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Music brings faiths together

| Saturday, Aug. 20, 2005

Many performers who have graced some of the storied rooms in the country might think twice about playing an out-of-the-way pavilion in Harrison.

Not so, however, for O'Hara resident Lynda Jamison, who has sung the Great American Songbook on some of music's most prestigious stages, including New York City's Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel, the Rainbow Room and Russian Tea Room.

Jamison, whose mid-life transformation from housewife to cabaret star has been chronicled in a "20/20" TV interview with Barbara Walters and a cover story in Life magazine, is enthusiastic about her performance at 7 tonight at the Pittsburgh-Tarentum Campmeeting Association grounds in Natrona Heights.

The song stylist will offer a program of sacred tunes and secular standards at the covered outdoor tabernacle. She will be accompanied by a trio associated with the Pittsburgh Symphony and jazz community, including two members of Trio Grande.

The performance will conclude this season's performance series at the historic campground, which brings together residents of many faiths.

"I like the instant tranquility one gets as soon as one walks onto the grounds. It is as if it is hallowed ground," she says. "The campground reminds me of Chautauqua Institute and has the same quality of feeling the presence of God all over it," she says.

That feeling, she adds, will be the basis of her performance.

Jamison is working on an album of religious music, a follow-up to her most recent secular CD, her fifth, "I'm in the Mood for Love."

She made her campground debut five years ago. "I love the peacefulness one gets when visiting there, as well as the people. They make you feel like they have known you forever and are old friends," she says.

"What a joy to have that in today's world of chaos," she says. "I find myself gravitating more toward the simple lifestyle rather than the bustle of the city life. I'm very involved in my church and a far simpler lifestyle."

As Jamison approaches her 60th birthday, she is adopting a "less is more" approach to life, one that emphasizes relationships rather than business.

She says her faith is at the core of her accomplishments and guides every aspect of her life.

"Every time I go on stage, I pray, and I dedicate the show to God. He gave me the voice, so why not give it back?" she says.

Even when she plays secular venues, she insists that her encore reflects a spiritual theme. "At first, people thought I would hang myself by doing that. But in the end, they realized it just fortified my singing," she says.

Jamison credits vocalist Sandy Staley, the Brackenridge resident who is a significant presence in Pittsburgh jazz circles, for coaxing Jamison on to a stage. Jamison says it was the single most important moment in her career.

"I owe her everything, because she found me, dragged me out of a Fox Chapel kitchen, put me on stage and said 'Sing. You were born to do it.' She is my idol," Jamison says.

In New York City, Jamison was mentored by Margaret Whiting, a pop singer of the '40s and '50s who had more than 40 hits between 1946 and 1954, including "That Old Black Magic," "Moonlight in Vermont" and "It Might as Well Be Spring."

Jamison says one of the freeze-frame moments of her career came when she sang with Whiting at her apartment, the first day Jamison arrived in New York City, and then joined Whiting at the Russian Tea Room.

Jamison is passing on the kindness that has been shown to her, including her involvement with The Foundation for the Gift of Life, which raises money for Third World children with heart defects.

"Nothing is more important to me than children. To look into these sad eyes of very sick children when they get to us, and then see the joy and twinkle in their eyes after surgery is beyond description." she says. "This is what our world is called to do: Reach out and help each other and pass the joy on."

Tonight, in a pavilion in a wooded section of Harrison, Jamison will accomplish that with her music.

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