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  • Feb 17

    Festival du Voyageur

    Winnipeg

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Singing Winnipeg's praises

The Jets are back, and so is vocalist Jennifer Hanson

Winnipeg Free Press

By: David Sanderson
Posted: 04/14/2018

 

Fans of the previous iteration of the Winnipeg Jets will recognize vocalist Jennifer Hanson, the team's anthem singer during the 1990s. (Photos by Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

May 5, 1995: Three days after the Winnipeg Jets’ 1994-1995 strike-shortened season concluded with a 3-1 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the club held a farewell party — most called it a wake — at the Winnipeg Arena, during which an emotionally charged Ed Olczyk famously declared, "Wherever this team ends up, when this team wins the Stanley Cup... it’s coming back to Winnipeg"

One of the people in the stands that afternoon was Jennifer Hanson, who, for the last six years of its existence, was the Jets 1.0’s primary anthem singer. Like the other 15,000 people in attendance, Hanson was there to bid adieu to her favourite team. Except when a staffer spotted her in the crowd, he called out asking if she wanted to perform O Canada one last time.

(That day, nobody knew the Jets would end up having to play a final, lame-duck season in Winnipeg, before relocating to Arizona for the beginning of the 1996-97 NHL campaign.)

After responding, "of course," Hanson headed to her usual station in the bowels of the Maroons Road rink, to warm up her voice. Moments later, she was joined by a visibly shaken Barry Shenkarow, the team’s owner, and Hockey Night in Canada personality Don Cherry, who had travelled to Winnipeg to lend his support. The three shared a group hug before she headed out onto the ice surface.

"I remember trying hard not to bawl my eyes out but it was definitely tough," says Hanson, who moved back to Winnipeg last June, following a near-20 year absence from the city. "That day, I was the same as everybody else, figuring that was it... that we’d lost our team for good. Nobody could have guessed we’d be sitting here all these years later, talking about the Jets and the Stanley Cup playoffs in the same sentence."

Photos and contact sheets from Hanson’s anthem-singing days.

Two weeks ago, Hanson was in a bookstore, combing through new releases, when a man she guesses was in his mid-50s approached her and asked, "Excuse me, but are you Jennifer Hanson, who used to sing at Jets games in the old days?"

"Even though all this time has passed, it’s still the only way 99 per cent of Winnipeggers know who I am," she says with a laugh, adding that she lives here again. The other question she fields most often is whether fans can expect to see her at Bell MTS Centre any time soon, belting out the American and Canadian anthems.

"My answer is always the same: I did that already, it was joyous but it was a lifetime ago, so no. Plus Stacey (Nattrass) does an absolutely beautiful job. She understands it’s not about the singer, it’s about the song. That’s the way I always approached it, too."

Hanson, the youngest of seven siblings, was born and raised in Flin Flon. After cutting her teeth singing at church, she joined a rock band, Rampage, at the tender age of 16, which presented a bit of a problem to hotel owners hiring her and her cohorts.

"Between sets, they made me sit in the manager’s office because I wasn’t old enough to be in the bar," she says. "Our big moment came when we opened for Chilliwack, when they played the Whitney Forum, the home of the (Flin Flon) Bombers. I thought I did terribly and was backstage crying when somebody told me not to worry, that I was a good singer and should keep at it."

                                                Music is still a big part of Hanson's life in Winnipeg.                                                               She's preparing for a reunion with her old band, Jenerator. on May 11.

Hanson moved to Winnipeg in January 1987, after turning 18. To pay her rent, she worked as a cashier at Winnipeg Supply. At night, she fronted a group called Grace Face, which featured the talents of Darryl Gutheil, ex of Streetheart, and Dan Roberts, later of the Crash Test Dummies. Her second venture was a band dubbed 417, which was rechristened Jenerator, not long after Hanson signed on.    (When a reporter remarks, "Jenerator, as in Jennifer?" Hanson replies yes, but that the name-swap wasn’t her idea. "I grew up in a house where you were not allowed to be vain, so it would never have occurred to me.")

"Jenerator was crazy-busy. We played six nights a week, 48 weeks a year, and commanded between $4,000 and $6,000 per week," she says. "But our overhead was huge. We had a truck, lights, sound equipment, a sound and lighting crew... I was netting in the neighbourhood of 25 grand a year but back then, 25 grand was pretty good money for a 20-year-old."

In 1989, Hanson’s manager informed her the Jets were hosting tryouts for people interested in singing the national anthem prior to home games. She was comfortable with the idea — she and her sisters often sang O Canada before junior hockey games back in Flin Flon — so she arranged for an audition.

OK, forget about asking her what NHL contests have stuck with her the most, or which hockey stars she used to hobnob with at the dearly-departed Rorie Street Marble Club: the real question on everybody’s mind is whose idea was the form-fitting, scarlet-red cocktail dress that quickly became her calling card?

"When I got the job they said here’s some money, go buy some dresses. I assumed I knew what they wanted but I was wrong so yeah, the red dress was definitely their idea," she says, taking a sip of her coffee.

https://youtu.be/IqF8zyHcgPU

In 1994, Hanson, who by then had added a jazz repertoire to her resumé, was taking in a Jets game in a private suite when in walked "these two big, bulky muscular guys." Hanson learned they were in town doing promotional work for Q94.3 FM. After eavesdropping on a conversation the pair was having with the radio station’s morning team of Beau Fritzsche and Tom Milroy, she tapped one on the shoulder, stating, "I have to tell you... that is the worst Arnold Schwarzenegger accent I have ever heard, my entire life."

To which her target, Henrik Christophersen replied, "Actually I’m from Norway, and that’s how I talk, all the time."

The two hit it off immediately. But because Christophersen was based in Georgia, where he was training to be a commercial pilot, they maintained a long-distance relationship for the next two years, hooking up only when he visited Winnipeg, or when she appeared at nightclubs in the southern United States, with her lounge act. In 1997, Hanson learned she was pregnant. Upon hearing the news, Christophersen said, "Well, in that case, I think we should get married."

"I think it was about a week later when I called him back and said, yeah, we better (get married) or my parents are going to be pissed," she chuckles, noting their daughter Camilla was born in October 1997.

Hanson continued her touring schedule after relocating to Atlanta. But when the couple welcomed a second child to the fold in 1999, she had a decision to make. Calling herself a "full-on, attachment parent," she readily admits she couldn’t figure out how to balance motherhood with a successful singing career.

"There are lots of people who can do it but I’m not one of them," she goes on, flipping through her phone to show off a picture of her son William, now 18. "So what I ended up doing was hooking up with a couple different bands in the Atlanta area, so I could stay home and raise my kids, but continue singing at night, whenever the opportunity presented itself."

A newspaper clipping in her collection.

In 2012, Hanson started feeling the itch to return to Canada. Sure, she had been visiting family in Winnipeg and Flin Flon every summer. And yes, she had become a familiar face at the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival. But those stopovers only reinforced how much she missed living in the Great White North. (Hockey nuts will also recall Hanson was in town Oct. 22, 2016 to perform O Canada — "in a red dress more appropriate for somebody my age" — prior to the Heritage Classic alumni game, between the Jets and the Edmonton Oilers.)

"I’m Canadian and I needed to be in Winnipeg," she explains. "Living here had been my dream since the first time I came to Winnipeg at the age of 10, and saw the skyline through the window of the Sheraton Hotel, while I was jumping up and down on the bed. Atlanta never felt like home. To me, Winnipeg is my ideal city."

It turns out her son is a fan, too; not long after moving into their home in St. James, William and his mother were walking along the bank of nearby Sturgeon Creek when they realized they’d wandered onto private property. When Hanson remarked they probably shouldn’t be there and that they "were probably breaking the rules," William took her by the hand and responded, "You know what’s nice about breaking the rules in Canada, Mom? Nobody’s going to shoot us."

Since her return, Hanson has kept busy playing gigs at various spots around Winnipeg, such as the Palm Room at the Fort Garry Hotel and the Pony Corral on Grant Avenue. She’s also been booked for a fair number of corporate shows, as well as more intimate house concerts.

"I’m not doing too, too much, in my opinion, primarily because I’m still trying to figure out what’s best for me at this stage in my life," she says. "When I ask myself what a 49-year-old singer is supposed to perform, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion the answer is all the things she wants to. I still want to sing standards, but I also want to sing rock and blues. I guess what I really want is to sing whatever’s good."

On May 11, Hanson, along with the original lineup of Jenerator, will perform a 30th anniversary show at Cowboys, at the Windsor Park Inn, 1034 Elizabeth Rd. The band, which has been rehearsing for weeks, will offer up a mix of ‘80s nuggets made famous by the likes of Journey, Pat Benatar, Robert Palmer and Joan Jett, in addition to classics such as Sugarloaf’s Green Eyed Lady and the Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

"It’s going to be a party, for sure. But because of my, ahem, advanced age, and because the first set won’t start till 10 p.m. or so, I’m definitely going to have to take a nap that afternoon, if I intend to stick it out for the rest of the night."

https://youtu.be/5APhAlk9tGU

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

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OUT THERE: No shortage of R-E-S-P-E-C-T in this tribute

Winnipeg Sun

Kevin King

Published:September 13, 2018

 

FILE - This Jan. 14, 2012 file photo, shows singer Aretha Franklin performing during the BET Honors at the Warner Theatre in Washington. Franklin died Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 at her home in Detroit. She was 76.Jose Luis Magana / AP

 

When it comes to respect for the Queen of Soul, there’s no stopping at just a little bit.

Which is why there are four women who are thrilled and at least a little bit nervous about paying tribute to Aretha Franklin at Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club on Thursday.

“I’m so excited to pay homage to this singer and so intimidated at the same time I really don’t know how to handle it,” Sol James admitted.

Respect: Music in Memory of Aretha Franklin also features vocalists Jennifer Hanson, Ami Cheon, and Andrina Turenne along with an all-star backing band.

When Franklin died on Aug. 16 from advanced pancreatic cancer, she left behind nearly six decades of singular work, charting more than 100 Billboard singles, amassing 18 Grammy awards, and becoming the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

She may have been the original diva, but she was also a civil rights and women’s rights champion who sang at everything from Martin Luther King’s funeral to Barack Obama’s inauguration.

As subjective as the subject is, Franklin is simply one of the best singers, male or female, of all time.

Hanson said she’s imitated a lot of singers over her long career, but Franklin isn’t one you try to mimic.

“You just try to hang on and do your best. She had an effortless way of swinging up into the atmosphere that most people just can’t do,” she said. “She was so much a part of the fabric of my music life.”

 

Jennifer Hanson. Winnipeg Sun files

Both women recalled standout performances like the tribute to Carole King at the Kennedy Centre with (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, and stepping in at the last minute for Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammys to perform opera classic Nessun Dorma.

With her jazz background, James appreciated the level of improvisation Franklin brought to the table each and every time, and also her refusal to be limited to a particular genre.

“Oftentimes people wanted to pigeonhole you into the kind of music that you do … and I’ve always just wanted to sing the crap out of everything,” she said.

Though she didn’t write many of her biggest hits, Franklin made each song her own. The obvious example would be her signature song Respect, an altered version of an Otis Redding track she cut in 1967 that’s taken on more revelance with the current #MeToo movement, James noted.

Edmonton-based singer Ann Vriend, who will have James as her opening act at the West End Cultural Centre on Saturday, calls Franklin her vocal hero and said the lyrics on Respect have sunk in more and more over the years.

 Ann Vriend.  Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun

“It’s hard to believe for literally FIFTY YEARS Aretha has been challenging us, pleading with us, to find out what RESPECT means to each other,” she shared over social media in the days following Franklin’s death. “No one could arrange and lead and build a song to to an undeniable hair-raising catharsis quite like you, with so much confidence and attitude, and yet complete complete vulnerability and rawness — and simultaneously with such complete facility of timing and precision, making even the hardest thing sound naturally easy and convincing.”

For the Times tribute, each singer will share four or five of their favourites, and then go all “Divas Live” together, as James puts in, for a few tracks. Tickets are $20 at the door or $15 in advance through Ticketfly.

“Just knowing there’s other singers and we’re all going to share our love for such a great singer is a big deal for us,” Hanson said.

Kking@sunmedia.ca

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         Local divas to pay respects to Aretha                                                                                                        

Winnipeg Free Press

By: Maureen Scurfield
Posted: 01/28/2019 3:00 AM

 

TO ARETHA WITH LOVE: Four high-powered Winnipeg divas — Jennifer Hanson, Sol James (a.k.a. Heitha Forsyth), Andrina Turenne and Charlotte Martin-MacLennan are taking on the Queen of Soul’s famous repertoire at the West End Cultural Centre on Sunday, Feb. 3, as part of Ego Spank Presents.

It’ll be the third concert in a new series in which the band Ego Spank — Gilles Fournier, Murray Pulver, Daniel Roy and Marc Arnould —challenge powerful acts to join them onstage. First was Regina blues artist Jack Semple, and second was children’s entertainer Al Simmons. Now, here comes the Aretha tribe!

Jennifer Hanson

“Aretha is already perfection, so we’ll be doing our best in our own way to honour her,” Hanson says. She’ll tackle some of the hardest of Franklin’s famous songs — Respect, Natural Woman, Think, People Get Ready and Chain of Fools. “Fifteen years go, I would have politely declined as I wouldn’t have felt ready, but we are all experienced musicians and singers now, and I have done my 10,000 hours!”

The seeds of this show grew from a smaller performance at Times Change(d)’s High & Lonesome Club on Main Street in the fall after Franklin died.

"It was lovely; it was packed, and the musicians were great," Hanson recalls. The gang decided to make it a much bigger deal, and voila! Seven musical stars taking the stage co-curated by Ego Spank and WECC artistic director Kerri Stephens. Tickets at West End Cultural Centre are going fast!

Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 for the mezzanine, and are available at the WECC and eventbrite.com.

 

 

 

 

A soulful tribute to the Queen

Singers honour Aretha Franklin at West End Cultural Centre concert

Winnnipeg Free Press

Posted: 2/11/2019 

By Maureen Scurfield

 

ARETHA Franklin would have loved it! Despite a massive swirling snowstorm on Feb. 3, some of Winnipeg’s top singers — Jennifer Hanson, Charlotte Martin, Andrina Turenne and Sol James — paid tribute to the Queen of Soul at the West End Cultural Centre, performing their own versions of Aretha’s greatest hits.

The band Ego Spank — Marc Arnould, Daniel Roy, Murray Pulver and Gilles Fournier — usually dominate the stage, but on this night played second fiddle and backed the singers as part of their Ego Spank Presents series. They kicked everything off with one song and then brought the four Arethas to the stage, who performed solos and sang backup for each other all night. 

Jennifer Hanson

At the end, the roaring standing ovation from the crowd bought the audience one more song — Chain of Fools from 1968 — sung to the rooftops for the grande dame, who died last August at the age of 76. 

MAUREEN SCURFIELD / WINNNIPEG FREE PRESS