Sarah Blacker: Musician, mental health counselor and dog mom of an Instagram-famous pooch
Sarah Blacker has always enjoyed using music as therapy, not just in her cathartic performances around the country as a singer/songwriter, but also in her role as a music therapist. The pandemic presented a dual challenge, as Blacker's public performances had to be shelved for over a year, and she'd already stepped away from her music therapy work at a North Shore nursing home.
Blacker, who grew up in Wellesley and now lives in Salem, made use of her unexpected free time, writing more than two dozen new songs, and also going back to grad school, where she earned a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling. Now Blacker, whose parents are Hull residents, is still busy on several fronts, doing virtual sessions with a number of clients as she strives toward her license as a mental health counselor, while also preparing to jump back into the music scene.
Sarah Blacker and her band will be headlining Club Passim in Harvard Square on Saturday night.
During pandemic lockdown, Blacker 'worried if music actually would have a future'
"I had left my job as music therapist and activities director at the nursing home two weeks before the pandemic hit in March 2020," Blacker said. "I intended to get back to my music career, but of course we quickly lost all the live dates we had. We had to switch to virtual shows ... eventually some shows on outdoor patios, like at Cisco Breweries (Boston), and took part in a virtual show from Club Passim. But it was a super-slow time for live music. I did something we called 'Dial a Ditty,' where people could hire me to call or FaceTime their friends or loved ones who were shut in and isolated, and sing them a song or two. That was fun."
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As the pandemic hit its height, Blacker said she "did a good amount of songwriting during that down time, but it wasn't the enormous amount some others did, probably about 25 new songs. This was a different kind of challenge, and I wasn't inspired as much. I like to use music to find connections among people, and to heal them, and help those with autism or developmental difficulties, for example. I like to share my songs to help people find joy, and many of my songs are about finding hope, instilling positivity even in tough times.
"I wish I could say I wrote five albums' worth of songs during the lockdowns, but not really. I tried to write realistically, noting how hard it was for us all during that time, and how many of us were worried if music actually would have a future, what use it might be in the future."
In the midst of all that, and with some serious self-reflection, Blacker ultimately decided to use the free time to expand her credentials as a therapist. But even going back to school presented a challenge. She was lucky enough to find a graduate program where she could do much of the work virtually, and so she devoted more than a year to earning her master's degree in clinical mental health counseling. She is still very focused on music therapy and advises interns in Berklee College of Music's music therapy programs, but now she can also help people as a psychotherapist. She is busy during the daytime doing virtual therapy sessions with clients en route to getting her mental health counselor license. But it's also time to get back to her first love: performing her own music.
Blacker sings for Subaru in popular TV commercial
Blacker burst onto the Boston-area music scene about 15 years ago, with her high alto voice and songs that balanced real-life situations and struggles with a sunny personality. She spent a couple of years touring nationally, usually just her and her black Lab, Beasley, but a serious auto accident drained some of her enthusiasm for that regimen.
Over the years, she has been named the New England Music Awards female performer of the year and My Rural Radio Artist of the Year, and received a passel of Boston Music Award nominations in various categories. One of the biggest splashes she made came when New England Subaru featured music in its TV campaign with the familiar "Ooh Ooh It's Love ..." refrain.
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Blacker's most recent album is 2015's "In Waves," a sterling collection highlighted by the title cut, which might be the most rocking song she's ever done. That album was produced and recorded by Sean McLaughlin at Rockland's acclaimed 37' Productions, and the title cut has a topnotch video produced by South Shore songsmith Jay Psaros. In the intervening years, Blacker has released a couple of singles, including 2017's "Blood from Your Gun," which is framed in a lively R&B format and alludes to an abusive relationship.
"It's been a minute since I released a new record," Blacker said with a laugh. "I plan to record and release at least an EP this year. I really have enough new songs written for two albums, so we'll see how it goes. Mainly I've been concentrating on getting back to live music venues. It wasn't until last year that we even started doing indoor venues again. The pandemic set us back, and then (husband/percussionist) Aaron (Katz) and I both got COVID-19, and it took us a good three months to fully recover. And along with that, we have elderly parents, so we wanted to be especially cautious. So, bottom line, it took us a while to become comfortable with the idea of playing out again."
For the show at Club Passim on Saturday, Blacker will be billed as fronting the Sarah Blacker Band, which will include Katz on drums/percussion, Phil Selesnick on keyboards and bass, and guest vocalists Mark Lipman and Danielle Lovasco.
"Believe it or not, I typically do use a band at Club Passim," said Blacker. "My husband is the most dynamic drummer and percussionist I've ever heard, yet he never overplays. Phil Selesnick plays bass with one hand and keyboards with the other, and he's a fantastic musician. My two guest vocalists will really add a lot; Mark sings with me a lot, a very versatile vocalist, while Danielle is one of my Berklee interns and a very talented singer. We're all looking forward to it, both for being able to get out and perform again, and the chance to let people hear this really fine band."
Blacker's canine influencer, Bruce, the chocolate Lab
Aside from her counseling and musical work, Blacker also has a new role that is all fun: managing the Instagram account of "brucefromsalem." The beloved Beasley lived to almost 15 and Blacker and Katz welcomed Bruce, a chocolate Lab, to their family a couple of years ago. The pictorial adventures of young Bruce have taken off, and he now has nearly 6,000 followers.
"We just started sharing photos of Bruce because he is so cute," Blacker said. "It has really grown so fast. I must say, with all the negativity online and in social media, the dog community is one place that is always positive and supportive and very welcoming – an oasis online. But Bruce gets products sent to him now, and he's become an influencer, which is hilarious to us. He's very photogenic and we try and post pictures almost every day."
Jazzy Valentine's Dance in Quincy
Looking ahead a bit, the Sons of Italy in Quincy, 120 Quarry St., will welcome the Roy Scott Big Band on Friday, Feb. 10, for a Jazzy Valentine's Dance from 8 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $20 and include refreshments and a cash bar. The Roy Scott Big Band is 18 strong and plays pop, swing, Latin, funk and jazz tunes, and is part of The Sharon Band family. Check sharon-band.org for more of their activities.
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The fundraising continues for Cohasset's Lance Norris, an actor/musician/director/comedian who has parts in "Don't Look Up" and reigning best-picture "CODA." Norris has started treatments at Dana-Farber for the rare soft tissue sarcoma he was diagnosed with just before Christmas. The former WBCN personality and frontman of the satiric Stools rock band is still providing his acerbic commentary on Boston's pro sports teams on social media. A visit to his GoFundMe page – titled Cancer for Christmas – also features updates, written in Norris' typically dark humor. For example, one more surgery and "I qualify for free hysterectomy." The fundraising goal is $250,000 and as of Jan. 31, $9,344 has been raised.
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THURSDAY: G. Love and Special Sauce grooves at The Paradise Rock Club. Jazz with the Michael Iannantuoni Quartet at The Spire Center. Professor Caffeine + The Insecurities at Soundcheck Studios. The Palaver Strings warm up Club Passim.
FRIDAY: Playing Jerry is a tribute to Jerry Garcia at Soundcheck Studios. It's K-Pop Night at Brighton Music Hall. Revels Fringe plays all kinds of music at Club Passim.
SATURDAY: Colby James and The Ramblers light up The Narrows Center. Witchcraft and Screams of Hockomock sounds eerie at The C Note. Quadrafunk gets down at Soundcheck Studios. Folk rock supergroup Gone Gone Beyond at The Sinclair. Scullers is open again for jazz fans, with pianist Michael Weiss and his trio. Emo Night Brooklyn at Brighton Music Hall.
SUNDAY: Heavy rock with Anthrax and Black Label Society at The House of Blues. Canadian songsmith JP Cormier at Club Passim.
WEDNESDAY: Pop star Vance Joy headlines MGM Music Hall.
See Sarah Blacker
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 4
Where: Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Cambridge
Info: 617-492-7679 or clubpassim.org
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Catching up with singer Sarah Blacker and her Insta-famous dog, Bruce