Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

November 29, 2013

Betty Who inspires community of fans

TRAVERSE CITY — Betty Who?

Soon you won’t have to ask.

In just the past two months the rising pop singer-songwriter and Interlochen transplant performed live on VH1, posed for photos for Elle and Cosmopolitan magazines, made Time Magazine’s list of 14 Musical Acts to Watch in 2014 and signed a five-year deal with mega-label RCA Records.

And she did it all without one of her songs hitting the radio.

“That’s the crazy part,” said the singer, whose real name is Jessica Newham, as she curled up on a couch at her family home in Interlochen. “It’s in no way been easy, but it’s been easy compared to how many people get ‘nos’ every day.”

The Australian-born musician began playing cello at 4 and wrote her first song at 14, before her first of two summers at Interlochen Arts Camp. She moved with her family to the area in 2007 to continue her cello studies at Interlochen Arts Academy.

But teacher and mentor Crispin Campbell said soon it became apparent that her heart lay elsewhere.

“There wasn’t a singer-songwriter program then but it became clear to me that she was headed in that direction,” said Campbell, who accepted Newham, an intermediate-level cellist, because she was interesting, fun and had “something to offer.”

“When it was clear that she wasn’t practicing cello a lot, I said, ‘Well, what do you do?’ She said, ‘I write songs, play guitar,’” Campbell recalled. “I said, ‘Play me something you do,’ so she sat down at the piano and played a very cool song.”

After that, Campbell created an alternative cello track, teaching Newham how to improvise and play cello lines for songs she’d written and to explore different musical genres.

Meanwhile Newham performed at Interlochen Coffee Houses, appeared in a student life video for prospective students and their parents, and became active in student government. She was voted student body president in her senior year and once started a school community meeting with a dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

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