By Lou Mancinelli
If you heard Center City resident Jen Creed sing on her December, 2010, album “Goodnight Is Not Goodbye,” you’d never guess that eight years ago she underwent a number of voice surgeries, and wasn’t sure if she’d ever sing again.
For Creed, singing, as it were, paid the bills. She was a sought-after professional vocal coach in her Philadelphia studio. Before that, she’d been across the country performing opera and Broadway musicals with New York City production companies.
Now, several years later after rehabilitating her vocal chords, she’s made an album with the help of WXPN matriarch Helen Leicht, and is in the process of scheduling a number of upcoming performances.
Creed’s relationship with Leicht stems back to their roots at St. Alphonsus Parish in the Ambler area. Creed, who will be 35 this May, was raised in Dresher, went to St. Alphonsus grade school and Gwyned Mercy Academy High School. She received a Philadelphia Archdiocesan Scholarship for academics and vocals to attend Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
“I never wanted to major in voice,” said Creed early one Saturday evening in March during an interview in the Art Museum section of the city. “I got into Princeton and other places. But I ended up hearing the LaSalle [High School] band, and I knew music was in my heart. My dad wouldn’t let me go to college without studying something else, so I studied math.”
After college, Creed lived in Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper East Side in Manhattan and pursued a career as a singer. There was “Les Misérables” in Los Angeles and “The Sound of Music” in the Midwest. But the uncertainty of future roles and the transient lifestyle were not what she wanted.
She was backstage in Milwaukee one day, when one of the older actresses who was putting on makeup said, “What I wouldn’t give to do the Society Hill Playhouse.” Creed’s first role had been as Miss Scarlet in a performance of “Clue” at the Society Hill Playhouse a few years prior in 1998. Creed asked the women if she was referring to Philadelphia.
“When she said yes, I knew I had to come back to Philadelphia,” said Creed. “My family was here. My relationships were here.”
There were so many other things she wanted to do. So, at the turn of the century, after a year and a half or so of traveling and performing, Creed moved back to Philadelphia and established herself as a vocal teacher and coach. She taught vocals at Waldron and Merion Mercy Academies in Merion and at her studio.
But in the fall of 2003, Creed faced a major setback. Her vocal chords had become infected from overuse. It’s the same with singers and vocal injuries as it is with football players and injuries, doctors told her. If you line up 100 football players, 99 will get a knee injury. She underwent surgery in 2003. Surgery was followed by years of rehabilitation.
Despite being unable to sing, Creed’s love of music and belief in its “power to heal” compelled her to continue being involved in the world of music. In 2004, she accepted a voice fellowship from world-renowned voice surgeon Dr. Robert Sataloff. That experience led to Creed being appointed executive director of the international scientific organization The Voice Foundation (TVF). She now serves on the Board of Directors for TVF, a board that has included figures over the years like the late Teddy Pendergrass and Jack Klugman (of “The Odd Couple”).
“I left music because of the surgeries and to let myself recover,” said Creed. “I didn’t think I’d miss it, but I did. The surgeries were difficult, and I thought I might never sing again. But I’m a naturally optimistic person. I was determined to overcome it.”
And so, over the years she’s worked to overcome the roadblocks. While you might expect her voice, after numerous vocal surgeries, to sound more like the gravel and dirt of Tom Waits’ voice (on “Goodnight Is Not Goodbye” she actually covers Waits’ “Take It With Me”), her sound is far from it. Her glorious, soaring sound is what you would expect from a professional opera/theater singer raised in choirs with a degree in vocal performance.
The album came about when Creed called Leicht, an old family friend, a little over two years ago. “All I know is I miss music,” Creed said to Leicht. “I’m not sure how, or what, but can you help?” Leicht, who was familiar with Creed’s background, invited her to sing at the “Home for the Holidays” WXPN event in December, 2009. After the performance, Leicht started getting emails about the singer.
It all led to the place where Creed and Leicht realized they shared the same vision of the power of music to heal and bring people together. “I believe in what you believe in,” Leicht told her. And so, during the snowstorm of 2010, Leicht spent the week at Creed’s apartment where they listened to scores of songs she might sing and talked about the album. Creed rehearsed the songs last spring and recorded the album with Grammy-winning Springhouse producer Glenn Barratt last summer and fall.
Creed, who plays piano, penned the title track herself. It’s a tribute to her mother, who died from breast cancer at 46. “She was sick at 39, and she never let on she was sick,” said Creed. “Even though she’s not here, I feel her presence … when you’re a daughter, it’s like there’s an imprint in your soul.”
For now, Creed continues her work with TVF to bring together physicians, scientists, speech-language pathologists, performers and teachers to share their knowledge and expertise in the care of the voice. She also works full-time in the investment management industry.
On March 9, Creed performed the National Anthem at a 76ers game. She will sing the Anthem again at Citizen’s Bank Park in April as part of a fundraising event for the For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation. To purchase or listen to her album, and for more information about soon-to-be- released concert dates, visit www.jencreed.com.