Veronica Klaus grew up in Gillespie Illinois, home of Black Diamond Days, the original festival of coal—population 3200—in a large middle class family, the youngest of 5 children. Her stepmother was a school teacher, her father a manager at a grain elevator, and later a milkman. She was very close to her father as a child. As time passed, during her later years at home, she spent most of her... more
Veronica Klaus grew up in Gillespie Illinois, home of Black Diamond Days, the original festival of coal—population 3200—in a large middle class family, the youngest of 5 children. Her stepmother was a school teacher, her father a manager at a grain elevator, and later a milkman. She was very close to her father as a child. As time passed, during her later years at home, she spent most of her spare time at the church alone teaching herself to play piano and sing. Life would change with discovery of Bette Midler’s first album in the small public library, giving her a glimpse of something beyond her small town existence. Her earliest performances were in church, school musicals and in local productions by the community choir like the bicentennial spectacular “The All American Review,” and Mary Lou Newcomb Menzie’s Little Dance Theater, which were as hilariously close—in retrospect—to parody as you can come without intending it. In high school she also had a wonderful choir teacher, Suzanne Stewart, who sometimes would perform for the class—beautiful renderings of pop songs; heartfelt and distant. Those were the most exciting days.
She went to University of Illinois, earning a degree in Music Education. There she began to diligently search out recordings of jazz and blues artists such as Etta James, Etta Jones, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Scott, Billy Holliday, Bettye Lavette, Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, Varetta Dillard, Julia Lee, Martha Davis, and Nellie Lucher in the record stores, soaking up performances by legendary blues singer Koko Taylor at the Student Union, and attending the original Farm Aid Concert while being taught by renowned opera singer and professor William Warfield.
She moved to San Francisco in 1986 after school and went to see Lanie Kazan at the Fairmont 2 days after moving to town. Veronica began singing in clubs in 1989, her first official engagement at a store on Hayes St. called Modernology at the very first Hayes St. Fair. Soon after, she performed at Café Du Nord regularly with a trio or quartet singing swing and blues classics. In about 1993 she began forming her Heart and Soul Revue—a 12-piece big band with horn section and background singers and shifting focus a bit to old-school soul, funk and blues. Performing material from artists like Ike and Tina Turner, Big Maybelle, Bill Withers, and Gladys Knight, garnering fans and a few local awards along the way, such as the SF Weekly’s Whammie Award in 1995 for “Best Blues/R&B,” and a Cable Car Award for “Best Entertainer.”
After the big band project, she wanted to record with a slightly smaller, more manageable configuration and went into the studio, working with recording engineer Jeff Mann at Komotion Studio to produce her first CD, ALL I WANT. It was released in 1997 and was nominated for a GLAMA Award in NYC for Best Female Artist and contained mostly original material; a mixture of pop, blues, torch and soul. “Black Diamond Days” is an original song that Veronica wrote about her experience growing up in a small town in the Midwest. Another song from that CD, “Waiting For a Kiss,” as well as an acting role by Veronica, have been recently featured in the theatrical movie release of “The Stranger In Us,” a feature film by director Scott Boswell. It was quite well received and has won audience awards at screenings and festivals around the world and is available on DVD.
Veronica has played many, many venues in SF over the years including a magical night at the Great American Music Hall in 1995, where she dragged her heart around---literally a 6ft. gold lame upholstered heart-shaped candy box on wheels with steps up the side and a seat at the top to sing The Staple Singers’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad?.” She was a staple in the early scene at clubs such as Café Du Nord, Club 181, The Elbow Room and has performed at the Fillmore, Slim’s, once opening for the renowned Ohio Players!
She has worked with and performed for many charity and non-profit agencies over the years including Transgender Law Center and Rainbow World Fund, AIDS fundraising, benefits for progressive politicians and Marriage Equality, an organization for which she, in conjunction with Lucien Stern Presents, produced a lavish community fundraiser in 2003 called “Songs From the Scarlet Temple,” featuring a host of well known performers. Her second CD “Veronica Klaus - Live at the Lodge” was recorded the next year at a fundraiser for the LGBT Community based humanitarian aid organization Rainbow World Fund that she, again with Lucien Stern Presents, organized and produced. “Live at the Lodge” again featured a big band with horns, harmony vocals and the talented Tammy Hall on piano as well as a duet with singer/songwriter Mark Weigel who also performed for the cause that night. About this time, Veronica was named “Best Chanteuse” by the SF Guardian, and the SF Weekly asked of its readers, “Quick! Who’s Catwoman, Jessica Rabbit and Vanessa Williams all rolled into one?”
Initially wanting her music to speak for itself, Veronica didn’t—aside from a knowing glance, a wink or double entendre—make her gender change a focus on stage, finding that her experience was usually reduced to a label like “transgendered singer.” However, with co-writer and director Jeffrey Hartgraves, Veronica found the opportunity to take her time to tell the story right and in her own words, writing “Family Jewels – The Making of Veronica Klaus” a full-length theatrical one-woman show with stories and songs, some original, elaborating with humor, poignancy and insight on her life, growing up, transition, becoming an artist with its romance and heartbreak—an “everything you always wanted to know about Veronica, but were afraid to ask” tour-de-force. It ran for three successive 6-week runs at The Exit Theater and Theater Rhinoceros and got rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. Music and excerpts from the show can be found on the soundtrack recording.
Veronica played a 2-year residency on Tuesday nights at the legendary North Beach club Enrico’s in 2009 and 2010 and recently has begun a string of engagements at The Rrazz Room.less