Local musical artist in tune with needs of the community

October 14, 2003|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JOANNE JUSKUS combines her passion for music with compassion for those in need. The Oakland Mills singer-songwriter produces a concert series that features local musicians playing their own music, as well as regional and national acts. A portion of the proceeds from each concert goes to Baltimore-area nonprofit organizations that offer services to the homeless.

The series, called Sound Foundation -- formerly known as The Bottom Floor Concert Series -- is in its third year, and its popularity among musicians and audiences is growing. Starting in 2001 in the basement of St. John's United Methodist Church in Baltimore, the concerts have raised money for Gimme Shelter, Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, the House of Ruth, Heart's Place Homeless Shelter, CASA of Baltimore and Healthcare for the Homeless.

"The whole thing just kind of fell into my lap," said Juskus, who also runs a graphic design business out of her home. "... Gimme Shelter asked me to perform at a benefit concert. Then they asked me to host a series. That turned into hosting, producing, booking -- doing everything. I never ran a series before; I had to learn by the seat of my pants."

Last month, Juskus formed a partnership with the Creative Alliance, a community-based nonprofit that presents and promotes the arts and humanities. Sound Foundation shows are held at the Patterson, a 1930s-era movie theater in East Baltimnore that Creative Alliance turned into an arts center.

"The space is wonderful," Juskus said. "It is a state-of-the-art 200-seat theater. It has an art gallery and will have a cafe and bar; upstairs are living spaces for artists in residence."

Juskus, who is in her 30s, says she has been playing piano, singing and writing music since she was a little girl. About four years ago, she turned professional.

"I put my music on MP3.com and it got lots of attention," she said.

Since then, Juskus has released two compact discs, and in the past two years has been nominated for seven Wammie awards by the Washington Area Music Association.

"Music is really taking over my life," Juskus said.

Producing and promoting a concert series is a talent, said Megan Hamilton, program director of the Creative Alliance.

"Promoters are the unsung heroes of presenting area talent," she said. "They are working against the misconception that `local' means bad. People think if an act is not on the cover of Rolling Stone, they are no good. People like Joanne are important and rare. Baltimore is lucky to have her."

Sally Thorner, anchor of WJZ-TV's Eyewitness News, plans to interview Juskus soon.

"When you hear her voice, you notice an amazing talent," Thorner said. "To hear her music is to become an instant fan. She is just hypnotic. ... [And] she is doing an incredible service to local music lovers by producing and hosting this series. We have a new theater, [and] she is filling it with musicians and an audience. She has created a place for new talent to show their stuff and a place for people looking for music. There just aren't that many venues around here."

Hamilton says Juskus is a top-notch promoter. "She is really organized and passionate about music. Being a musician herself, she knows what musicians need. She is really committed to building and helping strengthen the musical community in Baltimore," Hamilton said.

Juskus said she and volunteer Govinda Joseph sift through the hundreds of compact discs they have received from musicians to find a good mix of music for each concert.

"We include everything from folk, jazz, [to] world music and comedy," Juskus said. Most shows also feature "a more established national or regional band," she said, and a local band is chosen for the opening act.

The next show, "Songwriters' Invasion," is scheduled Nov. 15, when four songwriters from the Baltimore-Washington area will perform separately and together.

Included in the lineup is former Owen Brown resident Brian Gundersdorf, a member of the trio We're About 9. Gundersdorf, 27, grew up in the Columbia village and lives in Ellicott City. He will sing original songs and improvise with the three other songwriters, he said.

Juskus says his songs show maturity beyond his years. Although Gundersdorf is not a parent, his song "Mi Hijo" describes the difficulties of a parent trying to impart wisdom to his child. Another song tells a story through the eyes of the soon-to-be reincarnated soul of an overpriced parking spot.

"That one looks at the sociology of people who dress a certain way and the way people react to that," Gundersdorf said.

"I like to put myself in someone else's shoes. I create a person with similarities to myself [that] in one way is tragically different. I live out the difference for a time in a song."

Gundersdorf will perform with Vyktoria Pratt Keating, Eliot Bronson and Lisa Cerbone.

"I'm looking forward to the combination," Gundersdorf said. "Eliot is one of my best friends and I work with him a lot. I've met Vyktoria once and Lisa Cerbone is a total stranger. The chemistry should be a great mix."

A portion of the proceeds will go to Healthcare for the Homeless, said Juskus, who will be host for the show.

"The idea of putting on a concert where people can listen to good music and simultaneously contribute to a charity is an uplifting experience" she said. "It feels so good, it's contagious."

The performance will be at the Patterson. Tickets are $10. Information: Creative Alliance, 410-276-1651, or www.joannejuskusmusic.com.

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