Louisiana Songwriter's Life Story Provides the Muse

Mar 1, 2012

Songwriter Mary Gauthier (Courtesy of the artist).

As Mary Gauthier told WRKF's Amy Jeffries, a phone call to the mother who surrendered her at birth in 1962 was the catalyst for her most recent album, The Foundling.

JEFFRIES: You've talked a lot about different aspects of your life in your songs, and I'm sure that that has brought certain people who have certain things in common with you out of the audience. Has that happened as well with this set of songs?

GAUTHIER: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I'm hearing from adoptees and birth mothers from all over the world. It's a beautiful process really.

JEFFRIES: Would recommend adoption?

GAUTHIER: Oh yeah. I think it's necessary and important. I think it's important also open.

I'm very much for adoption in the light of day. No secret, no lies. And I think that's the trend. And I think sooner or later that closed adoption is going to be over with.

But we've got a big battle, you know. People from my generation, our birth certificates are sealed by the government. And I can't go get my real birth certificate.

My birth certificate's a forgery-it has my adoptive parents' names on it.

JEFFRIES: It was only recently that you worked up the courage to call your birth mother and reach out to her. How did you make that phone call?

GAUTHIER: That was the hardest thing I've ever done. In a life of doing hard things, that was the hardest thing I've ever done.

I found a private detective who was able to access the records from St. Vincent DePaul's in New Orleans, which was where I was adopted. And she was able to locate my mother in three days.

I asked her if I she would contact my mother and let her know that she'd been found, and that her now grown-up daughter wanted to meet her. And so the private detective called her and gave her my information, and she didn't call me. And six months went by.

And so I said, well, I'm going to have to call her, and I made a deadline for myself before Christmas. So it got to be about the week before Christmas, and I just circled the phone for about two hours, and I finally picked it up and dialed the number-and I got the dang voicemail. So I didn't leave a message. I hung up, and circled the phone for about another 45 minutes and did it again and she answered.

Listen to "March 11, 1962" from The Foundling.

JEFFRIES: You were born in New Orleans, and then raised in Baton Rouge, and went to LSU for a little while.

GAUTHIER: I did, a long while. I went to five-and-a-half years of LSU.

JEFFRIES: Having grown up in Baton Rouge, what's it like to be back here, are you glad to be...

GAUTHIER: Oh, you know, everything has a memory. Just seeing the Drusilla Lane sign-like, oh, geez, my dad lived off of Drusilla, and for a really tough period of my life I lived with him there. And It was just-oh my, god-it was just a hurricane house.

I look around and things are popping up that I haven't thought of in a long long time. We carry so much in our memories that we don't think of, and so it's a walk down memory lane for me.

JEFFRIES: Are there ways that you see your upbringing in Louisiana show up in your music, in addition to just the stories, but in the style too, in the sounds that you're drawn to.

GAUTHIER: My musical partner, who's here with me today, Tania Elizabeth, is from French-speaking Canada. If we were to do our geneology, an awful lot of us Louisianians go back to the expulsion from Canada. And so the sound of the violin on the record, and the sound that I'm going to continue to travel with as long as she'll have me, is the root of what I'm coming from, where I'm coming from musically. She's rooted in that music.

Listen to "Goodbye" performed live in the WRKF studio.