Katie Oates knows how to sing. She’s been singing for as long as she can remember. But finding her own voice, that’s another story.
The daughter of a preacher, she belted hymns from her crib as a toddler to wake up her parents. But her childhood peers soon taught her it wasn’t “cool” to sing loudly or express her emotions freely, so for many years she sang only when alone.
“I think it’s a common adolescent experience, unfortunately,” Katie laments. “We let people/society/institutions bully us out of being who we really are in all of our strangeness. We give up what makes us unique, so we can fit in.” Even after she began singing in public again in high school and for many years afterward, Katie sang what someone else told her to sing. “Don’t get me wrong. I had many great experiences in the choirs, musical theatre and singing groups that I auditioned for and joined. I sang arias with orchestras, solos with gospel choirs, and leads in musical theatre. Those were enjoyable, valuable experiences, but if I am being completely honest, I have to admit I played it safe. Having someone else’s permission to sing helped me deal with my self-doubt. But constantly seeking approval and permission from others slowly suffocated me over time. I grew increasingly frustrated and unhappy and didn’t know why.”
Although she recorded and produced a cd of classical and folk songs in 2012 (Going Over Home), the 2016 release of her 5-song EP, Something True, marks a watershed moment for Katie. These are songs excavated from Katie’s own heart: composed and sung fully by her. “I am finally speaking in my own voice—with all the rewards and dangers that can involve.”
Katie’s songwriting and performing are noticeably influenced by musical theatre. Her songs directly address the listeners, inviting them into a shared emotion through story, metaphor, rhythm and melody. Legendary folk singer and activist Si Kahn (and mentor to Katie) says:
"Katie Oates doesn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve, but in her music. Few people I know have made as remarkable a transition from trained singer of classical opera to passionate performer of her own original songs, which she does with elegant grace and energetic poise. Katie's music inspires, entertains, troubles and lifts us, makes us laugh and breaks our hearts. She’s as good a person as she is an artist: intelligent and humane, sincere and real to the core. Listen, listen, listen."