As pandemic-related quarantine keeps most music venues shuttered for now, one of Atlanta’s most-loved singers is coming home. At least virtually. On Tuesday night at 8 pm, blues vocalist Francine Reed steps back onto stage for the first time in six months via a one-hour streaming show broadcast from Phoenix, her current hometown.
Technically speaking, the stage will be the floor of Phoenix pianist Nicole Pesce’s home, where the Sept. 22 streaming concert will beam out from the artist’s website.
“I turned 73 this year so you know I had to be talked into this, baby!” said Reed Thursday. “But I’m forever grateful to these girls for making this happen. They kept after me until I said yes to doing this in the electronic world. See, I’m so old I call online the electronic world!”
Over the past year in Phoenix, Reed says she’s gotten to know Pesce and singer Renee Grant Patrick (who perform together in Phoenix along with violinist Suzanne Lansford as the musical trio We3), “playing cards and drinking wine together.”
Reed says since she moved back to Phoenix in 2016 she had been hearing about Pesce, “this child prodigy pianist who could play anything” but with logging so many months on the road, she didn’t have a chance to catch Pesce perform until 2019.
“Aside from being a phenomenal player, Nicole is also one of the nicest people in the world,” marvels Reed. “Those two things don’t go together real often!” Rounding out the ensemble is Phoenix drummer Dowell Davis, who has performed with Reed on multiple occasions in Phoenix. “They told me, ‘Pick whoever you want to perform with.’ They let me have my way and you know how much I like that.”
This week, the singer and the band had a final rehearsal for the streaming set and Atlantans can expect to hear Reed standards, including “Trouble in Mind” and “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” along with a few musical surprises. Reed has even talked her singing sibling Michael Reed into performing.
“He’s going to sing [Louis Armstrong’s] ‘What a Wonderful World’ which is my favorite song that Michael performs,” she says. But unlike his baby sister, Michael did not have to be coaxed into showing up for the streaming concert. “No, no, no, baby,” laughs Francine. “With Michael, all you have to ask is, ‘Would you like to sing?’ and he immediately asks ‘When?’”
For Reed, Tuesday night’s streaming show follows a long six months spent away from a microphone. For close to three decades now, Reed has spent most every summer on national tour with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. “I’m used to spending my birthday on tour but this year Lyle called me on my birthday,” she says. “It was wonderful to hear his voice. I’m glad he’s been able to be home this summer with his family.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the singer says she’s been keeping safe at home, catching up on her favorite TV shows and knitting afghans for loved ones this summer. Says Reed: “I’m averaging one a month so I’ve been doing that, cooking for family and friends and cutting out lots of recipes from Southern Living.”
This was my first summer living in Phoenix. We had a week straight of 110-plus degree days. No thank you. You know Francine has some serious air conditioning, baby. That air is rocking.”
Via phone and emails with her Large Band mates, Reed has also mourned the loss of fellow longtime Large Band vocalist Sweet Pea Atkinson (also a member of Was (Not Was), who died in May at age 74. “I think of him often,” says Reed. “We’ve all lost people in these six months but Sweet Pea was a real special guy. He was just a mean ole sweet guy. And God bless him, that man could sing.” Along with her family, Reed has also been privately mourning the loss of her son, Dana, who died this year prior to the pandemic.
With all of her traditional holiday gigs back in Atlanta now scrapped for 2020, Reed says she’s looking forward to reconnecting with fans in her adopted hometown, even if it’s electronically.
“I’ll be safe and socially distanced in a room with just a few friends, a giant piano and some marvelous musicians and hopefully some folks watching at home,” says Reed. “This is my very first streaming concert and it might be my last but I sure am grateful. This is the longest I’ve ever gone not performing. I sing but I haven’t performed. I’ll be showing out next Tuesday!”
Singer Francine Reed with perform with pianist Nicole Pesce, drummer Dowell Davis and brother, vocalist Michael Reed Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 8 pm EST (5 pm MST) via a streaming concert on Pesce’s website.
Follow updates about the show, via the concert’s Facebook event page.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.