Jan. 19—Like many rough and tumblers, Annie Akins made her bones in Chicago, where she learned to sing louder than the L train.
Those early days were challenging for the Brunswick-based songstress, but it helped to forge her grit and determination. It's served her well.
She played with society bands in swanky hotels, headlined high-end weddings and sang in jazz clubs around the Windy City. After moving to the Golden Isles, Akins became a fixture at several spots including Sea Island. In fact, she performed for President George H.W. Bush twice and once for President Bill Clinton.
For locals, Akins is quite the familiar face, appearing often at various restaurants and other hot spots. But now, she's broadening her reach as she prepares to release her first full solo album.
"I've been wanting to do an album for a while, but it also took a while to get it all together," she said with a hearty laugh. "It takes resources, time, money and of course getting the songs together. That's quite the challenge, really the hardest part. It finally came together."
Akins traveled back to the Chicago to record, working with a trusted arranger, as well as top-tier musicians.
"I went up at the beginning of October to do all the recording. We recorded with some of the guys that I worked with previously. There are really some phenomenal players, and they added their flare to it," she said.
"But it was a first for me. I really had to focus on what I wanted to do for the album. I've been working more and more, which is lovely and great, but I had to really focus. I wanted to showcase the music that I love to sing."
The result is "You Outta Be With Me," which includes 11 tracks. Some of the more recognizable titles are "I Saw Him Standing There," a jaunty take on The Beatles' classic, "I Saw Her Standing There."
"I like to take songs and make them my own. I love to sing songs with a R+B flavor ... a lot of blues and a good, strong backbeat. And some funk, I love funk," Akins explained.
"Some people will be familiar with several of the songs but I tried to cover them in a new way, like The Beatles' song. I did a funkier version. I also have a newer version of 'At Last' by Etta James."
Other songs may be new to some listeners though they were produced by famous artists like K.T. Oslin.
"Do Ya?,' which is a cover of a fabulous K.T. Oslin song that many people may not know," she said. "Then, I have one called 'The Itch' by blues singer Keb' Mo.' Some people might not know that."
Akins also has an original tune on her album titled, "I Ain't Afraid of Love."
"It was written by a friend of a friend," she said. "It's great ... it's got that funky vibe."
Akins is planning an album release party, where she will perform songs for friends and fans. It will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Ritz Theatre in downtown Brunswick.
"I'll be singing songs from the album, and we'll have an intermission with wine and snacks ... who doesn't love that?," she said.
Akins will also have CDs and flash drives of her album available at the event.
"I will have it available for download on the website soon. It will be on the usual suspects like iTunes, Spotify, etc. But the streaming music doesn't pay the musicians very much, like a penny or two a play," she said.
"Of course, when you're Adele and you have millions and millions of streams, that's one thing, but it doesn't do much if you're not at that level. The merchandise or buying the album helps artists most."
For Akins, there's another angle to her album release party. A portion of the $20 ticket price benefits her beloved Penguin Project. The annual production features actors with special needs who stage a musical each summer.
Akins has served as music director and has supported the effort in a number of ways.
"I adore the Penguins. I was the music director for the first one, but then I started singing more and more. I couldn't devote the time to it that I wanted. I couldn't give it all my attention," she said.
"Then, COVID hit, and it was gone for a year. When it came back, I went to see 'Bye Bye Birdie, ' and I cried the whole time, just thinking, 'I'm crazy about these kids.'"
Akins adjusted her schedule in order to rejoin her Penguins. She will help them prepare for their June production of "The Lion King Jr."
"Everybody is very excited about it," she said. "I'm actually a little nervous about teaching them to sing in a different language."