By Sarah Bennett
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The first thing that strikes you about Ruthie Foster is that voice, a soulful, glorious instrument that simply soars. It's so stirring that some critics are comparing her to the likes of Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday. So why has Foster's blend of gospel/blues/folk/roots been such a generally well-kept secret?
In today's trendy pop-music climate, youth and image count for more than honest-to-goodness musical talent. And you'll distance yourself further if you happen to prefer heavenly spirituals such as "Death Came a Knockin' (Travelin' Shoes)" and "Walk On," selections that pack a deep-seated, emotional wallop. So, no, you're not likely to hear cuts by Foster on commercial radio, or see any music videos featuring the Texas native who grew up listening to Mahalia Jackson, Etta James and Sam Cooke.
No matter: Foster has always had bigger things on her mind, like family and faith. Atlantic Records was ready to sign the singer/songwriter back in '93, but Foster put her career on hold to work at a local TV station while caring for her seriously ill mother back home. A grassroots path ensued with the release of several independent albums, including 2002's wonderfully-enriching Runaway Soul.
And who says the DIY approach can't reap its own financial benefits? While touring the Canadian Folk Festival circuit following Runaway Soul's release, Foster set an attendance record and sold 1,000 CDs in a single day to break a long-held record by Ani DiFranco. Not too shabby, huh?
Ruthie Foster at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (800) 300-4345; www.cerritoscenter.com. Wed., 7:30 p.m. $20. All ages.