By the time she was in the fourth grade, Janice was the school’s musical prodigy, playing concerts for classmates and accompanying the chorus. By high school, the preternaturally talented musician had become an accomplished oboist and the mainstay of local orchestral and band performances, winning gold medals for excellence and her school’s award as “Best Musician,” while simultaneously pursuing an intensive extracurricular education in liturgical music.
Throughout high school, Janice also studied piano and classical organ with Mr. Charles Boehm, who recognized her emerging abilities. Under his tutelage, she became assistant organist at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hicksville, Long Island, and, by the time she was 13, undertook a schedule of rehearsals and performances that ultimately consumed more than five hours a day. “They said I showed flashes of early brilliance,” she says, “but I was a strange loner and all I knew was that when I played music, I felt power. I may have been possessed. Or mad.”
By 17, although profoundly drawn to the music of the church and the symbols and icons of religious life, Janice Grace was also deeply immersed in the music and fashion of her time. Although she was enrolled at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, when the dormitory lights were out, it was dance music that provided inspiration. “At first,” she recalls, “It was Disco and Funk that gave me a release. But then I heard Kraftwerk and Jean Michel Jarre and that began my passion for electronica music. I still loved church music, but the chapels were cold and the dance floors were hot. .” She was also beginning to experiment with clothing design, making her own clothes with a sensibility that, she says, “I was influenced by Pucci, Courrèges and Edith Head.”
Freed from the constraints of choir school and armed with synthesizers, Janice Grace was ready to be discovered. “I may have been a bit naive,“ she laughs, “but Madonna was huge then, and it just seemed like it would be my turn next. Man, so wrong.” “I was working to afford my gear jones,” she says. Somehow, she pieced together an 8-track recording studio in her apartment and taught herself to engineer. “I learned out of sheer necessity” she says.
Soon, she was recording night and day, gradually meeting other up-and-coming musicians. “We were all helping each other, writing together, playing on each other’s demos,” she says. “Sometimes, it was discouraging. One night, I was working late and blew off an invitation to meet another songwriter. I later found it was Desmond Child!" (writer for Ricky Martin, Cher, BonJovi).
Atlas Almost Shrugged
Through friends, she got a job waitressing at the Hard Rock Café and loved it, and through a chance meeting on a jury duty bench, she hooked up with a band called Atlas, playing keyboards and singing backup vocals. “What was great about the Hard Rock was that when you had a gig the whole staff would show up. And the band was this close,” she recalls, “almost ready for a deal.” For more than a year, Atlas made strong inroads in New York’s competitive downtown band scene, playing showcases at CBGB’s, the Bitter End, Kenny's, and the Cat Club.
For Janice Grace, the band’s ultimate inability to land a record deal proved to be something of a blessing. She had been continuing to write and record her own material, and finally left Atlas to form her own band. “I realized that what mattered, what still matters, is the satisfaction, the artistic fulfillment of making my own music,“ she says. “I think it’s the confessional quality of being a solo act that appeals to me.” With enough material for a showcase set and intent on producing a major event, she rented the Limelight, but her band wasn’t ready and the show went on with Janice (and two backup vocalists) performing to prerecorded tracks. “The show had energy, and the labels gods came,” she says, “ but nothing materialized.”
After the Limelight gig, Janice Grace pulled back for while. “Here’s how I remember it,“ she says. ”Time passed. The pages on the calendar tore away in the wind. No, wait, that’s not my story, that’s a 1940s movie. I got married, went to design school, listened to music, and bought more recording equipment.”
The marriage came first, to a legendary audio designer who had designed audio systems for Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, Woodstock’s famed Bearsville, and Pink Floyd alumni, among others. He had been commissioned to create sound design for high-profile restaurants as well, and was assembling in-house audio programming for a string of Hard Rock Cafes when the two met. “Soon after we got together, I took over the music programming,“ Janice says, “and it turned out to be a revelation.” Immersing herself in music, she found herself reconnecting to the electronic and dance music that had attracted her initially and finding newer artists -- Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, Jane Child, Massive Attack -- who were pushing the musical envelope in ways she could relate to. “Taking time out to listen to music was enormously valuable,” she says. “It gave me a chance to assimilate everything I’d learned and experienced.”
A detour, in the form of clothing and fabric design studies, presented itself in the mid-1990s. At the Fashion Institute of Technology, she perfected pattern-making skills that she had long toyed with, but never taken seriously. "Fashion definitely has a place in the World According to Miss Grace," she says.
Those Were The Days My Friend
China Club, CBGB’s, Downtime, Acme Underground, The Elbow Room, Hard Rock Café 57th St. “I am so lucky to have performed with great players in these great historic NYC institutions. They no longer exist but my memories of them will.”
Be Here Now
While still writing and singing Pop, Rock and Dance music, Janice has come full circle and has integrated her classical roots. She is the organist and choir director at Poughkeepsie Reformed Church in New York.