Becky Schlegel has a gift for taking life’s experiences and transforming them into songs that are passionate and unique. Her music is a fusion of folk, bluegrass and country that is mesmerizing. Schlegel sings with an effortless, angelic and wistful soprano that has been described as “Clear and expressive. [Her] voice can go gritty at times or break appropriately or soar to ethereal heights or drift off in a whisper.” - Bluegrass Unlimited
“I didn’t write my first song until my 27th birthday,” she says. “That day was like a miracle. That I could compose meant that I could dictate the direction of the music – and that’s made a huge difference in my voice.” Becky soon found that if she backed off a little on the vocal, she could find a sweeter sound, and she believes that this insight changed her as an artist. She adds, “I could feel the audience's reaction shift from just toe-tapping, to leaning in a bit and really listening to the songs.”
Now in her 30s, Becky is not only a world-class singer/songwriter, she is a wife and mother as well. While soft-spoken and tenderhearted, she has a lighter side that is quirky, fun and vibrant. Her stage shows are lively, and she guides her career with a strong and willing hand. Schlegel’s artistic journey began with piano lessons when she was just five years old, growing up in Kimball, South Dakota (pop. 700). She played the piano for the next 13 years, performing at VFW and American Legion halls as a member of her mother’s band, The Country Benders. During the prairie summers following high school, Becky continued to immerse herself in traditional country while singing and playing keyboards for the Mountain Music Show in the Black Hills of South Dakota - seven nights a week. She also recorded (and produced) two projects of her own to sell after her performances.
Her music didn’t leave much time for learning the arts of the “other” family trade; ranching. “I couldn’t plow a field if my life depended on it,” she says with a laugh. “But, I did learn a lot about entertaining from all of those shows with The Country Benders. When you learn to read your audience – to really look at their faces and see their emotions – I think it helps you become a better performer.”
Becky moved to Minnesota in 1993 to further her education, and once there, she closed the lid on the piano – and picked up the guitar. “It was a lot easier to carry to gigs,” she jokes. It wasn’t long before Schlegel became involved in the local Minneapolis music scene. “There were so many incredible musicians and jam sessions here,” she states. “The bluegrass and acoustic festivals and venues are still bursting with talent.”
Schlegel plumbed that talent pool, and in 1997 she formed her first bluegrass band, True Blue, with some of the area’s finest pickers. The next year, the group recorded and released THIS LONESOME SONG, a CD that was nominated for Bluegrass Recording of the Year (1998) by the Minnesota Music Academy. The band’s popularity continued to grow throughout 1999; they showcased at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual trade show and appeared on Garrison Keillor’s NPR show, A Prairie Home Companion. In 2000, the Minnesota Music Academy named Becky Schlegel and True Blue Bluegrass/Old-Time Group of the Year; in 2001, Becky took home the MMA’s Bluegrass/Old-Time Artist of the Year award.
Becky stepped out on her own in 2002, and recorded her first solo CD, RED LEAF. All 11 tracks were originals – and they were “one-step removed” from bluegrass. “I feel that it’s a beautiful & timeless project,” she says of RED LEAF. “I was fortunate enough to have some incredible players join me on this album– Peter Ostroushko, Marc Anderson and Gordon Johnson among them.” The album received critical acclaim – and the title track was named 2002’s Music City Minnesota Song of the Year by the Minnesota Music Festival.
Also that year, the Minnesota Music Academy voted Schlegel Bluegrass/Old-Time Artist of the Year, and named RED LEAF the year’s best Bluegrass/Old-Time Recording. In 2003, Becky was again voted Bluegrass/Old-Time Artist of the Year by the MMA. The following year, she was named the organization’s Bluegrass Group/Artist of the Year. Additional honors include performances at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Songwriters’ Showcase in both 2003 and 2005.
The years following the release of RED LEAF were busy ones for Becky on a personal level, too; she married her friend (and True Blue banjo player), Heath Loy in 2003, and their house is filled with music and the antics of two rambunctious boys, Tucker (age three and a half years), and Ivan (18 months). “Being a mother is even better than I expected,” Becky says. “And it's certainly exciting to see things through the eyes of a child again!”
During this time, Becky continued to learn and grow professionally as well. Her songwriting continued to flourish, and she found a new vocal freedom in the complex, yet relaxed structure of her own creations. Becky returned to Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion several times over the years, and also became a frequent guest on the RFD TV Network’s Midwest Country Theater. She released her second solo CD of originals, DRIFTER LIKE ME, in 2005 and it quickly became a favorite of fans – and music critics alike. Voted one of the Top 10 Best Albums of 2005 by the Star Tribune, the project marked her first musical effort with acclaimed banjo player and guitarist, Brian Fesler. “Brian has been so good for me,” Becky says. “We worked so well together on DRIFTER that when it came time to record the new CD, it just seemed natural for us to tackle it as a team.”
The result is FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE, and it is perhaps the most wholly-representative of Becky’s works. The 11 intricate arrangements feature the judicious placement of Fesler’s banjo, Marc Anderson’s percussion, Bo Ramsey’s electric guitar, Gordon Johnson’s bass, Jeff Midkiff’s mandolin, and Schlegel’s singing and writing make this album a perfect jewel. “Before we recorded these songs,” Schlegel explains, “We took a step back and asked what the song wanted – not what we wanted for the song.”
This approach led to musical accompaniment that is rich, yet sparse enough to leave “space” – for Becky’s breathtaking vocal nuances – and for the listener to explore the meaning of her songs. “The feedback has been touching,” says Schlegel. “I’ve performed these songs and watched people cry.” While drawn to what she refers to as “sad songs,” FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE is a surprisingly uplifting and emotionally-liberating album. “I don’t know if it’s just the act of confronting heartache or sadness straight-on,” says Becky, “But folks tell me that these songs help them feel better.” Highlights abound, and include the title track, “Bound For Tennessee,” “Why Maybe,” and “Lonely.” “’Lonely’ is a probably my favorite song on this album,” she admits. “I was really struggling, because I hadn’t written in a while, and that night I was holding my guitar and the words just poured out onto the page.” The up-tempo “99%” drives with the fire of determination, while “Hills Of South Dakota” resonates with bittersweet memories of a summer that will never be forgotten.
Schlegel hasn’t forgotten her roots, but her heart and her music know no bounds. She continues to explore, dream, write and sing songs of life and love – of heartache and redemption. Her music is diverse; a compelling, almost spiritual ride that is the embodiment of a fascinating woman and her engaging stories. FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE uncovers the hidden gem that is Becky Schlegel.