Getting Down to Motown

A nun, another nun, and a mystery illness all contributed to the development of Lucie Desaulniers as a singer.

Growing up in the small Manitoba community of St. Jean Baptiste, not far from the U.S. border, Desaulniers attended a Roman Catholic school attached to a Grey Nuns convent.

That’s where she met a “really cool” nun from New York City who became her first vocal teacher.

“She didn’t wear a habit, she wore really cool clothes and she had beautiful blonde hair. She wanted me to be an opera singer, but I just kept smoking cigarettes and singing in rock bands and she didn’t like that at all,” Desaulniers recalls.

Still, she completed her Royal Conservatory studies in voice, thanks to her teacher’s persistence. Her experience with a different nun who was teaching her piano was a different story.

“She would do the typical banging my hands against the piano keys. She had a ruler, and if I hit a wrong note, she would hit my fingers, so I didn’t pursue it. Traumatized for life,” she chuckles.

Desaulniers does play both piano and guitar, but mainly at home.

“I’ll never catch up with myself instrumentally, so I don’t bother in public. I just love to sing so much I’ve never really tried to master anything else.”

In the 1990s, Desaulniers was a major force on the Yukon music scene, most notably for her powerful vocal work with the group Inconnu, both onstage and on its 1994 self-titled CD, as well as a 1998 compilation called Back to the Water.

Desaulniers was studying at University of New Brunswick (UNB) in Fredericton when she came down with an illness that kept her off the bandstand for three full years.

That experience, and what she learned through her studies in therapeutic counselling, brought a new sense of purpose when she eventually returned to singing.

“I learned that what mattered to me was important, and making myself a priority was important, and taking care of myself was important,” she says.

“It brought a whole new perspective to music, because I could do so much better in taking care of others if I took care of myself first. And that’s my approach to music now. I don’t do anything that doesn’t feed me.”

Desaulniers regained her health and finished her postgraduate studies before returning to the Yukon about eight years ago, with a husband who is also a counsellor and shares her passion for Latin-American dance.

It wasn’t long before they were teaching Latin dance classes in Whitehorse, as they had done in the Maritimes.

When Desaulniers sings nowadays, she sings in her two first languages, French and English, plus Spanish (her undergraduate minor at UNB), as well her recently-acquired Portuguese.

Her voice also exhibits a confidence and richness of palette born of maturity and experience.

“When we’re young, we’re always worried about what other people think, but when we’re in our 50s, we really don’t care,” she says with a laugh.

“So, I’m not afraid of trying new things. And being with other people who are likeminded just encourages me to keep going further and further and trying new things, which is awesome.”

Those like-minded people are the members of her new group, Lucie D and the Immortals, which first came together about six months ago, and has since done various Latin-flavoured house concerts.

The ensemble consists of local stalwarts Paul Bergman on stand-up and electric bass, Lonnie Powell on drums, Olivier de Colombel on saxophones and flute, and Desaulniers’ fellow Inconnu alumna, Andrea McColeman on keyboards.

Rounding out the group is well-known guitarist, composer and teacher Paul Lucas, who spends his time between Vancouver and Phoenix, Arizona, and who also owns a cabin in Atlin, B.C.

Desaulniers brought Lucas on board after playing with him at an all-Portuguese Jazz in the Hall show at the Yukon Arts Centre last year.

“We both liked playing together so much that we decided, we just had to keep this going,” she says.

On Friday, March 10, Lucie D and the Immortals will host an R&B Revival Dance at the MacBride Museum, with a mingling set of Latin tunes, followed by two sets of pure rhythm and blues from the 1950s and ’60S.

It’s the kind of Motown music Desaulniers and her two sisters used to perform for their family back in Manitoba every Sunday, in their guise as Gladys Knight and the Pips.

“People will be dressed up in the epoch, from go-go dancers to those big crinolines and straight-legged suits. I’ll be belting them out, and we’re going to dance the night away.”

The dance runs from 8 p.m. to midnight. Advance tickets are available via e-transfer to [email protected] for more information.

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