By Kristie Rearick/Gloucester County Times
Jazz singer René Marie played a trick on audience members at Appel Farm the last time she performed there. So this time around — Saturday at 8 p.m. — be prepared.
It was the year Kevin Hamilton joined the group as its new pianist. No one had ever seen him before, Marie said.
“I asked Kevin to go out in the audience. I made up this story that we were waiting for our pianist to get there. We said he got separated from the group,” said Marie in a phone interview. “We made up this huge story about needing a piano player in order to perform. We asked if there was anyone in the audience who could play. Kevin was supposed to raise his hand, and I was supposed to act like I didn’t know him.”
Nothing ever goes as planned, though. Someone from the audience stepped up before Hamilton had the chance.
“This young guy raised his hand in the audience, and I said to myself, ‘Uh-Oh,’” she said.
Luckily, the Good Samaritan was happy to let the real piano player take the stage in his place.
“It was hilarious. He was a good sport,” Marie said.
Marie likes getting to know her audience members before she sings. And for Saturday’s show in Upper Pittsgrove, she’ll have a chance to do just that during a pre-show “Conversation” at 6:45 p.m.
“I like doing that type of thing. The set is so much more enjoyable because I feel like I know the people in the audience,” she said.
Marie came to her passion a little later in life. She was in her early 40s when she decided to pursue singing as a career, and it was her son who convinced her to use her talent. She actually began singing when she was 19 years old. But after getting married and becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, she “stopped performing for about 20-some years,” she said.
The turning point in her life came when her then-husband issued her an ultimatum: stop singing or move out of the house.
After he threatened her with physical violence and then “followed through on it,” Marie decided to make a change.
“I left the next day and I started my career,” she said. “And that was the beginning of me finding my own air current, so to speak.”
The transition wasn’t easy at first. She still held a job at a bank and was a bit trepidatious to jump feet-first into a singing career, but her brother gave her some good advice.
“He told me to jump, and my net would appear,” Marie said.
And it did. Three days after she quit, she landed a job at a theater.
Things have been going pretty well for her since. With a string of CDs, critics can’t stop singing her praises, calling her vocals honest and powerful. She currently has two new albums out. Her latest CD, “Black Lace Freudian Slip,” just released, has a song on it that she’s very proud of.
“‘Deep in the Mountains’ is the best song on the CD. It was written by my son. It’s so beautiful. It’s the standout song on the CD,” she said.
For her show at Appel Farm, Marie promised to sing songs from “Black Lace Freudian Slip” and from her other new album, “Voice of My Beautiful Country” where she’ll sing folk favorites such as “John Henry” and “O Shenandoah.”
Her favorite part about performing live is the feedback she gets from her audience.
“Usually there’s a lot of smiles in the audience and we really like it when people talk to us in between songs,” Marie said. “Recently at a concert, there was a guy sitting in the front row singing along with me. He knew all the words to my original songs … he knew every word of every song. I just wanted to hug him and thank him. I was so humbled.”
If you go: René Marie will perform at Appel Farm, 457 Shirley Road, Upper Pittsgrove, Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets to the concert are $25. Audiences can enjoy a pre-show “Conversation” with Marie at 6:45 p.m. Tickets for the conversation are available for an additional $10. A free wine and cheese reception will take place 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. prior to the show. The reception is sponsored by Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery and the New Dodge’s Market. Tickets can be purchased at www.appelfarm.org, by calling, 800-394-1211.