Biography - Jane Olivor Tribute

Jane Olivor Tribute

On stage and on CD, Jane Olivor’s emotional power and her ability to strip down songs to their essential elements and make them undeniably her own have earned her rave reviews throughout her career.

The Detroit Free Press observed, “Love-ins, it turns out, were not exclusively a phenomenon of the ‘60s. An artist of Olivor’s gifts is rare. The response she evokes, like Garland’s, comes from an honest poignancy of delivery and dedication to her songs.” The Toronto Star said she “sings about the vulnerabilities of life with a deep emotion that permeates her whole body.” The Los Angeles Times praised her “extraordinary abilities” as a singer: “What tears she can flow and what jubilation she can deliver.”

Jane Olivor was born May 18, 1947 in Brooklyn, New York. “From the age of five,” she remembers, “I wanted to do something individualistic, and I needed and wanted to be somewhat famous. But I really didn’t know what to do. Singing was the last thing I ever wanted to do.”

Jane studied piano as a youngster, but an accident destroyed any chances of a career in classical music. “I loved the piano and I was very good, but an accident curtailed my life as a pianist,” she explains. “My right hand went through a glass window. The accident was very bad. There was pain, both physical and emotional.”

Performin Pretty Girl on Piano

When the folk revival began, Jane fell instantly in love with folk music and the singers who defined it: Joan Baez, Judy Collins, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary and Phil Ochs. At the Rhodes School in Manhattan, she attempted to join a folk group but was turned down because it was all male, no girls allowed. Undaunted, she persisted in her request and wouldn’t give up until the group accepted her into the Riverside Quartet. “No, you’ve never heard of them!” she says. “But I loved the music, the harmony and the guitars.”

After high school, Jane married for what seemed like a “blink.” She worked a variety of jobs – including selling scarves at Bonwit Teller and as a secretary at Esquire magazine where she used an Olivetti typewriter (reportedly the inspiration for her last name). Her quick divorce led to her decision that singing was her incentive to keep going. And sing she did, at the fountain in Washington Square, in the cattle calls of showcase nightclubs (no pay but lots of practice  and a tough and unforgiving proving ground for New York talent) and finally on the cabaret circuit.

 “I would have been a folk singer, but by the time I started singing, that sweet, pure genre had just about disappeared, along with places to sing it,” she recalls. “On every album, I’ve recorded at least one folk song, except for the first, First Night. Eventually, I began singing in cabaret.”

She scraped together $300 to record a demo record. “There was just enough money to make a bad demo; it was a real big-scale production with a piano and cheap mike,” she laughs. “But it turned out to be lucky for me because going back into the studio, looking for some free recording time, I met Jeremy Stone.” Stone, a pianist, proved to be the perfect accompanist for Jane.

At Carnegie Hall

By March of 1974, she was singing at Reno Sweeney, a posh club. There she met Jason Darrow, who found new songs to expand her set and helped to bring out every ounce of emotion in every song she sang.

Columbia Records and the William Morris Agency soon came calling and she was on her way. Dozens of television appearances, including the Merv Griffin Show and the Tonight Show, accompanied her rise to stardom.

Her debut at Carnegie Hall sold out within two hours and she lovingly remembers that her dressing room “looked and smelled like a florist shop.” That was followed by sold-out dates at Avery Fisher Hall, the Greek Theater, the Kennedy Center, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Olympia in Paris.

A career highlight was her appearance on the 1979 Academy Awards where she and Johnny Mathis performed their Best Song nominated hit, “The Last Time I Felt Like This,” written by “the three masters - Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch.”

Jane released five top-selling albums on Columbia Records, including her First Night debut, which was named Album of the Year by Stereo Review in 1976. First Night was followed by Chasing Rainbows, the best-selling Stay the Night, The Best Side of Goodbye and her first live album, In Concert, which showcased Olivor’s song-writing abilities. A legion of devoted fans attended hundreds of concerts where her combination of folk, pop and diverse ballads evoked thunderous applause from audiences and critics alike.

There were more rave reviews, more concerts, more standing ovations…and then she vanished. Everyone wondered, “Where?” and “Why?”

Because it all came too fast for Jane Olivor, who felt undeserving of the adulation.

During her rapid rise to fame, she struggled with debilitating stage fright and the pressures of new-found stardom. “I was afraid I would forget the words. I would get frantic eight hours before a show,” Olivor recalls.

Unprepared for overnight success, she felt overwhelmed and full of anxiety. “I’m a person who strongly believes in one step at a time, in garnering your experiences and using them as a springboard. This makes sense to me. I was shot out of a cannon and told to be a star. My training was a year of cabaret, and then right into Carnegie Hall. No one can build a life or career that way,” she believes. ”And I didn’t even do drugs! I went onstage with a coffee high.”

In 1983, she decided to take time off from performing. She married a New York psychiatrist and author of several self-help books. What started as a brief hiatus turned into a seven-year absence when her husband was diagnosed with cancer just six months after their wedding. After his death, she became what one journalist referred to as “the Amelia Earhart of pop music.”

Last Time sheet music

That all began to change in the early 1990s with brief concert appearances. Her fans, though mystified by her absence, remained intensely loyal and greeted her return with incredible enthusiasm. Reported Cashbox: “Fans bought up every seat in the house to greet their long-lost heroine with four standing ovations. In return, Ms. Olivor treated her fans to a show worth every second of their wait…No singer has ever fused the conflicting emotions of the whisper and the scream so successfully.” The New York Times observed, “Olivor’s voice was as flexible and emotionally impactful as earlier in her career…Olivor is far too talented an artist to allow her stage apprehensions to intrude – as they reportedly have done in the past – with her career.” Jane thrilled her fans in 2000 by releasing Love Decides, her first recording in 18 years. In 2001, she followed it with her personal tribute to the holiday season, Songs of the Season.

In 2004, with her voice in great form and her spirits bright, she released Safe Return, an intimate live performance recorded at Boston’s Berklee Performing Arts Center, where she recorded her first concert album in 1981. Safe Return was simultaneously released in both video DVD and audio CD, shining a bright spotlight on her for a new generation of music lovers.

Capitalizing on her success, Sony released The Best of Jane Olivor that same year. It’s the first Jane Olivor CD to include “The Last Time I Felt Like This” duet with Johnny Mathis.

For the next few years, Jane Olivor continued to bring her special musical magic to audiences and concert venues across the country. Her last concert to date was at Berklee in Boston on December 20, 2008.

Only Jane Olivor knows if she will ever perform again. But what wonderful memories she has left her fans!

Speaking of her enduring relationship with her fans, she has said, “I realized, while I was gone, how much I missed my audience’s faces – that look in their eyes. Now, when I’m up there, I really have that sense again of that spiritual thing that exists between an audience and a singer, when they’re pouring their love out to each other.”