by Len Lear
Mt. Airy resident Gaille “Gypsy Heart” Hunter (“I added an extra ‘l’ to my name so it would be different from everybody else’s”) is just your basic Renaissance woman: cabaret singer, classical singer, artist, published poet and college psychology professor — and all at a high level of proficiency and achievement.
Gaille, who requested that her age not be mentioned, will perform “Jazz Standards” with pianist Andy Trackman, also of Mt. Airy (he is also an administrator for the Community Development Corporation), on Thursday, June 27, 5 to 6 p.m., at Town Hall, 5928-65 Germantown Ave., between Rittenhouse and Haines Streets. And there was a book signing for her poetry book, “My Velvet Pillow,” at the Rising Sun Medical Center, 7210 Rising Sun Ave., last Friday, June 14.
“The true reward of creativity,” she insisted, “is being able to express yourself. If you can also be successful in a monetary way, that is icing on the cake.”
Gaille has written her own “Smooth Blues” repertoire with local musician Ed Wise producing her tracks and charts. (“He’s phenomenal,” she said.) She will be performing with Vernon Lewis’ Milennium 04 Big Band at the Clef Club, 738 S. Broad St., on Sunday, June 23, 2:30 p.m., and Dennis Sigovich’s Big Horn Jazz Band at Johnny Brenda’s in the near future. And for the last two years, she has performed her original smooth blues at two vegan Sunday Brunch venues, 7165 Lounge in Mt. Airy and Cafe at the Mills in East Falls.
Perhaps Gaille’s most significant accomplishment, however, was a CD she made after the 9/11 catastrophe called “City of Hope” with highly regarded producer Bolden Abrams of the Coffee and Cream Studio in Germantown. She wrote five of the 13 songs on the album. The observation deck at Ground Zero was opened to the public on Dec. 30, 2001, and on that day Gaille went to the observation deck and gave away 100 of her CDs filled with inspirational songs.
“I knew that New York needed hope and could only recover and heal with hope,” explained Hunter, “and I just wanted to make whatever small contribution I could to help produce that hope. The overall reaction was very receptive. Only one or two people would not take the CD. Of course, I was unable to observe anyone listening to it, so I can just hope it had a positive effect on those who did listen to it afterwards.”
The youngest of three children, Gaille was born in Roxborough Memorial Hospital and grew up on Hortter Street in Mt. Airy. Her father was a porter at Sears & Roebuck and a waiter at Cedarbrook Country Club. With a stay-at-home mom who once sang with famed gospel singer Clara Ward, a brother six years her senior and a sister four years her senior, Gaille led a relatively sheltered life.
She took piano lessons at home for two years and later took lessons at school. She sang in her church choir, in the All-City Choir and the choir at Girls High School. “I always found Mozart’s choir music extremely good for my voice,” said Gaille, who received a BA in voice in 1988 from the University of the Arts. In the late ‘70s she took painting, drawing and art history classes at Pasadena City College and has taken classes in Philadelphia at the Fleischer Art School.
The Mt. Airy resident also has a master’s degree in education from Temple University and is currently working on a doctorate in Educational Psychology at Temple University researching Visitor Studies and how the public is being educated about a new 21st century lifestyle.
Hunter also teaches Psychology at Kaplan Career Institute in Broomall and Penn State Abington, and she taught Intellectual Heritage Mosaics at Temple for two years and Art Education for a year at the Tyler School of Art. Her psychology studies have obviously made Gaille introspective about her creative outlets.
“Most of us develop a facade to interface with the world,” she observed. “It protects us from the cruelties we encounter day to day. Sometimes I feel like an oyster unable to stand up to reality without my shell of armor. I think some people do not engage in artistic expression because they cannot expose their oyster. They’ve protected themselves so well, even against themselves.”
The first exhibit of Gaille’s paintings was in February, 2002, at the October Gallery, Philadelphia’s premier African American gallery. As a member of Woodmere Art Museum, she showcased “Knowledge” in the 2004 Summer Members Exhibit. She has also exhibited her work at the Ellen Powell-Tiberino Museum in Powelton Village (founder and acclaimed artist Joe Tiberino has been a major supporter of her work); Cathedral Village in Andorra exhibited her “Silhouette Children” paintings (although the children in the paintings are in silhouette, many observers commented that the children have as much expression as if their facial features were visible), and the Carol Schwartz Gallery in Chestnut Hill has shown some of her works. Her most recent exhibits were at an unnamed venue at 39th and Lancaster that ended June 14 and at the “Flying Kite” (online magazine) floating exhibit in Germantown in February.
Gaille has also produced three books of poetry, “These are the Keys,” “My Velvet Pillow” and “The Best of Both Worlds.” Several of her poems have been published in college literary magazines and on the internet, and she has written children’s stories as well.
“I did not have a lot of fun growing up or as an adult,” Gaille revealed. “I concentrated on my education and musical endeavors to develop my voice, but I am on a quest now to fill my sacred vessel with my spiritual eye and ears and then empty it into my artwork. When I write a poem or a song or paint a picture, I’m fulfilling a responsibility to the universe to return the nurturance it has graciously afforded me.”