With a naturally expressive voice that has drawn comparisons to greats like Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald, Texas-based singer and songwriter Ruthie Foster has a wide palette of American song forms -- gospel and blues to jazz, folk, and soul -- and her live performances are powerfully transfiguring.
Foster grew up in Gause, Texas, a small town in the Brazos Valley southeast of Dallas, and even as a child she was fascinated by music; she listened to everything she could, hearing and absorbing not just gospel and blues, but also the country and pop songs she heard on the radio. By the age of 14 she was a soloist in a local choir and was certain that her future would revolve around music. When she moved to Waco to attend community college, her studies were concentrated around music and audio engineering. She also began fronting a blues band, learning how to command a stage in the rough bars of Texas. Hoping to travel and gain a wider world perspective, Foster joined the Navy, but her obvious musical talents soon had her singing with Pride, a Navy band that played pop and funk hits at recruitment drives in the southeastern U.S.
Following her tour of duty, Foster landed in New York City, where she regularly played various folk venues. Atlantic Records offered her a recording deal, figuring they had a budding pop star on their hands, but Foster wasn't interested in moving in that direction, preferring instead to explore the various strains of American roots music that had informed her childhood. When her mother fell ill in 1993, Foster left New York and her recording deal and returned to Texas. She began working as a camera operator and production assistant at a TV station in College Station, Texas while she cared for her mother, who passed in 1996. A year later in 1997 Foster self-released the album Full Circle before hooking up with Blue Corn Music, which released Crossover in 1999, Runaway Soul in 2002, Stages (featuring a series of live tracks) in 2004, Heal Yourself in 2006, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster in 2008, and The Truth According to Ruthie Foster, recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, in 2009.
An engaging live performer, Foster continued to tour regularly, wowing audiences with her powerful voice and stylistic range, all of which were captured in the concert CD/DVD set Live at Antone's, which appeared from Blue Corn in 2011. A new studio outing, Let It Burn, followed in 2012, also from Blue Corn; it was nominated for the Best Blues Album Grammy in 2013. Foster took home the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year in 2012, along with the DVD of the Year for Live at Antone's. Foster switched her approach in 2014 with Promise of a Brand New Day, a record produced by Meshell Ndegeocello. She recorded 2017's Joy Comes Back in her hometown of Austin, Texas with producer Daniel Barrett and a collection of sympathetic musicians. ~ Steve Leggett, Rovi