Using Her Voice: Lauren Pritchard
I was wearing a gold halo made of pipe cleaners the first time I heard her voice. I, of course, was a member of the angel choir. I had been relegated to the “let’s humor them with a part in this play” ensemble, where hopefully my average voice would blend with all of the other children with average voices and somehow, we could create a sound people might actually want to hear. But not her.
We were maybe eight years old. I was standing amidst the other angels, hot and sticky under stage lights. She was standing nearby waiting for direction. Perhaps in an effort to stave off boredom, or maybe because she simply couldn’t help it, she began to sing. I can’t tell you the song or the words or even the melody, but I’ll never forget how I felt. How she made me feel. I thought then what I know now- she is going to be heard.
I lost track of her as we grew older. I had definitively decided that show business was not for me and spent every moment I could on a court or a field. I just assumed she had gone on to bigger and better things. I was still here, in Jackson. She was probably somewhere with a subway and smoky bars and neon. And I was partly right. For nearly twenty years she escaped my radar. She was making her life happen and I had no idea. Did any of us? Our very own Jackson gal was striving and singing and making a name for herself, and I, and maybe you, missed it.
There are few people that I’ve known in my life that are true go-getters. I mean the kind of people who go until it’s got. Who buckle down for the long term and don’t let any circumstance stop them. Lauren Pritchard is one of those people. As a child, she dreamed of the life that she is living now. (She also, strangely enough, thought she might moonlight as an OB/GYN, but that’s a story for another day.) She always had the singular goal of making music. Even as a child she dreamed of Broadway and big stages. And to be honest, that’s not normal. Most of us were dreaming of moon shoes and making the varsity squad and prom. By her junior year of high school, Lauren had already moved to Los Angeles. She was already recording and writing and playing in bands. She was showing up for the life she wanted. My junior year? I was putting in hours on the track and timing splits and dreaming of walking on at Knoxville to play basketball. In a way, we were both planning for the next step. But she never, ever let her reality belong to someone else. She worked. She put herself in positions to be heard. SHE MOVED ACROSS THE COUNTRY AS A TEENAGER. She was serious. She was determination incarnate.
Leaving was not easy. This was a woman who had strong, deep roots in Jackson. Her family was in Jackson and she was, even as a young woman, invested. But Jackson is not the place to find success as a serious singer/songwriter, and despite her ties, she knew she had to make the sacrifice to live out her aspirations. Her family, although they may not have understood fully what she was after, recognized her ambition and gave her the support she needed to grow. So she did. She left Jackson and moved to LA with a suitcase full of remnants of the life she left behind and a head full of what was to come. She was in LA when she got a call from her agent to audition for a show in New York. She was seventeen and she moved across the country (again) for a show called Spring Awakening. SEVENTEEN. She sang. And she waited. She waited three months to hear that she had gotten the part of the lead supporting actress and she began the process of workshopping the show. The show made an Off-Broadway debut and was met with rave reviews, and quickly ran the Broadway circuit. And eventually won 8 Tony Awards. And a Grammy. And I had never even heard of it. How? How had this woman that I had essentially grown up with done this amazing thing that I had never even heard of before? Lauren says it is because there was no Instagram or Twitter at that time (2006). And that is definitely, partly true. But it is also because Lauren never sought to revel in the fame that came along with it. She just kept working. Writing. Singing. Making moves to put herself in positions to sustain her career. She said it best: “Success was about being in the right places to make shit happen.”
Now back to the leaving part. As I listened to Lauren talk about the years away from Jackson, I could see the struggle on her face. I could hear it in her voice. Leaving was no easy task. She left what she knew, what she loved. And when she came home, she felt unwelcome for years. Like she did not belong to the place that made her. Perhaps it was the time away and the inevitable change that comes along with it. Or perhaps it was that this community of people that claimed her resented her need for growth beyond the county lines. Who knows? But I know this. Lauren is one tough lady. She took it all. And she never let any of the criticism or glances deter her. She always continued to push. And it has worked out in her favor. This woman has written for Fall Out Boy, Matt Nathanson, Train, Megan Hilty. Her value and gift has been recognized by countless musical household names. She attributes her success (which she recognizes ebbs and flows) to her sheer determination but also to her ability to “take inventory”. She has always put her circumstances into perspective. Do I have a family that cares for me? A community of friends to rely on? Do I know where I stand with God? Have I done anything to help others lately? Those questions have seen her through a multitude of valleys and mountaintops over the past fifteen years. Her strength, as far as I’m concerned, has been in knowing what she does well and doing the damn thing. And what does she do well? She uses her voice.
I met with Lauren on the front porch of her newly purchased house in Midtown Jackson. Sitting with her was like looking into a familiar mirror. Everything she said about Jackson resonated with me in ways that are hard to articulate. Sometimes, it is hard to love your hometown so much when you know that there is so much potential yet such a long way to go to reach it. But she gets it. She moved away to find herself- as a singer/songwriter and as a woman. But she never lost sight of home. She told me that she did not even change her ID, even as she moved from place to place over the last fifteen years. She was proud to be from Jackson. And she was eager to tell the ones she met along the way about her home. She expressed that she lived in a state of perpetual homesickness, always feeling like one day she would get back to Jackson. So she did. She has a permanent address in our little corner of the world. She has put down roots here. She is renovating a house here. Like, really. She is doing it. I watched her sand floors and strip old glue from the original hardwood. And, knowing Lauren like I do now, that makes sense. She always seems to be doing. To be making things better. She breathes life into the people and things around her in a way that makes you feel honored to witness it.
I chose to feature Lauren first in this little venture. I have a LONG list of amazing, local women who are doing big, life-changing things. That’s true. But Lauren captivates me. And here’s why. She is choosing to be a part of our community. Choosing everyday to wake up (except for the ten days a month, give or take, that she spends jet-setting around the world making art) and spend her time here. To spend her money here. To let her voice be heard HERE. She is using the fame and recognition and success she has achieved and is championing our little city. She has showed up and used her voice to raise money for Downtown Dogs, for RIFA. She has run a 5k and then entertained us with a fantastic duet. She has donated her skills to save local businesses and has been a key part in bringing good, quality music to Jackson. And she did not have to do any of it. Her kindness and dedication to her craft has compelled her. She is a living, breathing example of what it really means to give back to a place that made you. She keeps showing up. She keeps singing. She keeps using her voice to make a difference.
I have only spent a few hours here and there with Lauren this past year. As you can imagine, she is a busy woman. She has popped into my shop, we have bumped into each other at various lunch spots downtown. Honestly, most of my interaction with her until just recently has been from afar. Watching, listening. But she has this contagious ability to make me feel welcome every time. Her shows are fun. People dance and sing along and TALK TO EACH OTHER. She is fostering a space for human interaction. In our community. And I am HERE FOR IT. To me, that is her most valuable gift. Sure, I have listened to I Don’t Wanna Have To Lie roughly four hundred times this summer, but her truest contribution is what it always has been- her voice. She is creating space for people to just be. Be themselves. Be together. There are never any strings attached or expectations with Lauren. She just is what she is and welcomes you to be just who you are. That is important work. She is using her status as a platform to advocate- not just for our city but for the people who comprise it. And, as far as this local gal is concerned, that is holy work.