That was my opening line as I stuttered through introducing myself and whom I work for, over a static-filled telephone connection.
“Lea,” she responded, upon finally understanding my babbling about how I was calling her to interview her about her work. Lea chuckled as I stumbled again in clarifying that she wanted me to use her first name.
Lea Gilmore has been performing for the past twenty years, combining music and issues of social justice to change the world around her. The cool thing about her: she was really involved on the McDaniel Campus through Common Ground on the Hill.
Lea: “I’ve been involved with Common Ground since year one, I’m definitely a Common Grounder. In fact, I owe a lot my musical success to what I’ve learned at Common Ground and I carry that with me. What I do is Social Justice. I taught 15 years at McDaniel, just until two years ago. I’ve been involved since the very, very beginning, and I try to stay as involved as I can be. I was on the board for a few years. I’m very much looking forward to doing a concert as a part of the series.”
The series she is talking about is the Common Ground on the Hill series that exists both here in Westminster and in Baltimore year-round. In fact, she is performing in Baltimore tonight, Friday Mar. 7. Gilmore is from the Baltimore area, and when I asked her whether she was excited to be performing close to home, I could almost feel her jump with excitement on the other end of the line, full of exuberance about singing at home and the type of music showcased in the series.
Lea: “The series is very eclectic, it features a lot of different artists, specifically in Folk music, and they have a series in Baltimore and Westminster. I’m very excited.
I get to sing in Baltimore [this time] and that’s so rare. It’s nice, usually I have to get on a flight, I’m excited about being able to drive and perform with my home folks. ”
I caught the quick “flight” mentioned and asked whether she performed away from the area often, her answer was a bit surprising.
Lea: “I normally perform in Europe, I’m actually going to Siberia March 16. I’ll be performing at the Philharmonic with them, I’m really looking forward to it, this is my third time going! And in April I’ve been invited to tour France by the state department.”
Q: Europe? Why Europe? Did you just decide to go over?
Lea: “I just get invited to different countries to do concerts. I started a project called Umoja Gaelica, it’s a project between me, Scottish, English musicians and Northern Irish musicians to promote social justice.
I just got back from Italy, and I’ll be going back to Europe in the summer.
Music is a great way to support Social Justice; I also lecture on human rights and women’s rights, and I lecture in Europe on many of these things as well.”
Q: How long have you been performing?
Lea: “The music has always been there, when you grow up AA in a black church you don’t remember when you learned certain things. I would say I’ve been performing for 20 years, and Common Ground really helped me get started.”
Q: I also read you graduated with a political science degree?
Lea: “I graduated with Political Science and Economics degrees. I also worked, I still work, for social justice organization. I was the deputy director for the ACLU for several years.”
The next bit of info she was very excited to share:
Lea: “I also just got voted one of Maryland’s 100 top women by the Daily Record.”
As we were speaking, she got a call then explained she had to go pick up her son, yet she continued with the conversation. I was curious; this individual who has fought for Social Justice her entire life, and dedicated herself to the cause is a loving mother as well? Yup that’s right.
Lea: “Yes I have two sons, and yes I’m like somebody’s wife. I was married when I was 18 and I’m still married to the same person. My sons are [in their 20s]. I have two grown kids and I’m still in my 40s and I like it very much. I did it the other way, I went to school with kids and it’s much easier to do it the other way.”
With all this information, I learned that Lea is a busy woman with a busy schedule, so I wanted to let her go after asking her two last quick questions.
Q: What’s your favorite genre of music to perform? Do you even have one?
Lea: “Oh my God. There are so many genres that I love and adore, but I really… I sang opera for a while… but African American traditional music is really close to me and close to my soul, so I really enjoy performing it for different audiences. The words and feelings have no color—it’s about survival and struggle and perseverance, the ‘universalism’ of it.”
Q: What are you working on currently?
Lea: “I formed this network and they work for policy, justice and fairness for all Marylanders, by using social media as well as grass roots movements. We are under a Progressive umbrella, but it’s a really great group of people working together to spread rights for all, period.
It’s all a part of how I live my life.”
As we said our goodbyes and I pressed “end” my phone, I couldn’t help but be a bit saddened that I didn’t have more time to speak with her. Lea Gilmore is an extraordinary woman, and someone who has been involved in local government and Common Ground on the Hill for a long time. Her influence is far reaching, and I cannot wait to learn about potential future projects, whether it’s singing at Westminster Abbey, flying to perform at the Paris Opera House, or staying stateside to perform for her neighbors.
For more information on Lea Gilmore click here. To hear her music, look her up on YouTube.
If you’re interested in trying to go see Lea Gilmore perform, Common Ground has info here.