Born in Greenville, S.C., and raised in Burlington, N.C., Beth Holt is “proud to be a true Carolina Girl.”
She has directed church choirs in Germany, North Carolina and South Carolina and taught public school, which involved directing “hundreds of kids in dozens of productions.”
When asked about the trials and tribulations of working with children, she replied, “It’s a different dynamic as a teacher. They pretty much did what I said.”
She recalls fondly the transformative performance of a “socially awkward” student, at a parochial school, who was cast against type, as a Greaser in a production of “Ducktails and Bobbysox.”
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“He brought the house down. The nuns were laughing so hard they were in tears,” she said. “It really brought him out of his shell.”
These days she divides her time between Cherry Grove and Powhatan, Va., where there are four grandchildren just down the road.
She also serves as the music director at Chapel by the Sea, performs at venues around the Grand Strand every chance she gets and writes short fiction.
As if that were not enough, she is also the devoted wife of George Holt III who tolerates her hectic schedule and handles her sound equipment when his skydiving calendar allows; the very proud mother of three sons, who are all musically involved; and in her “spare” time, an equestrian.
What can folks expect from a Beth Holt performance?
Hopefully, listeners will get caught up in stories told through the great songs of different genres: standards, Broadway, country and jazz, etc. To me, songs aren’t a series of notes, but a collection of stories. I want to make every word sound like what it means.
What is your favorite place to a play a gig?
There’s not one, really. My favorite times are when the audience is really listening as in a real cabaret style, as opposed to the times when the audience is loudly enjoying dinner and I am generally playing background music. And I always love singing in church, as I do almost every Sunday morning at Chapel By the Sea in Cherry Grove.
When did you first decide to become a performer?
There was never any kind of decision – I was just born that way. My sisters say I was born singing. My dad was an amazing musician with a beautiful voice that sounded great ‘till the day he died in his 80s. When I was a little girl, I thought everyone’s father played the guitar, the violin and the accordion every night after supper. As I grew older, I gravitated toward performing opportunities, then majored in music at UNCG.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Other than music, horses have been a huge part of my life.
Are there any types of music that you will not sing?
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
There are big-name people like Streisand, Karen Carpenter and Ella Fitzgerald. But my dad’s influence was huge. In my teen years, I was blessed to go to Williams High School in Burlington, N.C., where Erving Covert was the choral director. We had a world-class auditorium and stage, complete with pipe organ and Steinway concert grand. Mr. Covert was a legend in music education – faculty members from Julliard actually came to N.C. for our musicals. He taught me more about musicality than anyone else, and I hope I caught some of his excellence. Later, I did my student teaching from UNCG with him. He lives in Baton Rouge now – we’re still in touch, and he’s still a character.
What are some of your fondest memories of your career?
Once, my sister and I were in Rome, and went to dinner in a lovely restaurant complete with orchestra as guest of the police commissioner of the city. When he found out I was a singer, he arranged for the band to let me sit in. We did “On the Street Where You Live” completely unrehearsed and off the cuff, and ended up with a standing ovation. Italians came to the table asking where I performed in the U.S. But I was simply an American army officer’s wife, living in Germany at the time.
One night, I was singing in a piano bar in Myrtle Beach, when a lady came up and told me that a famous Clemson coach was sitting nearby. “He is mesmerized. Would you do a few more songs for him?” And yes, I would, I did, and I couldn’t wait to call my sister at 2 a.m. to tell her that I’d been singing for the coach she idolized.
A few years back, the body of a Confederate soldier was found where he fell, near Richmond. Buttons from his uniform indicated that he was from North Carolina. The Sons of Confederate Veterans wanted to have a proper funeral for this unknown soldier, and invited me to sing. It was a somber event, with several hundred re-enactors and spectators, complete with a period hearse pulled by a pair of black Percheron horses. I made a period dress with a hoop skirt, and sang “Dixie” and “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” for the service.
The past few years, a group called Misfits of the Beach, or the MOB, had their Christmas parties at Pomodoro’s, where I performed regularly for four years. This group benefits children with Downs Syndrome. I had so much fun singing to the kids, dancing with them and seeing their faces light up with the music.
If you could start a band with anyone, living or dead, who would you want to work with?
Oh, my, that’s a tough choice. How about Harry Connick Jr.? I got to hear him sing “Stardust” with Ellis Marsalis at the piano a couple of years ago, a treat I’ll not forget. I’d love to hang out with them!
Do you have a song that you sing at every gig?
People love to hear “Crazy” and “Fly Me To the Moon,” and I really don’t get tired of them, though I like to learn new songs as often as possible.
What audience does your music typically appeal to?
Generally, people love to hear the music of their youth. So, in the restaurant setting, I look around to see how old people are, and how they’re dressed, and listen to their accents, to get clues about what they’d like to hear. I’ve been surprised by the large number of young people – teens and twenties – that love the standards. And the old folks sometimes like the new stuff. Recently, I was doing Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” and two elderly couples came up afterward to tell me how much they loved that “Indian song.” If there are children around, I’ll do the Disney songs: “Beauty and the Beast,” “Part of that World,” etc.
What advice would you offer aspiring musicians?
Take lessons; learn music theory; and even if you have a great ear and don’t need to read music, learn to read music. If you’re in school, participate in the band, orchestra or chorus, even if you think they don’t do your kind of music.
What has being a singer taught you about life?
Singing the words of scripture, hymns and choruses gets you through the tough times.
I have never forgotten this Joni Mitchell riff on the life of a musician. Can you relate?
“That’s one thing that’s always, like, been a difference between, like, the performing arts, and being a painter, you know. A painter does a painting, and he paints it, and that’s it, you know. He has the joy of creating it, it hangs on a wall, and somebody buys it, and maybe somebody buys it again, or maybe nobody buys it and it sits up in a loft somewhere until he dies. But he never, you know, nobody ever, nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man!’ You know? He painted it and that was it.”
Interesting quote. The painting may be viewed a million times, but it is still the same, though it may mean a million different things. You can sing a song a million times, but there may well be a million variations of it, and the emotion, the inflection, the nuances within the music will be different every time.