US soul diva comes to Lismore

WITH a voice to rival the greatest soul divas of the past 50 years, it’s hard to believe that rock ’n’ roll was banned in the childhood home of Toni Childs.

Born in California and raised across the southern US states of Kansas, Arkansas and Nevada, Childs lived with her deeply religious parents who were all fire and brimstone in their resistance to the musical revolution of the 1960s.

But something must have sparked inside Childs.

“Music just happened because my childhood was difficult. I sang as a way to vent. I remember music from houses in the neighbourhood but it weren’t a part of my life because it wasn’t allowed to be,” Childs told Pulse.

Childs ran away from home at 15 and witnessed a Pink Floyd concert which jump-started a career that has spanned four decades.

The bohemian songstress had several musical incarnations through the ’70s and ’80s but found her feet as a solo artist when she released her debut album Union in 1988.

Her powerhouse vocals were disarming, tough as nails, but wholly feminine.

The R ’n’ B-driven Stop Your Fussing was an instant hit and the album went on to receive three Grammy nominations. She then opened for Bob Dylan on her first US tour.

“I was living my 15-year-old ambition,” she said.

Nowadays the 52-year-old is surrounded by a different hype. This is her second Australian tour in two years and Childs sounds as fresh as she was in the ’80s.

But it wasn’t like this 13 years ago when she was diagnosed with Graves Disease, a serious thyroid disorder.

“They wanted to take my thyroid and put me on medication for the rest of my life. I had to ask myself, is that me loving myself or giving away my power,” she said.

So she retreated to a small Hawaiian island and learnt to live with the disease over eight years, weaning herself off the medication and adopting a radically organic health regime.

During those years, Childs also became a voice for the empowerment of women with involvement in the YWCA Sexual Assault Treatment centre on Kauai in Hawaii. She won an Emmy in 2004 for Because You’re Beautiful – a song about violence against women and a veiled reaction to her own lack of self-love.

Overcoming these demons has inspired a few new projects, including the launching of an interactive website,– made to inspire and celebrate women, as well as her own range of natural beauty products, Feminine Mysteries.

And, of course, a long-awaited return to music.

Childs’ current Australian tour comes after the 2008 release of Keep The Faith, a gospel-tinged blues/rock album with an apt title for the past chapter of Childs’ life.

“I’m not a part of a big machine anymore. I am the machine now," she said.

"I woke up. I guess I needed that time out to know that.”

With many an obstacle overcome, Childs has surely proved that music is the ultimate healing power.

“It is absolutely a healing power,” she confirmed, “It’s the source of my evolution.”

Toni Childs performs on Tuesday, March 16, at the Lismore Workers Club, Lismore. Tickets are $48 or $53 at the door. Doors open at 7.30pm.

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