AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KATHLEEN GERRITY: “The White Woman That Sings Gospel In Yoruba.”
KATHLEEN GERRITY, aka, “The White Woman That Sings Gospel In Yoruba.”
NFC: Hello, ma'am.
Kathleen Gerrity: Hello. How are you today?
NFC: Fine. Thank you, for this wonderful opportunity.
Kathleen Gerrity: You're welcome. But, thank you.
NFC: Can you please tell us your full names, place of birth, and place of abode?
Kathleen Gerrity: My full names are Kathleen Gerrity; people call me “Kathy” for short. I was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA. I now reside in Baltimore County, Maryland, USA.
NFC: Growing up in Harrisburg, what was your earliest memory?
Kathleen Gerrity: Well, I actually have a few, all of which are fun and exciting to remember. I was brought up fine with fanfares and whatnots – I wouldn't call myself a “silver spoon,” however, growing up, I had everything I always wanted. When my biological father, James E. Gerrity, was still alive he had a small airplane, which was parked in our backyard. I remember that he was always working on it while I was with him in the cockpit. I also remember that a neighbor of ours happened to be very good friends with my parents – together, we all visited a local lake to swim and picnic, which were fun and all that. After the death of my father and my mother remarried, the fun and good times continued with my stepfather, Bill Fisher, a very popular and successful musician. I remember how the whole family went boating during the week on the Susquehanna River and picnicked either in the boat or on one of the islands. Often we would take the boat to the Ocean to go crabbing or up on the mountains to Lake Wallenpaupac in the Poconos to go water skiing. We also went camping in tents and, later, over the years, in campers. We enjoyed these outdoor adventures, so much so that my parents eventually purchased a small property in the Pocono Mountains and put a small mobile home on it. That way the entire family with their families could hang out together whenever there were enough rooms left in it. (Laughs)
NFC: Who had the greatest influence on you, as a child?
Kathleen Gerrity: That was definitely my dad, Bill Fisher. He always had the time to listen and guide. He was the type of man who truly knew how to listen. One of the biggest lessons I learned just by watching him over the years was how to be humble. You see, he was a very good and successful guitar player. He played professionally from the age of 15 until his death at the age of 78. He was so popular to the extent that many people just wanted to have the opportunity to play music with him. Although, most of these folks clamoring to share in the limelight with him were not were not very proficient at it, my stepfather had a way of making them feel good and more important about themselves. He would carry them on and make them sound good while he tactfully and somehow melted into the background, leaving both the stage and glory of the limelight to those individuals. To me, that was really a fantastic gift! I believe, through him, I might have developed my own special gift – because, unlike most folks, I always harbor these feelings of wanting to help the less fortunate to live their hopes and realize their dreams!
NFC: Many people still remember their first day of school, do you?
Kathleen Gerrity: Well, not really. What I do remember is getting the polio vaccine and an eye exam prior to starting first grade. Vaguely, though, I remember playing a “devil” during that year's Halloween parade. I guess nothing else made an impression.
NFC: As a child, what were your happiest and saddest days?
Kathleen Gerrity: I'd have to say the happy memories were with an older daughter of my mother's friend a few blocks away. I remember her being a magician! I also loved her dog, Bridget, a large collie. I think that is why I am drawn to Shelties. Also, I had a friend down the street whose name was Shirley. Playing with her always meant a good time. As far as saddest days, there was only one. That was when my father died. Because I was a kid, I really didn't have any ideas about what had happened. I remember the ambulance came to the house. It was the old car style with a flashing red light on top! These men in some uniforms or dungarees came in the house, went upstairs and came down, wearing a somber look, with a big black bag on the stretcher. I remember I wanted to ride in that car with the flashing red light but was not allowed. I kept asking what was in the black bag, but no one would tell me. Then, not long afterwards, we went to my mother's Aunt's house and my Great Aunt, Leona, told me that my dad was never coming back again! I still didn't have a clue about what she just said. I asked myself: “Why won't my father never ever want to come back? What have I done wrong?” The next day there were a lot of people at her house, but I thought it was just a big party. I never had the opportunity for a proper closure and because of that, as a nurse and healer, I always feel drawn to stay with people who do not have family with them when they are actively dying.
NFC: As a Christian singer and a nurse, what was your first personal experience with death?
The very first time, I had been volunteering on a local ambulance and we responded to a call that a man just had a heart attack! In a jiffy, we rushed down to the scene and did everything we could do on the spot before we eventually ferried him to a local hospital. After the emergency staff at the local hospital stopped their rescue efforts and pronounced the man dead, I was devastated! I remember standing there with tears in my eyes looking around the room and saying goodbye to the man; I even asked the man to say “hello” to my dad for me when he reached heaven. Then I said a prayer for the man, asking God to please forgive the man for any bad deeds and thoughts he had in his lifetime and to give his family that he left behind peace in their time of sorrow. I stayed behind to help the nurses prepare the man, so the family could come in and say goodbye. It was very important to me that he looked his very best.
NFC: Do you believe in reincarnation or life after death?
Kathleen Gerrity: Definitely! I believe that God has a plan for us, and that this body he has given to us only lasts so long. I believe we have been placed here to complete a task. I also believe we don't always complete the task before the body wears out. In which case we come back to complete the assignment, however many time it takes. I also believe it is for our benefit that we don't necessarily remember how often we come back.
NFC: What is your own account of human existence?
Kathleen Gerrity: That we are put here on this earth for a reason. To me, as a person, I would say, we are here to worship God, to do good deeds, to prepare our souls for the final Journey to the Eternity.
NFC: What are your pet peeves?
Kathleen Gerrity: That would definitely be people who are dishonest, and take advantage of others -- people who are abusive to others! Then, there are those who see someone in need and just pass by and do not offer assistance. Oh, my good God, I can't stand those folks!
NFC: Mention your favorite singers/musicians, sports role models, film stars, and books.
Kathleen Gerrity: I love to read books about viruses, such as "The Hot Zone" by Robert Preston. It is about the Ebola virus. Film stars I enjoy watching are Carry Grant, Clark Gable, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L Jackson, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Hugh Grant, and Halle Berry. Everything they do I have loved. I am not a sports fan and I do not see any sports stars as role models. I believe role models are our parents. They endure so much for their children and don't ask anything in return except respect. My favorite musicians would have to be the Guitarist Bill Fisher (my step-father), George Benson, Earl Klugh, the Nigerian born trumpeter and jazz maestro Agboola Shadare - just to name a few. Favorite singers would be, CiCi Winans, Sade (I just love how she sings Autumn Leaves.) Natalie Cole and her father, Nat King Cole.
NFC: How was the experience of the birth of your first child like?
Kathleen Gerrity: Unfortunately for me, it was terrifying. I did not have the education that women have available to them today. I had an obstetrician that I didn't like and did not know I could change doctors then. This man in induced labor because he was going on a golfing vacation and when I was awoke from the general anesthesia, I heard a woman in recover screaming because something had happened to her baby. When I was given my daughter, Dana, the only thing I was concerned about was if all her parts were intact. I look back at that now and laugh. I still think back, and like all parents, she was the most beautiful baby there ever was. Sadly, though, barely nine months later, I learned she had Cerebral Palsy. I was devastated to say the least! She was lucky, though, it only affected her left side and she has since gone on to receiving her bachelor's degree in Social Work. Her ambition is to help others like her lead productive lives in society. Even though that was a terrifying experience, God intervened and I went on to have three more daughters, two of whom are fraternal twins. My second daughter, Karen, studied radiology and ultrasonography; she passed all her national exams for ultrasonography in flying colors. While she currently sells ultrasound equipment, she continues her education in healthcare administration. She recently was married to a wonderful man, who studied psychology and is a counselor, and a good one at that. My in-law is also a very bright author, who has co-written a book with his business partner.
NFC: If you didn't sing or work as a nurse, what else would you have done?
Kathleen Gerrity: I believe I would have been a teacher. I remember, as a child, putting my dolls and stuffed animals in the chair and teaching them what I learned in school. I think some of that remains because my co-workers often say, "if you want to learn something go to Kathy, she can go into detail so you really understand the answer to your question." If not that then I think I would have done something with dogs. My step dad always said that he never saw anyone so good with dogs.
NFC: We know you are religious, but are you also political? Why or why not?
Kathleen Gerrity: No, I am definitely not political in any way. I never liked politics. I believe it is a game people play, and I am not a game player. You see, my zodiac sign is Virgo, and I am a Virgo all the way. I can be a perfectionist about some things, and have absolutely no tolerance for other things. I will tell you exactly what I think, and depending upon what your answer is, I just might change my mind based on the new information. I avoid political games, as much as possible.
NFC: As a professional nurse, what do you like most about your job? What do you like least?
Kathleen Gerrity: I like the every day challenge my job poses: What's going to happen next? Will I be able to keep my composure to guide my members of staff, who almost always get caught up in the excitement of an emergency situation? The only thing that I can honestly say that I don't like about my job is the petty arguments between the staff members.
NFC: In 2009 you made your first trip to Africa, what was the experience like?
Kathleen Gerrity: Oh my, that was the most wonderful experience in my life. I met so many nice people. There was, honestly, not one person who was not nice, helpful, or interesting. I was there for 18 days and had so many wonderful experiences such as shopping in the open-air markets, various types of transportation; I had so much fun with the different cabs. My favorite was the three-wheeled vehicle called “keke Marwa.” So many wonderful people offered to drive me to the many placed I visited, and I was so grateful to have had them. The foods were so good. The woman that I stayed with was a fabulous cook! I loved the Yoruba foods! Everyday I was given something different. To this day, I often go to the African markets close to my home. But, unfortunately, I can't compare my own cooking skills to those of the Nigerian/Yoruba people I had met.
NFC: If the opportunity presents itself would you love to visit Nigeria again? And why?
Kathleen Gerrity: Oh, let me tell you, I would go back in a heartbeat. First of all, there is something about Nigeria that makes me feel at home. The people are like one big family. They help one another. They work very hard. They value their education and strive to continuously improve. They are willing to share what ever they have; those Yoruba folks are warm and unassuming and truly believe in the power of prayer.
NFC: As a White American lady, what inspired your love for the Yoruba language?
Kathleen Gerrity: It all had to do with the music. The words just sound so beautiful when sung in the Yoruba language, and for some reason, I feel closer to God when I sing in that language of Yoruba! I don't have the same feelings when I sing gospel songs in English. When I have been asked this same question, every so often, other folks tell me that they feel the same way.
NFC: Aside from singing in Yoruba, would you love to explore further the rich heritage of the Yoruba people? Why?
Kathleen Gerrity: Definitely! There is so much to learn and, yes, I would read about it, but honestly, I get so much more out of learning from the native people. They are able to bring it to life where written words can't. I also find that they love to tell me about their country and its people.
NFC: Tell us about your new album, the record company you are now with, and your music partner.
Kathleen Gerrity: The album is a collection of the songs my partner, Idowu Bamisaye, aka, “ID Noble,” taught me during our first year together. I chose the name of the album, "Believe It Or Not" because, so often, when we would perform, people didn't believe it was actually I (an older white woman) singing. They thought I was lip-syncing and was doing a very good job at it. Then they realized I was singing live and they were amazed. When I was in Nigeria, many record labels showed interest and wanted to sign me on; I met with many A & R executives and record marketers in Nigeria including Bayowa Records. I was even in the studios with Gbenga Adewusi himself and we took many pictures together. But, as a very pragmatic individual, I never rush into doing things. I told them all that I would go back to the United States to clear my head and give them a call back. I was still doing my homework as to which of these companies to go with when (Bingo!) I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Mr. Tajudeen Bioku of NPC Records. What happened was: my partner, Idowu Bamisaye, was introduced to Mr. Bioku through an acquaintance of his and he picked up the album. We have a great relationship with NPC; they double as both our record label and management outfit. We signed a three-record deal with them, and they oversee our engagements, bookings, and tour/concerts. NPC's A&R Department is wonderful; they are a professional record label. We'll soon embark on an international tour of Africa and Europe to promote our new album. Mr. Bioku tells us what he plans to do and he keeps us up-to-date with his follow-through. We couldn't have asked for a better label! Mr. Tajudeen Bioku is a man of his word; to me, that says it all. My music partner, Idowu Bamisaye, has been a great teacher of the music and songs. He demands perfection from me in the pronunciation of the Yoruba words, and I try my very best to produce that. I know that I don't always say the words like the native people, and that brings out some laughter, however, that never bothers me. In fact it gives me great joy to see people laugh and I laugh right along with them. Also, I have a helper in Mr. Tajudeen Bioku, as he stands by me and chides Idowu and others who laugh at my Yoruba pronunciation. Mr. Bioku always asks them if they too can pronounce the English words and sentences better than me. And, we will all laugh away at that – it's fun to be around those wonderful Nigerian folks. I like them a lot!
NFC: We heard you are starting a charity, or an NGO in Nigeria, tell us about it.
Kathleen Gerrity: When we first started performing together, I thought it would be only right to give back to the Yoruba people who have given so much to me. I had a couple of ideas of how to help someone but they just didn't seem like it was enough, and it only affected one person at a time. I wanted to find a way to serve a multitude of people. Then, when I was in Nigeria and I saw the people in the markets and learned about the farmers. It was then that I decided to help the farmers. I took a long look at those peasant farmers and their wives; some of them looked feeble and gaunt. Instead of them to feed their family with their crops they go to the markets and sell them for peanuts while the market buyers in turn resell to the consumers at a very expensive rate; some of these market sellers even go to the extent of hoarding the foods thereby creating a food scarcity! I think they refer to those farmers as “subsistent farmers” – and never large scale farmers as we have in the United States. Here, in the States, farmers are multimillionaires and well respected. But, alas! The reverse is the reaction for the Nigerian farmers and all over the Continent of Africa. In Nigeria, those farmers are looked contemptuously down on – they are referred to as “awon agbe lasan lasan” – meaning those bloody and ordinary farmers! And I'm talking with a corrosive aversion! Whereas, here in America and other developed nations farmers are treated like the royalty. In Nigeria, everyone wants to live in the cities like Lagos, Ibadan, and Abuja. Those who live in the countryside are termed as “ara oko” – the bush people/the uncultured, whereas, here in the USA, the super rich can only afford to live in the suburbs or countryside. When you travel through the America's countryside and see vastly trimmed farmlands or landscapes and beautiful farmhouses you will love to engage in farming as a trade! I felt so sorry for the farmers of Africa especially the Nigerian farmers and their families that life is not been fair to them! That's why, upon my record having been picked up by his company, I told Mr. Tajudeen Bioku that I would like to apportion part of the profit from the record to start a Fund or Trust or some micro-finance house in Lagos or Ibadan for the poor farmers in Nigeria. I think it just felt right that some of the profit will be going to help the farmers and their families, so I hope everyone will buy the CD and help me to give back to these wonderful people.
NFC: Do you believe that folks are generally and naturally evil or good?
Kathleen Gerrity: Yes I do. For the most part, I believe the majority of people are good. Sometimes we just don't like something they did or said, but overall they are a good person. Then there are a few who are just evil and no good. They don't want to change, and they seem to do everything they can to do wrong toward human kind and animals alike.
NFC: Can you describe yourself in one word?
Kathleen Gerrity: Caring.
NFC: What would you like to be remembered as?
Kathleen Gerrity: I would like to be remembered as a nice, humble person who cared and tried/wanted to make a difference in someone's life.
NFC: Thanks, for your time; it's been wonderful talking with you.
Kathleen Gerrity: Anytime; so long.