Why She’s a Cabaret Singer at 70

A dream deferred no longer for this retired speech pathologist

Charlene Reimann could see herself adjusting her necklace, taking a deep breath and then confidently stepping into the spotlight. That’s how Reimann, 70, dreamed it would go at her first solo cabaret show last month at the Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis. Even if she felt “a little nervous,” she says she put that right out of her mind.

“Some singers have quiet personalities,” Reimann says. “That’s not me, and once I am on stage, that makes it easy for me to engage with my audience. I just go out there and be who I am, be true to myself.” And that’s exactly what she did.

After working 45 years as a speech and language pathologist in educational settings, Reimann retired in 2015. That gave her time to fully concentrate on her lifelong dream to be a cabaret singer, a dream no longer deferred.

Fulfilling This Dream Takes Work

Over the past decade, Reimann has participated in several cabaret conferences in St. Louis and one in Mykonos, Greece. She sang “one song here, maybe two songs there” in the conference showcases. But the solo act was something wholly different.

“Doing cabaret, I discovered that I have the nerve to get up in front of an audience and sing,” Reimann says. “Doing a solo show required more voice lessons, meetings with my director and my accompanist and memorizing lyrics and learning the patter in between the 14 songs. It was a lot of work!”

Reimann has been singing all her life, making music in her home as she brought up three children, and even back when she was growing up in Atlanta. “As a young teenager, I saved up money to buy 45s and sang along in my living room, using a soup spoon as a mic,” she says. “My dad was a singer with big bands and we always had music in the house.”

Her father did not encourage Reimann’s singing, however, and even actively discouraged her.

“The reality is that we had a rocky relationship at various times,” she says.

In her solo show, Reimann dedicated to her father If I Sing by David Shire and Richard Maltby, from the musical revue Closer Than Ever. She  interrupts the interview to sing a few bars from the song and adds, “My dad is gone now, but I know he’s in heaven rooting for me.”

For This Cabaret Singer, Some Help From Accomplished Friends

Plenty of people have been rooting for her. Among them are Carol Schmidt, music director and pianist for Reimann’s 70-minute show, and Ken Haller, its director. Schmidt, 62, is a jazz pianist, arranger and faculty member at Webster University in St. Louis County, where she teaches piano. Haller, also 62, is a pediatrician, a professor at the St. Louis University School of Medicine and a cabaret artist himself.

“Cabaret is a compelling art form where each show has a story arc and the singer tells personal stories through songs,” Haller says. “We choose songs that move us, enlighten us — we share that emotional connection with the audience. I’ve gotten to know Charlene at cabaret conferences over the last decade and she really makes that connection with audiences. She has a compelling story to tell.“

Schmidt agrees. “Charlene has lived quite a life — several lives — and reinvented herself over and over. I love her tenacity; this show has been her dream for a long time. Plus, she has a great voice. She is very genuine, and when she sings, I feel something. That’s not something that happens with all singers. From the beginning of this project, I wanted to call this show Charlene Reimann: Live at Last, but I was voted down,” Schmidt says, laughing.

In the show, titled Music’s What I Do, Reimann sang jazz, blues, show tunes and some numbers that are not usually part of cabaret shows, including the theme from the movie Goldfinger. After spontaneously belting out the first few bars, Reimann explains, “Before I wanted to be a speech pathologist, I wanted to be a Bond girl.”

Telling Personal Stories Through Song

Reimann’s show also included Led Zeppelin’s classic Rock and Roll because her son Brian has long teased her about overlooking ‘60s music in favor of other genres. “I sing it like a blues song,” Reimann says.

Harold Arlen’s Blues in the Night was on Reimann’s song list, too, as was Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek. She dedicated The Second Time Around to her second husband, Steve. “And of course W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues is part of the show,” Reimann says. She also performed Pearl Bailey’s version of Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Rowles’ Baby, Don’t You Quit Now.

Did she have any concerns about the show? “Because of my age, I suspected I might forget some lyrics or some of the patter between songs,” Reimann says. “That’s OK. That is the essence of live performance — it is filled with imperfections.”

Now She Believes in Herself

In spite of any past perceived “imperfections,” Reimann garnered this rave on reviewer Katie McGrath’s Cabaret Way Facebook page: “[Reimann is] sass, passion and jazz from head to toe!”

Schmidt and Haller note that for years, top nationally-known cabaret performers such as Marilyn Maye, Tedd Firth and Faith Prince have urged Reimann to do a solo show.

Maye, 89, known as “The Queen of Cabaret,” once told Reimann that she has a great voice but needed to learn how to make up her eyes. “I told Marilyn I had spent my entire career in education, where making up your eyes just is not important!” Reimann says, laughing.

With all the accolades and encouragement from the cabaret community that came Reimann’s way over the past decade, there’s a reason she waited so long to put together a solo show: “I listened to the compliments all these years, but I did not believe them,” Reimann says. “When I decided last spring to put together this show, I realized now I believe them.”

By Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia on her blog.

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