By Susan Alexander
“YOU DON’T OWN ME: A tribute to the Fearless Females of the 1960s.”
In the glittering Venetian Room at San Francisco’s super-elegant Fairmont Hotel, on November 24, 2019 Carole J. Bufford’s effervescent performance immediately won over her audience. Garbed in a loose-fitting dress covered in sparkling red sequins, Bufford proved why she’s considered one of the most sought-after young performers on the cabaret and jazz scene.
Introduced by Bay Area Cabaret executive producer Marilyn Levinson as a singer who “defies categorization,” Bufford paid tribute to a number of the “fearless female” singers and songwriters who came to prominence in the 1960s. Her choices represented a wide range of compelling ‘60s songs recorded by women singers.
Opening with the hit song highlighted in the title of her show, “You Don’t Own Me,” both written and sung by Lesley Gore in 1963, Bufford made it perfectly clear that she’d focus on songs underlining a woman’s desire to be both independent and strong. Other songs with a similar theme, like Dusty Springfield’s 1965 hit, ”You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (which turned out to be the biggest hit of her career), and Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” kept the theme going. Bufford not only sang a powerful rendition of “Boots,” but she also revealed that its songwriter, a man named Lee Hazlewood, originally wrote it for a male singer. Nancy Sinatra persuaded him that if a man sang that song, it would come off as harsh and abusive, while a woman singer’s version would be “just right.” And the pop charts proved Nancy’s instincts to be correct.
A few other songs were somewhat less allied to the overall theme but equally endearing. One of them was Mama Cass’s rendition of “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” which hit the top of the charts in 1968. As a bit of background info, Bufford noted that the song was originally written in 1931, and the story is that Mama Cass at first resisted performing it. Another hit song, whose lyrics came straight out of the Bible, was Judy Collins’s 1963 rendition of “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a gentle and meaningful song (but not exactly “fearless”) and an audience favorite.
Totally comfortable onstage belting out her songs, Bufford covered a wide range of other songs and performers that she relished. The audience paid rapt attention to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” a poignant song written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin in 1960 and notably performed by the Shirelles, an “all-girl” African-American group from New Jersey. As Bufford pointed out, the recording of this song by the Shirelles in 1960 turned out to be the first record by a black female group to hit the top spot in the pop charts, making recording history.
Bufford revealed that some of her other favorite performers from this era include Tina Turner (especially after she went solo), as well as Cher, Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, and Jeannie C. Riley, whose 1968 hit “Harper Valley PTA” Bufford chose to represent country music. (This reviewer might have preferred to hear a song by a country singer like Patsy Kline, Loretta Lynn, or Dolly Parton, all of whom recorded songs in the 1960s.)
Only one thing kept this performance from total perfection: Although her music director and pianist Ian Herman was extremely good, and Daniel Fabricant on bass often added beautifully to a particular song, the drums occasionally overshadowed even Bufford’s powerful voice. Talented drummer David Rokeach could try to keep the volume a bit more restrained.
Bufford’s dynamic program ended all too soon for the audience, who clearly would have lingered to hear a host of additional songs. But as the program came to a close, she endeared herself even further to her audience when she proclaimed that it was a “joy to sing in San Francisco, in this beautiful room,” and graciously thanked Bay Area Cabaret for affording her this fabulous venue.
Future Bay Area Cabaret Performances