by Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho
Debi Ruud thinks of it as a love story—a musical career encompassing nearly four decades of song, and from founding the Fresno Music Academy & Arts, community choir Hearts on Fire, and R&B soul band The Lost Souls, to releasing her second CD, All that Matters, her musical journey is only just beginning…
KRL: How long have you been performing? How did you get your start?
Debi: I have been performing “professionally” since I was nineteen years old; I am fifty-seven now, so that’s a LONG time. Almost forty years…yikes. I got my start in high school; I began in musical theater and madrigal choir at Davis High School.
KRL: Did you always want to be a vocalist/musician?
Debi: I really didn’t know that I had any “talent” until I was in high school, so no, I didn’t always want to be involved in music. I actually wanted to be a veterinarian, but music eventually became my passion.
KRL: What music genres do you perform?
Debi: I started in the theater and choir. The first band I was in was a pop/rock band, and then I got involved in contemporary Christian music. I ended up getting a music degree, and in my mid-thirties, I fell in love with jazz. So, I’m not really sure what I like the best. I currently sing in several groups–Debi Ruud and the Lost Souls, which is a classic soul R & B band. I also sing in a trio that is kind of 60s-70s-80s pop rock, and I have a CD that I just released, which is kind of “mellow” pop. (I had the opportunity to write several of the songs, and that was a great experience.)
KRL: Who did you listen to while growing up? Who has inspired you the most?
Debi: When I was growing up, my mom listened to Johnny Mathis, Sergio Mendez, George Benson–kind of an eclectic mix. My dad liked Blood, Sweat & Tears, Johnny Rivers, and The Beach Boys, to name a few. So…I’m really not sure what my influence was. When I was thirteen, I heard Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind and Fire, and that was it; I was hooked on “soul,” I guess…I loved the Manhattan Transfer and Al Jarreau as well.
KRL: Where have you performed locally and abroad?
Debi: I have performed a lot regionally–I have been in so many groups through the years–all over California. I performed in Nashville in the 90s, when I had my record deal. I also have sung in Bolivia, when I was involved with a world hunger organization called Compassion International.
KRL: When was the Fresno Music Academy & Arts founded? What programs/classes are offered?
Debi: I opened The Voice Shop in 1998, and we were “The Voice Shop” until 2016, when we changed our name to Fresno Music Academy & Arts, and expanded what we do and what we offer. We were only a singing studio for years, but now we are a full-service music school. We see over 400 students a week, and have classes in voice, guitar, piano, drums, bass, fiddle, violin, ukulele, and flute. We have an early childhood music program called Music Funtime, and a children’s Theater Program, which we offer in our ViSTA Theater. I also run a community choir called Hearts on Fire. It’s a lot. I am VERY busy 🙂
KRL: What is the origin story of Hearts on Fire?
Debi: Hearts on Fire began six years ago after my husband and I stumbled upon a “Rock-n-Roll” choir in Sonoma; we modeled (with their permission) our choir after theirs. It’s been a GREAT way to connect singers that otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to sing. We are getting ready to do a documentary on our choir, and I am very excited about that. There is a TON more I could say about Hearts on Fire. 🙂
KRL: When will your third album be released? Is each album a different musical journey, or do they each come together to form a trilogy of sorts?
Debi: I really only have two albums. The first was done in the early 90s; it’s a contemporary gospel album called Tell the World. It did have moderate success in that genre, but things fell apart in that part of my musical journey (that’s another LONG story), and so now almost twenty-five years later, I have recorded an EP, All that Matters, that is so much more “true to my heart,” I will say. I tried to make a record that tells a “love story,” so to speak. A small little piece of my love story. I hope that I will get the opportunity to do a third CD sometime soon, but it’s expensive. Only because of many, many very generous people (I did a GoFundMe) was I able to record All That Matters.
KRL: How long have you been performing with the Lost Souls?
Debi: The Lost Souls began about a year and a half ago. It started with me saying to a friend, “hey…we should start a soul band,” and it happened!
KRL: What projects are you most proud of?
Debi: I am most proud of my music school; this “project” is my way of “changing the world.” It will be my legacy, most likely…unless I become a rock star, which is probably unlikely. I get the opportunity to invest in 400 lives a week. Over the years I have helped hundreds, probably thousands of people on musical journeys. Nothing has given me more joy than seeing people blossom musically.
Musically, I am most proud of my most recent project, All That Matters. It is most musically true to my heart!
KRL: What is the best thing about making and performing music?
Debi: That’s a very hard question; there are so, so many reasons. I think overall, it makes people happy; it takes them out of their lives for “a minute.” Live music, especially, is a very “in the moment” experience, and that is important. I think everyone can think of a concert that they went to that was “the best show they have ever been to.” People remember those moments forever. So being able to give folks an hour “off” from life…well, that’s awesome!