Ruthie Foster discusses her musical changes and recent accolades since being on the February 2008 cover of Austin Woman.
By Molly Tilton
In 2008, Ruthie Foster had just played at a festival in Australia and was about to receive her first awards nomination. Fourteen years, seven albums and nine Blues Music Awards later, she is back in full swing, touring the East Coast, releasing a new album and becoming the first woman (and woman of color) to receive a star in front of Austin’s iconic Paramount Theater.
Foster grew up surrounded by music. “I remember listening to my uncles singing,” she says “How they just lit up the church in so many ways, and I remember thinking, ‘I want to do that.’”
Foster has been chasing that dream for 25 years, and while she is still in the heart of it all, a lot has changed in the last 14 years.
Early in her music career, she found that folk and Americana were the styles she enjoyed playing, and she was good at them. “I wanted to play folk music,” Foster says. “I just wanted to play guitar and sing in front of people.”
And that is exactly what she did. Foster lights up the room with her bright smile, and audiences can easily see her personality as she performs song after song, but as she grew as an artist, she also began to bring more of herself into the music.
“What I try to bring is my culture, my Black culture,” Foster says. “I try to bring that spiritual connection, part of what I got from my culture, through my music.”
Get Loud, Show Out
But Foster’s experience in the industry hasn’t been painless. Over time she learned that the music industry, like most, can be tough on women.
“There are always going to be people who challenge you on your own ideas,” Foster says. “It’s about believing in yourself, and you stay with that. Stay strong. Stand up. Sometimes you have to get loud and show out, and that’s okay to me.”
Like everyone in the country, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Foster found herself with a lot of free time. But she got to work on her most recent project, Healing Time, a largely collaborative album that released in October.
“In the end, it’s so rewarding to come to a place where it’s finished, and we can debut it and let other people hear what became of it,” Foster says. “What was I doing during the pandemic? I was writing my ass off.”
For Foster, this album was more than a pandemic project. It was a way for her to really find her voice after being tied to one genre for so long. “This one’s pretty special because I’m back to writing my own material,” she says. “That’s huge for me.”
Because of that process, the sound on this album, still warm and sultry, is distinctly Ruthie Foster—not folk, just Ruthie.
“I didn’t tie myself to being a folk singer,” Foster says. “I really got to where I walked up to that ribbon, if you will, and I pulled it.”
Ruthie Foster: A Paramount Star
Foster’s decision to experiment with styles comes at a time when her dedication to the craft is being recognized by major characters. In 2019, she was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame, and on Nov. 19, she is set to receive a star in front of Austin’s Paramount Theater.
For Foster, this star means more than just another award. Over the years, she has held countless shows and CD releases at the theater. “My name is gonna be on that sidewalk in front of one of the premier theaters in Austin, which I love so very dearly,” she says.
“To be included in that says a lot about Austin,” she continues. “It says a lot about the progress that we are making. I hope it means something to some other little Black girl [who’s] going to be standing in line one day, look down and see that my name is there and [realize]that they can do whatever they want.”
When asked what’s next, Foster has a simple answer: keep performing.
“I’d love to be able to just keep connecting with people the best way I can, the best way I know how, and that’s through music.”