Edie Stokes may be in her twilight years, but she has no plans to quit entertaining any time soon.
The schoolteacher retired in 1994 after 30 years of making a living as an educator. Since that year, she embarked on her new career as a cabaret performer, learning how to sing, play the piano, and tell a few jokes before an interested Manhattan crowd.
“I hate to be defined by my age,” said Stokes, adding that she would much rather be judged by her talent. “I’m up there in years, but it doesn’t seem to bother me too much.”
Indeed, for the past 15 years, Stokes has been frequenting several cabaret clubs around the New York City area. As a vocalist and entertainer, she’s performed at notable clubs such as Iguana New York, Don’t Tell Mama, and the now-defunct Danny’s Starlight Room. Before each show, Stokes says she prepares a script, theme, and selection of songs to be performed with the rest of her trio, which includes local pianist Barry Levitt and bass player John Burr.
“I enjoy the process of writing my script and putting it together,” said Stokes. According to Stokes, the writing process is almost as rewarding as performing, as her performances have earned her acclaim through local editorial reviews and awards.
“I love to perform,” said Stokes. “It’s tense, but fun and exciting.”
A natural talent
The Guttenberg resident and former North Bergen teacher at the Robert Fulton, Horace Mann, McKinley and John F. Kennedy schools retired in 1994. Stokes began learning to play the piano, and soon started performing at open microphone events, nursing homes, as well as the Emerald Room at the Green Kitchen in Guttenberg.
“I first went to Green Kitchen to get over my nervousness,” said Stokes, “because I wasn’t used to performing.”
“That’s when I discovered that I had certain abilities, such as a good voice and the ability to project the song and communicate with an audience,” Stokes continued. “I can put a song across because I feel the song. If you can feel the song and can communicate that to the audience, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
After shaking the cobwebs out and overcoming her nerves, Stokes began writing her own cabaret shows with plans to perform them at notable venues around the area.
“It was very natural for me to get into this,” said Stokes. “My family was very musical.”
While performing and networking, Stokes began playing with additional musicians, and soon earned a reputation for herself in the Manhattan cabaret scene.
“It’s an exciting area,” said Stokes, “and it keeps my mind busy.”
“If you feel the song and can communicate that to the audience, it’s a wonderful feeling.” – Edith Stokes
Stokes continues to perform on a weekly basis. She typically prepares her routine based on a certain theme. In fact, her last theme was focused on a midnight carousel ride.
“I sang all of these midnight songs and created an illusion of expectancy and mystery,” said Stokes. “It was very interesting.”
Stokes mentioned that one of her skills is her ability to overcome the hardships that pop up with age.
“As I get older strange things are happening to my voice,” Stokes said, adding that she has had to adjust. “I’ve gone down three tones [in pitch] and it’s tricky,” added Stokes, “but it’s a new adventure.”
Stokes also said that her passion with the cabaret scene helps keep her young.
“Cabaret is a cultural institution,” said Stokes. She says she often attends shows to support her peers. “It’s an important aspect of American life.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.