In a Victoria operating room, a nurse makes pre-surgery small talk.
“You’re a singer?” she says prior to beginning a routine procedure. “You should sing something for us.”
Her patient then launches into La Vie en Rose, the smooth French lyrics rise up and fill the OR. The nurse breaks down in tears.
“She said: ‘That just made my day. That just made my day,’” recounts jazz singer Maureen Washington. “And then she cut me up.”
Washington calls herself a storyteller. Her tales, in song, are woven from pieces of her own experiences, of which this single mother of five has plenty. Washington somehow played 99 shows in 2013. Still, she seemed just a little disappointed when that nurse didn’t request an encore performance at a follow up appointment. The vocalist, songwriter and self-described procrastinator had a holiday song ready and though she can grow a little tired of giving her goods away for free – cut to last January when she was held hostage taking requests at a karaoke night on vacation in Mexico – she revels in her calling as a songstress.
“I love the magic of being captivated in a song. Sometimes I just sing, but I love the magic that takes you away. It sometimes takes me away in a different way than the listeners, but I love that you can say so much in a song and be taken away to someplace else for that little moment.”
That love was strong enough to take Washington away quite literally – from her home town of Prince George, despite plenty of notoriety and work as a vocal coach and lounge singer. The shift can be attributed to a friendship with a man known-well around the Victoria music scene, singer-songwriter Daniel Cook. Washington met Cook while he was living up north and after a successful run in a dance band together, Cook began encouraging Washington to move to Victoria.
For someone entrenched in a life with five kids and a mortgage, her answer was plainly: no.
“He’d still phone and say: ‘When are you coming?’”
In August 2006, a 39-year-old Washington arrived in Victoria with four of her five kids (the fifth has since moved to the island to join her). That night, asleep in Cook’s basement, where the family stayed for their first month in the city, Washington awoke startled.
“I actually sat up and said ‘Oh my gosh, what did I just do?’ I just sold my house and moved my family here and I didn’t even know Victoria.”
With no job and no plan, coming off a hectic work/life schedule back in Prince George, Washington took advantage of her first months here to recharge. By Christmas, she began performing. Fast forward a few years and her gig schedule is once again non-stop.
“Some things you can look at logically and say: ‘That’s not going to work.’ I say: ‘What if it does work?’ Then I jump. Sometimes I don’t even have that conversation with myself. I just go and mid-jump I realize I didn’t look at the risks. But then it’s OK. I have a lot of confidence in who I am.”
This mom calls herself a diva for the glitz and glamour, not the attitude. But like others with the title, she’s bold. She’s a powerhouse vocalist in false eyelashes who doesn’t mind wiping a bandmate’s face if need be. And when she sees that diva strength come out in her daughters, she doesn’t mind at all.
“Some of the things that I’ve done in my life that my kids have watched, or seen me struggle through have brought in that confidence. Even the quiet ones have strong personalities.”
The next two leaps on the horizon for Washington: recording more music and heading out on tour. She considers both money-losers, but integral to telling her stories to new audiences.
“I always hope that people feel inspired. That they felt loved. That they felt sorrow. That they actually felt emotions. That they stopped their lives and actually just got to breathe. That they actually stopped their lives, whatever was going on and just had those moments to feel embraced, loved, angered. That they got to feel something other than stressed and busyness.”
Even if those moments happen in a hospital room.