Sonia Rutstein, a Jewish LGBTQ+ singer from Baltimore who has performed in more than 20 countries, is reuniting with her band for a dynamic performance.
The band’s name, “SONiA disappear fear” came about from a phrase Rutstein coined when she worked at the Baltimore Center for Victims of Sexual Assault during the 1980s.
“When you’re assaulted, you lose all sense of your own power,” she says. “I thought (that) if you could ‘disappear fear,’ you could own your own choices again and become whole … what you can have then is love between people.”
Rutstein hopes her music makes people feel less alone, particularly in light of International Disappear Fear Day (Feb. 18), which was created to inspire dreams of a world without these pressures.
Catch Rutstein performing several new songs with her longest-running touring band following the 25th anniversary of their album “Seed of the Sahara” on Feb. 19 at The Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts on the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC campus.
Learn more about the music of SONiA disappear fear and Rutstein’s use of music to embrace humanitarian causes.
What led you to become a musician?
I love music. I was very affected by it, and I had the opportunity to see Louis Armstrong Satchmo—when I was about 5 ½. My great aunt took me out of kindergarten, and we went down to the Flower Mart, which was downtown by the Washington Monument, and he was doing “Hello, Dolly!” It was on an outdoor platform stage with a whole band, and I’d never seen anything like it. It’s the first time I ever actually had heard something on the radio and got to see it live. You know, it’s not just like teeny little people in the radio, which is what a lot of kids think. It’s an actual human being that’s doing this, and there it is. He was playing his trumpet and everybody was loving it, and I was loving it. It was a beautiful day and I was like “that is what I want to do.”
How would you describe the music you create? Who are your biggest influences?
When I describe my music, I don’t really describe the music so much (as) the way it sounds. I describe the people who have influenced me in terms of what they’ve been able to make happen with their music—like Odetta, whom I sound nothing like, or Stevie Wonder or Louis Armstrong. I would say too like Vincent Van Gogh, but to my music—to be so heartfelt that you can feel it. You feel it and you know you’re not alone.
How has being a part of the Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities influenced you as a musician?
It makes me very much aware of alienation, which makes me aware of trying to be inclusive and trying not to be reclusive after all this pandemic stuff. It’s easy to just cocoon, but it’s important I think that we come together.
Why has it been so important to get involved in humanitarian causes personally and through your music?
It does seem like an organic decision to make. In Judaism, we think perhaps—this is my interpretation—of our hands as being the extension of God’s hands. With that opportunity, it seems quite natural to choose to heal problems that I can. I’m not a doctor; I’m not a lawyer. I’m not smart enough or a rabbi, but I can sing and I can touch people. We can feel something really powerful together.
Tell us about International Disappear Fear Day. What is the goal with your project?
Wouldn’t it be great if the world could be that way? That it would empower us. Eighteen is the number of “chai.” When people wear (the chai symbol), it’s the eighth and 10th letters of the Hebrew alphabet and makes for that expression like L’chaim, and so I thought “to life,” you know?
Three out of four of us have the same birthday (Rutstein, her late bass player Dominic Vigliotti and sound technician Walter Harley were all born Feb. 18.)
(During) the earlier part of my career, a lot of what my music was about was that love is love regardless of your plumbing—whether you have indoor or outdoor (women or men). Some of the, shall I say, the good fights are being won, which helps push me into places where there is still a lot of man’s inhumanity to man.
To find more upcoming tour dates for SONiA disappear fear, including an upcoming cruise through Alaskan waters, visit soniadisappearfear.com