Who's Your Diva? Week 3

Featured divas: Laurie Soderstrom and Rhonda Jackson-Bear



Juneau Lyric Opera will hold their second annual “Who’s Your Diva?” fundraiser on Sept. 15, featuring an all-new lineup of local divas.

In preparation for this year’s event, the Empire will present brief interviews with each of the nine divas throughout the month of August. This week’s featured divas are Laurie Soderstrom and Rhonda Jackson-Bear.

Laurie Soderstrom

First memorable public performance:

I made a darn cute little 6-year-old breakout star as the Littlest Christmas Tree in my elementary school play entitled, coincidentally, “The Littlest Christmas Tree.” Come to think of it - I still remember my big solo, if anyone wants to hear it!

Three singers who have influenced you throughout your singing career:

1. Can I generalize all the Disney Princess voices into one singer? I was singing along with all of them since before I can remember.

2. Julie Andrews, star of stage and screen. I grew up practically idolizing her, and I’m still amazed by her flawless voice, brilliant acting, and overall grace.

3. Kathleen Battle, soprano extraordinaire. She may be a little too much of a diva, but that won’t stop me from trying to emulate her gorgeous coloratura!

Three songs you absolutely love to sing:

1. “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” by Mariah Carey. Completely out of season, yes, but it makes me really happy all year round. As do all Christmas songs.

2. Anything by The Civil Wars. LOVE them. “Barton Hollow” may be the most fun if there’s a smokin’ man voice to sing with.

3. “Dream A Little Dream of Me” is one of my all-time favorites. Just about any version of it, from Michael Buble to the Glee cast to Ella Fitzgerald.

Three songs in heavy rotation on your iPod/CD player right now:

1. My embarrassingly extensive musical theatre playlist is getting a lot of air-time right now. I played it nonstop while trying to come up with something brilliant to sing for JO’s upcoming Broadway Splash workshop, and it was so much fun I kept it running.

2. “Shake It Out” by Florence + the Machine has been a top contender for a while. Love that woman’s passion!

3. Eva Cassidy’s been getting a lot of play time as well. Her version of “Songbird” gets put on repeat quite often, especially during those rare times when I’d rather just listen to music instead of sing along.

Three local performers you admire:

Easy! 1. Mark Calvert. I think he has, hands down, the most phenomenal voice in town. And, I just started taking lessons with him a few weeks ago.

2. Philippe Damerval. He has a beautiful voice, a resonating passion for opera, and has been incredibly encouraging to me ever since I met him earlier this year.

3. Kathleen Wayne. She has a wonderful voice, has played some fantastic roles, and in her free time she paints and makes jewelry. Wow.

Favorite place to sing (besides the stage):

I love echoing places like cathedrals (when possible) and stairwells (a little more accessible), but most frequently I go on long drives to have some sing-along time. I’m an avid car performer.

Famous movie or theater role you could easily win an Oscar or a Tony Award for if given the chance:

That’s gotta be a three-way tie for a Tony. There’s sweet little “Cosette” from “Les Miserables,” the sassy “Lady of the Lake” from “Spamalot,” and dazzling “Galinda/Glinda” from “Wicked.” They’d all be so much fun, I could never choose! Though wearing a tiara and glittery gown in “Wicked” would be right up my alley.

Other interests besides singing:

When I’m not traveling, drinking coffee, napping, dressing up to go out for a cocktail with the ladies, or playing board games, you may find me in my kitchen. I’ll be the one in heels, pearls, and a cute apron, whipping up yummy desserts while listening to jazz standards.

Rhonda Jackson-Bear

First memorable public performance:

There was this guy from York in Marine Park playing guitar, I started singing as I walked by and he asked me to sing while he played for a spell. We stayed there doing this in the sun for about two hours, and there was a huge crowd cheering and giving us money. It was so fun, simple and pure. I never saw this man again afterward.

Three singers who have influenced you throughout your singing career:

Bobby Cole, who sings and had a band here called Brotherhood Bridge. He made the biggest impression on me as far as singing in front of an audience. I would go to watch him sing and was just blown away by the way he could get a crowd in a frenzy. I was afraid to sing at first, and he and his amazing wife Margo were the first to get me up on a stage and help me get over my fear.

The second person here in Juneau would be LZ. She does karaoke and sings professionally in Juneau as well. I’ve had the opportunity to sing with this talented lady many times and again learned a lot about the energy and presence that come with being in front of people. She has always encouraged me to never give up my love of singing. Thank you LZ.

The third singer... oh, there are so many but I would have to say Linda Perry. She now writes songs for many famous singers and she sings as well. She was lead singer for 4 Non Blondes, and the big ground shaking voice inside this little woman will blow your mind. Her famous single “What’s Going On” does not do her justice. I always thought that my voice was too big and harsh until I heard this woman sing. I’ve never been the same since, she has given me the courage to completely let go when I sing.

Three songs you absolutely love to sing:

So hard, this question. I have three songs times 1,000 in my head that I love. But I love “Whiskey in a Jar” by Metallica as a warm up song, “Whole Lotta Love” by the great Led Zeppelin, and “Tighten Up” by the Black Keys.

Three songs in heavy rotation on your iPod/CD player right now:

Wow, such hard questions! Not fair. Sia’s “Breathe Me,” the live set; 30 Seconds to Mars’ “Hurricane,” and Linda Perry’s “Fly Away.”

Three local performers you admire:

Again, Bobby Cole, LZ. And Kari Groven and Jason Caputo — they give so much of themselves and love it! To be open musically and invite anyone who cares to come jam out with them every Thursday and not know what might happen is the openness and complete trust that I want and admire with the gift of improv. This is a gift.

Favorite place to sing (besides the stage):

In my lobby at work at the Juneau Ranger District and at the Fisherman’s Memorial by Taku Smokeries. Not many people know this, but it’s a small amphitheater. If you stand right in the middle of the big bronze medallion and talk (or sing) you are acoustic! I draw quite a crowd as well.

Other interests besides singing:

I’m an Alaska Native artist, and I’ve done scrimshaw in ivory and baleen (mostly baleen) for the Alaska State Museum. And I’ve designed tattoos for friends that have honored me with the trust of putting my art on their bodies.


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