Prof. Miriam Therese Winter’s autobiography, “The Singer and the Song: An Autobiography of the Spirit,” was re-released on Nov. 19 in a special audiobook version narrated by acclaimed singer-songwriter Janis Ian, who won a Grammy for her own audiobook “Society’s Child.” Janis Ian also sings a selection of Prof. Winter’s songs on the audiobook recording.
The autobiography, first published in 1999, tells the remarkable story ofMiriam Therese Winter, professor ofLiturgy, Worship, Spirituality and Feminist Studies at Hartford Seminary.
Audible.com describes the book this way: “An award-winning musician and four-time Catholic Book Award-winner shares her experiences of becoming a Sister, working with starving children in Ethiopia and with refugees in Cambodia, of exploring the mysteries of India and the wonders of God in her own backyard, of having breast cancer and having hope. She also illumines new aspects of community, Eucharist, the word and spirit, water and the stars, spiritual blessedness, and much more.”
The story of how Janis Ian — a famed singer best known for the classics “At Seventeen,” “Society’s Child” and “Jesse” — came to narrate the book and collaborate with Prof. Winter on a new song is a fascinating one.
It starts with another project called “Sacred Folk Songs,” a five CD compilation of Prof. Winter’s songs. Dan Paulos, director of the St. Bernadette Institute of Sacred Art in Albuquerque, N.M., came up with the idea to ask well-known artists to sing Prof. Winter’s best loved songs as a tribute to her and as a way to introduce the songs to a new generation. All proceeds from the project go to Prof. Winter’s order, the Medical Mission Sisters.
Mr. Paulos approached Janis Ian about recording one of the songs, but as Prof. Winter puts it, “This gal, she wasn’t biting.”
On her website, Ms. Ian says she searched Prof. Winter’s catalogue and couldn’t find a song suited to her voice. Then she listened to an early album of Prof. Winter’s and heard a spoken word piece that she loved. She thought the verses were from the Bible, but she couldn’t find it there. She emailed Prof. Winter to ask her where it came from. “Turned out she wrote it herself,” Ms. Ian says.
Ms. Ian asked for permission to set the words to music and told Prof. Winter she could veto the song, “I Am the One,” if she didn’t like it. In the end, Ms. Ian added two new verses and turned one of Prof. Winter’s verses into the refrain.
When Ms. Ian was performing at Infinity Hall in Norfolk, she had a chance to visit Prof. Winter in Hartford and sing the song for her.
“She played it on my own guitar,” Prof. Winter said. “I absolutely loved it. … Janis did an incredible job of catching the inner spirit of what I was doing.”
The song collaboration led to the audiobook recording, on which Ms. Ian sings a number of Prof. Winter’s songs. In May, the two met up for a fundraiser in Nashville called “When Worlds Collide: Two Jersey Broads on Life, Love and the Holy Spirit.”
Ms. Ian described their work together like this: “Take a Jewish lesbian singer-songwriter, and a world-famous Catholic feminist theologian, throw them in a pot together, and stir. The result proves that we’re all the same under the skin!”
The next CD in the five-part collection of Sacred Folk Songs will be released in February.
Hartford Seminary will hold a listening party for the audiobook release of “The Singer and the Song” on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. in the Seminary’s meeting room at 77 Sherman St., Hartford, CT.
Click on the player below to hear a selection from the audiobook: