, winning first place in the 1993 USA Film Festival.

"I hope," says Hickman, "that Sing Out! continues to support the songwriting community for 600 more years, because it is such a vital form of communication. It’s the heart and soul of the world’s songwriting community. Sing Out! brings people together with songs of wisdom and grace. God bless them!!!"

Latest Projects

As Texas’s Official State Musician, Sara is promoting family creativity. With slashes to arts and music programs, she plans to put CDs in the backpacks of a million Texas kids, encouraging their families to make art and music part of their lives. "I love what I do," she says, "and I’m grateful beyond words for those that recognize my music and give me an ear."

Read more at Suite101: Sing Out! and Texas’s Next State Musician, Activist Sara Hickman

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