By Al Kaufman
Elise Witt is one of those local treasures that nobody knows about. The multi-linguist from Switzerland, who has called Atlanta home since 1977, has been a cultural ambassador to South Africa, China, Italy, Nicaragua and Switzerland, represented Georgia for the Kennedy Center's 25th Anniversary Celebration, has studied under Bobby McFerrin, sung under the direction of Robert Shaw for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus for 20 years, created singing workshops for adults and children all over the globe, and hosted musicians from outside countries to play locally.
The kicker is, in addition to all that, she has one of the purest and sweetest voices you are likely to ever hear. Valise is Witt's "suitcase of global, local, and homemade songs." Witt was a German-speaking three-years-old when her family moved to the States from Switzerland. Her more recent work with refugee families in Atlanta caused her to look back upon her own new beginnings in a foreign country and pay homage to that time, which she does here with a wonderfully diverse and eclectic mix.
When you are as nice and as well-traveled as Witt, you make a lot of friends, and she seems to call upon almost every one of them on this CD. The most obvious example is on "Blessed Nation," a poem written by Pete Seeger in which Witt added some lyrics and a melody. Besides her three-woman chorus, Witt calls upon folk legend and recent Atlanta transplant John McCutcheon for lead vocals for one verse, and former Weaver and co-founder of the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, Frank Hamilton, for another.
Longtime partner Mick Kinney adds his piano and vocals (and violins, and accordions, and guitars, etc.) throughout, most notably on "Our Favorite Things," in which Kinny updates the lyrics from the Sound of Music classic tune. In this modern version, "Thai food and T'aiChi, Qigong and I Ching/These are a few of my favorite things."
But this CD is all Witt. She pays homage to the old Motown style on "Venus Between Us," then to bebop with "Jackie." She even does a bit of white housewife rap on "Clothes Swap."
She sings in German, French, and Spanish. She scats, swings, and serenades. She takes the listener on a journey throughout the world of music, and what a delightful journey it is.
Elise Witt celebrates her CD release at Callenwolde Fine Arts Center on November 1.