Charlotte Observer: Music Will Always Be A Part of Her

Music will always be part of her lifeKatie Oates shares talent to ‘empower’ By Katya Lezin

Katie Oates enjoys the flexibility her newfound guitar skills give her to perform around the community. Learn more: To learn about upcoming gigs and sign up for email alerts, visit www.katie (the website is under construction.) When Katie Oates, 47, left Clinton, S.C., for boarding school in New York at the age of 14, she was miserably homesick.

As a preacher’s daughter, she sought comfort in the school’s empty chapel, where she would play the piano and sing. [expand title="Read more..."]

“Music was therapy,” she recalls.

The school’s accompanist overheard a few of Oates’ sessions and convinced her to audition for the school musical.

By her junior year, Oates was receiving a standing ovation for her one-woman show.

“By putting yourself out in the spotlight,” Oates says, “you get a lot of reactions. A lot good, but the bad ones just stay with you.”

Oates returned to her Southern roots upon graduation, choosing to attend Davidson College because “it wasn’t a music school, but it did have a music department.”

Oates majored in English but took voice lessons from the European wife of the school’s symphony conductor, who taught her how to be comfortable performing in front of an audience.

“Singing is sexy,” she’d say in a great accent, encouraging Oates to “be more comfortable in my own body.”

It was at Davidson that Oates met her husband, DNC Host Committee Chairman and former County Commissioner Dan Murrey, and they were married in June 1987. She shelved her musical aspirations, working research jobs while Murrey was in medical school, but, she says, “I just couldn’t shake the music part of me.”

She began auditioning for community theatre musicals and had an epiphany that has served her well.

“Music will always be a part of my life,” Oates realized. “It doesn’t have to be an either or scenario.”

Another challenge to Oates’ aspirations has been navigating her musical commitments with raising children.

Her son, Sam, 16, is a sophomore at Myers Park High School and her daughter, Lucy, 13, is an eighth grader at Trinity Episcopal School.

It is through Trinity’s partnership with Urban Ministry that Oates got the idea to share her talents “to empower and give hope.”

She contacted Urban Ministries about putting together a choir of homeless singers and was able to join with others who were in the process of doing that.

“I was finding my own voice by helping others find theirs,” she said.

After several years singing with church choirs (Oates was a soprano with the Myers Park Presbyterian Church and sang in Park Road Baptist’s choir), she wanted to pursue singing on her own.

In January 2010, Oates began taking guitar lessons from John Tosco, a local musician who is responsible for the popular Tosco Music Parties.

“A guitar is much more portable than a piano,” Oates explains, “so it is easier to find venues.”

And that is just what Oates has done. She and her guitar can be found out and about town, performing a wide array of songs because, as Oates puts it, “I just love every form of music.”

She tries to schedule at least one gig each month and practices for at least one hour each day. One of the best pieces of advice she received, at an artist’s workshop she attended, was to quiet her inner critic.

“Your job is to do the work,” she was told, “Not judge the work.”

She has also enjoyed combining music with her civic commitments, such as performing at fundraisers and farmers’ markets, allowing her to “use music as a way of supporting people and causes that are important to me.”

Last summer, Oates attended a week-long guitar and folk song camp at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, where she added to her repertoire of songs.

No matter the venue or type of song, however, what comes through loud and clear whenever Oates performs is her love of music.

Katya Lezin is a freelance writer for South Charlotte News. Do you have a story idea for Katya? Email her at

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