Music can serve as either the subtle, supportive bass line or the guitar-guided melody in anyone’s life at varying times. For Paula Boggs, leading woman of the aptly named “Soulgrass” group the Paula Boggs band, the singer and songwriter shared with the New-Press how reconnecting with her musical roots gave her a purpose few other things could match.
To reconnect with something, obviously, you have to be detached from it to begin with. That was the case for Boggs’ musical nature, as her love of playing guitar and writing music she developed at the age of 10 took a backseat once she became a committed working professional in her 30s. Though Boggs wasn’t sacrificing her dedication and passion for music in order to keep a simple desk job and maintain a standard of living. She thrived in every field she entered, from being an officer and earning her wings in the U.S. Army’s Airborne to being a partner at the law firm of Preston Gates & Ellis to serving as vice president of both Dell and Starbucks.
Even with the esteem and responsibility those occupations hold, a great mind like Boggs is always looking to challenge herself. It’s what led her back to the start with music in 2007 and made official by parting ways with Starbucks in 2012. From there, the opportunity to rekindle the musical identity of her youth was too good to pass up.
“Writing music was a way to express myself at a time when, as a little kid, it was the best way for me to express myself,” Boggs said. “Even to this day, there are aspects of what music is for me and gives me a certain way to express myself that no other [method] allows.”
Influences from all parts of life contributed to Boggs’ affinity for creating tunes. Her father’s Roman Catholic faith and the church’s increasing integration of folk-style music during her childhood combined with her mother’s devotion to the African Methodist Episcopal and their preference for gospel hymns built a foundation of harmonious understanding. Spending her teen years in Europe also widened her palette. By absorbing a culture that appreciates classical music while also was witnessing the introduction of jazz to the continent and the early age of electronica, it all planted the seed of her band’s unique sound of Soulgrass.
Clearly Boggs was always a fan of music. But she hadn’t felt the void that musical expression filled until life threw a curveball that knocked her off her feet.
“For me, certainly a triggering event was the sudden death of my sister-in-law in a car accident that really put me in a place of extreme grief,” Boggs continued. “Returning to music and picking up my guitar became a way for me to grieve. Once I picked up my guitar, it was a point of no return.”
The rest, as they say, is history. After a New Year’s resolution to perform at one open mic per month, Boggs was officially bitten by the music bug. She dedicated her time to writing songs and orchestrating pieces along with her newly formed group and focused on refining the band’s eclectic sound into a soothing, yet snappy scores that blessed the world with Soulgrass. It’s that sound that set apart the band’s debut album, Buddha State of Mind in 2010 and further distinguished the group’s follow up Carnival of Miracles in 2015
Not too bad for the former service woman, lawyer and corporate executive. And while all these occupations may seemingly run in contrast to one another in terms of the values they promote and demand, all the world needs to know is that Boggs’ music comes from the heart.
“The thing that, hopefully, people take away about me whether it is with the military, lawyer, business or musician hat on is that they believe I’m authentic,” Boggs stated. “There’s a reason why the music you’re hearing is so distinct. They’re made by people who have worked on their craft for years… so hopefully the listener is coming away with a sense of how real our sound is.”
Paula Boggs Band will be performing at Villain & Saint in Bethesda, MD on Thursday, August 17. For more information on Paula Boggs Band, visit paulaboggsband.net.