Patricia Pettinga has been making music almost since she was born, the youngest of six into a musical family. Like many of her later blues heroines, church provided the basis of her musical experience. She also learned piano, played clarinet in school bands, and sang in school choirs. At 13, she taught herself to play guitar, inspired by a Joan Baez recording that helped her find her own voice and the key to her musical heart. Songwriting emerged when her penchant for poetry combined with the ability to play the guitar and improvise with melody and rhythm. Over time, she kept plunking, playing and writing away, performing in public only occasionally.
It was after earning a degree in communication from Western Michigan University and starting a teaching career that she jumped into a professional music career as lead singer with McDuff, an acoustic folk and blues revival trio with Tom Duffield on piano and Ron Deering on bass and guitar. McDuff performed throughout Michigan in the 1980’s, introducing young audiences to the blues and mixing it with new folk standards and originals.
From the get-go, Patricia enjoyed entertaining and engaging audiences. She took right to the sassy style of vaudeville blues women such as Dinah Washington and Sippie Wallace, also adding her own vocal and personality flourishes. That basis in the blues, and love of it, remained constant, as did the pairing of full-time professional jobs alongside continual music-making activities.
After McDuff, she performed with two female foursomes. Leopards on the Loose specialized in a cappella renditions of Motown tunes and included Patricia, Maria Maki, Dana Listing and Kathleen Conklin. The Recyclettes added accompaniment to originals, covers and parodies; Susan Harrison joined Patricia, Maria Maki and Dana Listing in that group.
On her own, Patricia also performed in musical theater and mixed media performances with the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, the Whole Art Theatre and the Cabaret Performance Company in Kalamazoo from 1987-1992. She also wrote the song “Baby on My Mind” to introduce a video for Bronson Hospital and a song to open the play Getting Out for the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre.
It was in 1995, in her early 40’s, that she began a solo career that focused on her original songs and style. A year later, Bill Willging—now her husband and long-time duo partner—joined her as supporting cast. Encouraged and energized by the positive response to her music, Patricia recorded her first CD Breathing Under Water in 1998. The song “Comfort Me” from Breathing won Honorable Mention in the1998 Billboard Songwriting Contest. And, her original parody “Bovine Blues” — about cows and methane gas — was published in the Spring 2001 issue of Sing Out! Magazine.
Soon after, she received an Irving S. Gilmore Emerging Artist Grant and an ArtsFund Grant from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo (ACKG). These grants facilitated promotion of her music throughout the Midwest and a major music push, with time & love—a second CD in 2001—and a busy schedule for the solo and duo, at home and on the road.
Over the years, Patricia attended and presented many songwriting workshops. She initiated and led the Second Tuesday Songwriters Group at John Rollins Book Seller in Portage, Michigan from 1999 – 2002 and has presented songwriting workshops for organizations such as the Great Lakes Acoustic Music Association, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s Fretboard Festival, the Glen Oaks Community College Women’s Conference, and Hospice bereavement camps.
As with the first two, her third CD Old, New, Borrowed, Blue, produced in 2006, featured her songwriting and covers, fortified by excellent contributions from Willging and other song-friends. Many of the songs call for peace and calm, inspired in part by the events of September 11, 2001. Other tracks are straight forward, upbeat and bluesy, lightening the load with a bit of mystery and humor.
Starting in 2010, Patricia took a brief hiatus from music, limiting performances while moving through life changing, successful treatment for breast cancer. Soon after, she began booking more solo and duo music engagements with a renewed sense of commitment and purpose. As part of that revitalization, she began to focus on the joy of community singing.
With unofficial retirement from full-time “work” in the fall of 2015, came a continued focus on community sing leadership and solo and duo performances, along with an expanded focus on music for the elderly, educational programs and other special projects.
And so, as the song says, “The beat goes on.” And so does Patricia Pettinga…into a fine musical present and future.