Drummer Ruthie Price’s new ensemble Witches Brew makes its debut with this performance. She is joined by bassist Erik Lewis and keyboardist Maya Kronfeld, with special guests, including singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Melanie Charles and vocalist Valerie Troutt. Witches Brew serves up a hearty stew of Jazz, Soul and Funk with originals by Melanie Charles and some creative arrangements or covers of a wide array of material.
Ruthie Price says that music saved her life. In addition to struggling against systemic racism and sexism, being a foster care child meant that she had even heavier weights pulling her down everyday. How did she survive? She drummed…. and drummed. Drummed to escape the cycle of poverty. Drummed against all the voices telling her that girls couldn’t play. Since she was young she has fought for her life through music. You can hear it in her raw and powerful beats, the depth of her groove, her persistent and demanding pulse of protest– the pulse that prevails despite all obstacles against her. Ruthie’s passionate playing recently has brought her to national recognition as the drummer for Fantastic Negrito, the band which recently won the highly competitive Tiny Desk Concert Contest. The soulful singing of the Fantastic Negrito, combined with Ruthie’s deep grooves, made their band stand out from thousands of other groups.
Growing up, Ruthie sought out music programs at school to escape her home life. She says: “I would never come home because I didn’t like my home, but every time I played drums I was just so happy. I surrounded myself with that. Everyone thought I wasn’t going to keep doing it. But yeah, I kept playing. It saved my life. I can’t see myself doing anything else in the world. I tried to do a corporate job and I quit. Music is saving my life to this day.”
By age 15 she was chosen to go to Africa with a non profit called Global Educational Fund and later on returned with a band through the program Jazz and Democracy. In 2007 Ruthie landed a 5 yr. gig playing with grammy award winning, Van Hunt. She got to tour in Europe, Japan, Canada, and throughout the United States playing venues like Jay Lenos’ Tonight Show. She has played with legends such as Pete Escovedo, Mulgrew Miller, Ed Kelly, Ledisi, Branford Marsalis, Etta James, Faye Carol, Marcus Shelby, the list goes on. This past year Ruthie was awarded an outstanding working African American Musician in the Bay area prize. Ruthie reflects on her achievements: “I was this kid who could have been a drug-head with kids. Those are the statistics of a foster child. But I’ve been to 5 out of 7 continents and I’m still playing music.” This past summer Ruthie played with Fantastic Negrito at Central Park Summer Stage as well as Outside Lands Festival where Elton John, Kendrick Scott, and D’Angelo were also on the bill.
After sharing a bill with D’Angelo is it possible to want more? For Ruthie, yes. She says, “I want to play Carnegie Hall and Madison Square. and I want to play Wimbley in the UK. I want to do it as my band, as the leader. I also want to play at the Smithsonian and get on the board with Wynton in D.C when I’m old…I mean older :) ” Her future dream band includes mostly female musicians playing songs that sound like Curtis Mayfield meets Bad Brains.
To be a female drummer means you have to defy the very concept of the word drummer, defined by men, modeled by men. As Ruthie says: “You constantly have to prove yourself. Cindy Blackman told me, ‘you know, you always have to remember that you are a woman’. And sometimes that’s very difficult for me. I’m so in tune with my spirit that I forget what I look like sometimes. I’m here in the moment. It’s difficult when people treat you different because of what you have on and what you look like. What does that matter? I played the music right? That’s the main struggle. And then you always have to be 10 times harder. You have to show up early. You can’t be too nice and you can’t be too mean. You gotta make sure you’re not flirty or something they think is flirty. You always have to stay on your guard. Guys are just kicking it. Women have to be careful.”
Ruthie realized the game, and played on. She points out: “Yeah, I have to suppress some of my freeness.” So that she’ll continue to be hired and paid well, so that she’ll be heard more than seen, she plays the ideal woman male musicians will accept: not too angry, not too soft, not too flirty. Ruthie says: “When it comes to getting paid I have to pull out my resume to show them that I’m worth more. It’s crazy. That’s the real struggle. Getting heard but not nagging because then they’re going to feel some kind of way. I have to figure out a happy medium.” She’ll do all this, but when sticks are in her hand she is able to be whoever she wants: assertive, loud, sensitive, passionate, free.
Ruthie Price’s drive and dedication is unparalleled. Not only has she risen above difficult life circumstances to soar in her talent, but she also plans on starting a nonprofit that brings music to foster-care children not unlike Sheila E’s: The Elevate Hope Foundation. Music is what saved her life, and she is going to support other foster kids in turn, helping them to engage in music and art as a way towards community, connection, expression and empowerment.
Ruthie is currently in Chicago, filming for the television show, Empire.