As the new year blossoms, it's common to feel a pull to re-calibrate to a "better" version of yourself - or to improve this or that in your life. It is therefore wise to seek counsel in those who possess experience and accompanying wisdom in the areas you seek to improve.
My dear friend Georgene Rice is just such a person! Georgene has been a respected talk show host with KPDQ Radio in Portland, Oregon for more than three decades and has traveled internationally as a station correspondent. She has lectured on university campuses and is a frequent speaker and worship leader at Christian conferences and retreats. Georgene has served on several Boards and regularly volunteers for charitable organizations. As a musician Georgene and her husband Dan have traveled around the world teaching and performing Gospel music.
Photo: C. Kuns, courtesy of Portland's Singing Christmas Tree
Georgene and I met twenty years ago as guest performers for our hometown's longstanding tradition: Portland's Singing Christmas Tree (PSCT). Last month, between shows for PSCT (it was a two-show Saturday, referred to jokingly as a "two do-shay" - like a dance step), I sat down with Georgene to learn from her matchless wisdom about ego, authenticity, motherhood and marriage. Settle in, for you will surely find direction in her words and actions to apply to your life as you face the year ahead!
KATIE: So excited to talk with you, Georgene! I'd like to begin with your singing: how did you get your start in music?
GEORGENE: Well, my mother tells me that before my sister and I were born, and she and I were born a year and six days apart, she had prayed and asked the Lord to give her children who sang - who were musical. She was a musician. When I was very young, there was an area in our home that was being remodeled, and it had a wonderful echo in the room. We started singing in harmony, which we'd never done before, and she overheard that - realizing that we could sing and her prayer had been answered! She used to play piano for us and my sister and I would sing in various places. And that's pretty much how I got my start.
KATIE: What was her start in music then? Was she a pianist? Did she start in the church or in school?
GEORGENE: She learned how to play piano in church and sang with various groups within the church. So she had a good ear for harmony. She had a good ear for just how to create a song, and created an emotion in the middle of a song. She just did a great job of first doing it herself and then teaching us.
KATIE: Did you go to school for music?
GEORGENE: No, I did not.
KATIE: So everything that you learned as a child is what you brought with you into onto the stage? Tell me about that journey, then how that evolved from childhood into adulthood, and the performance experiences you faced?
GEORGENE: You know, it's really interesting. My mother told us early on that she had prayed and asked that we would be gifted with music, and that her prayer had been answered. Because she taught us to sing in church we weren't considered performers. We were communicating a message. And along the way, it became a message that we embraced ourselves. So for us, it was a way of expressing what was most important to us in song. I think that's really how it started. And I still am a bit amazed that I find myself in different scenarios. When I found myself on the stage of Portland's Singing Christmas Tree or at a jazz cafe, that was outside of my experience. I never really had plans for music. In fact, when I went to university, I decided I was pretty much going to give music up. It came easily and was something I'd always done. So I just wasn't going to sing anymore. That changed, thankfully.
KATIE: What did you study at university? Or what did you plan to?
GEORGENE: I was pre-law, and I ended up with philosophy and history as my major. History and philosophy majors are fascinated with the human experience. Right? That's, that's what drives a lot of people to history and philosophy.
KATIE: Yes! Wow. So do you feel that the connection between how you were communicating through philosophy and also music was something that led you straight into talk radio? What was the trajectory?
With Timothy Greenidge during the finale of Portland's Singing Christmas Tree 2021. Photo: C. Kuns
GEORGENE: I think it is related. Because when you're singing in church, what you're singing matters. There were certain things I just wouldn't sing, because they weren't meaningful to me, or they weren't true. And so when I ended up in radio, I was surprised to find out there are lots of musicians in radio. So there's kind of a natural bridge from one to the other. And I was interested in talking about the world, talking about what's going on in the world and what people were thinking and doing. So it just was kind of a natural bridge.
KATIE: What initially did you first want to talk about when you were on radio? Did you have a script? Was the production team controlling your script? When did you have the freedom to make the show your own?
GEORGENE: I pretty much had freedom right away, which is a little bit alarming to consider. I remember they decided they didn't have space on the dial at that time for me to to host a program. So they created a women's program, which was kind of a niche I wasn't all that interested in. I was interested in broader subjects, but started out talking to women about things that are important to all of us. And I gained greater interest along the way. But no, there was never a script. There was never any coaching on how to do that. You just pretty much were expected to have an aptitude, which developed over time.
KATIE: How did you determine your topics for each show?
GEORGENE: I was always interested in what was going on in the world, what's happening that day, what's been going on. And I like to follow a story from its beginning, over a long period of time. It's it's easy to get interested in something when it first breaks, but then to follow it to see where the story goes, how it's affecting people, what difference it's made. That to me was was most interesting, and what impact is it having on the culture or on the people that are directly involved? So for me, that was the thing that gripped my attention and I thought would hold other people's attention as well.
KATIE: What were some of those early topics?
GEORGENE: Oh, that's hard to hard to remember. But I think part of the reason I resented doing a women's show was that it put us in a niche that suggested we were only interested in very few subjects, and that we weren't interested in the wider world and what was going on. So for me, you know, politics was always a great interest, because it has such an impact on what people do. And yet, it's not the only thing that guides the course of a person's life. So putting it into perspective, I was always interested in education, and, of course, religion and all of those things together. And you know, there were some interesting administrations during that time and events that were taking place.
KATIE: What was that time period?
GEORGENE: Well, I just celebrated my 32nd anniversary there, so let me do the math backwards.... I started at KPDQ Radio (Portland, Oregon) in 1989. So I've been there for a long time, yes!
KATIE: What have you been talking about most recently?
GEORGENE: There's been a lot of attention focused on what's happening in Washington, the dramatic shift that we've been seeing. I've also been focused on the increase in crime in the absence of civility in general, and how that's impacting the culture. I mean, it's one thing to talk about the broad issue, but then to bring it down to how is it impacting our families? How is it impacting our communities and living in Portland? We've become kind of a city that was once looked to as a place where everyone wanted to be and now we're seen quite differently, and it saddens me, I'm looking at leadership, and how they are managing that, and it can be a bit frustrating, but it also requires focused attention over a long period of time to try to resolve the issues that have resulted in the lack of civility and quite frankly, violence in my community.
KATIE: What do you attribute to your bravery? A lot of people have trouble speaking out. How did you become brave enough to disseminate what you were hearing, to filter it through a moral and intellectual siphon that was authentic to you and then to be able to speak to the world in a way that people could understand - in a way that would resonate with them... because I think that takes a lot of bravery to do that?!
GEORGENE: That might be an appropriate word. I think talk radio tends to be or certainly can be a place that generates more heat than light. And I think you have to start by removing your ego from the equation. I don't always have to be right. I am interested in what people think and how they arrived at their opinions. And I'm very interested in the backstory, there's always more to a story than the headline. One of the things I've discovered is that much of what we read and hear is not entirely accurate. It's not the full story. And so filling out the story and providing a more robust telling of what's happening I think, helps garner courage.
I think it helps when your motivation isn't your ego, or making a name for yourself or being right, or just generating interest because you're generating controversy. I'm genuinely interested in how do we resolve an issue? How do we get along when we have very different views, and I'm also convictional. As a woman of faith, it's important to me because what people say and do has import beyond just today - I see it as having an eternal import. And so it's important to me to help people think more deeply about the world.
You must get yourself out of the way, and make your primary purpose to promote the interest of others. In my case, I believe that God loves people. He cares about people. He's gone to great lengths to communicate His heart to people and to provide a way to have a relationship with Him. So that relieves me of the burden of having to come out the champion, or top as the winner.
KATIE: Is what you're currently doing now your purpose or a component of your purpose? And secondarily, how do you define purpose?
GEORGENE: Yeah, it's interesting, because when I was growing up, the only thing I wanted to do was to be a mother. I wanted to be a mom and to raise children. I saw that as an investment that would have a tremendous impact on the world in the future. But that was not to be for my husband and me. And so I wrestled for many years with that being the one thing I thought would be my greatest fulfillment. So I sort of surrendered to, in my case, as a believer, "Lord, what what do you have for me?" I learned that He fashions a life for you that is fitted to your character and the unique qualities and gifts that He has given you.
I still wrestle with the fact that I'll never be a grandmother, that I didn't get to take my kid to kindergarten, I'm not going to be at a wedding - those things are still painful to my heart. But I'm grateful that in surrendering, I know that I'm where I'm supposed to be and that I'm using the gifts that that I've been given. And it's amazing because I've been given opportunities to be a surrogate mother to other people's children. I've sat in on Grandparents Day and I've been the Mother of the Bride at a friend's wedding. So all of the roles that I've missed firsthand, I've had the opportunity to fill in other ways because I've cared about people and I've invested in them. That is a gift I think that God has given me for surrendering and yielding to the call that I think He has on my life.
KATIE: Absolutely. Do you feel then that purpose in motherhood is far greater than our parameters of it?
GEORGENE: Yes, because I was frustrated early on knowing God had given me a mother's heart but yet I had no children. Then I discovered that a mother's heart doesn't have to be focused on your biological children, it doesn't have to be focused on your family alone. There are so many who need to be loved and embraced and listened to. And so having opportunity to do that with other people has been such a blessing. While the one thing I wanted the most wasn't granted to me, there's been a much broader gift of reciprocal love - a gift that has come in return.
KATIE: You are certainly a gift here at Portland's Singing Christmas Tree, and have been a gift to SO many over the years - including me! Wow. Wow! Okay, what other challenges have you faced that have shaped your purpose or your pursuit of purpose, or the pursuit of what God has placed in your heart?
GEORGENE: One of the greatest challenges is to be authentic, and to have values that you're willing to stand on, even when they can be difficult or challenging. There have been opportunities that I've had to withdraw myself from because they were inconsistent with my core values. And that is very difficult. Opportunities that could have opened big doors. I had to say no thank you graciously alongside, "no, I'm not the person for this position." That's a real challenge.
Also, to stand up on occasions when it seems that no one else will, to challenge what's being said, when it's clear that it's not true. Or to stand against the tide and and say, "Wait, what about this?" As an African American woman, that's been a real challenge in in the community because there are things being said on my behalf, that are not true, and don't reflect the broader culture.
KATIE: How do you encourage young people who have a difficult time ascertaining when someone is representing you in a way that you feel is incongruent with your truth? Or that the world is pushing in a way you don't want to go? How do you encourage a young person who is is still right in the thick of learning these life lessons of how to be themselves how to find authenticity, how to be brave, all of these things that you're exhibiting?
GEORGENE: I think it can be very difficult and I think social media has made it even more challenging for young people, with the messages that they're hearing. I think, for me, my my capacity to stand came from my family, my parents. When we were growing up in Southeast Portland, our family was not welcomed in that community. And we were told we were not welcome. The way my parents responded to that set such an example for me.
I remember a police officer who lived a couple of doors down from us, came to the door and said he did not like black people, he didn't want us in the neighborhood. And I also remember some years later, that same police officer coming to our front door, in tears, apologizing for what he had said and done. And that was just a testimony to how my parents beautifully responded to what could have been a very volatile situation.
So I think for me, my capacity to recognize my value didn't come from - at the time there was no internet - it didn't come from the broader culture, it didn't come from my African American Heritage, it was solid in my parents, and I was grounded in my faith. So there was less of a temptation to be carried away by this or that. I've been around long enough to see the changes that have occurred. One moment, you know, the color is blue, and the next moment the color is red. And if you don't have red, you're completely out. So to be able to stand firm, and to have a foundation upon which to build a worldview, I think makes all the difference. And I fear for lots of young people who have no foundation, they're just waiting for the next big thing to tell them which way to go. And that is a confusing and dangerous way to live.
KATIE: Absolutely. Now, I want to switch gears just a little bit. You and your husband Dan have such a beautiful marriage. I have long admired your marriage, and I have watched fondly from a distance - since my early days with PSCT - watching you onstage portray Mary and Joseph for so many years, as well as the tenderness with which I see him embrace you, and vice versa, offstage. And the funny things that you say to one another - I'm sure there are many inside jokes you share! What are the key things you feel have kept your marriage sacred?
GEORGENE: The two of us agreed early on about our core vales, even before we were married, and I think it was important to start out with the same foundation. We talked about some of the difficult things that are likely to come up in the course of a marriage. It wasn't just, "Oh, I have affection for you and I think you're handsome. And I love the way you play the drums." Haha! We both recognized that over time we're going to get old and the things that we may like about one another may change dramatically. So we really began talking about what what does a life together look like? What are the the things that we won't compromise on? Divorce was not a subject that was discussed in our household, it was not an option. So we had to make sure that what we what we did would not lead to that outcome. So I think early on just recognizing the value of a relationship that you commit to for a lifetime. And what understanding that requires. There have certainly been challenges along the way, there have been difficulties. But once you've made that commitment, and talk through a lot of those fundamental things ahead of time, it makes a difference. We both are Christians, and so I think that has played a major role in our ability to forgive one another, to forbear with one another and to love one another, even when it's difficult.
KATIE: Do you think those are the secrets to longevity in marriage?
GEORGENE: Oh, absolutely. And again, taking your ego off the pedestal and looking at one another as two flawed people who have made an agreement to live together and to work together. I see that God uses that relationship to shape our character, especially when we sometimes feel, "I wish he was this way," or when the other person says, "I wish she was this way." And yet God is saying: "You're responsible for YOU. I want you to yield in this area and exposed certain aspects of your character that need adjustment." And so it's a learning experience along the way. I'm really grateful for the challenges that we've had because it's revealed things about me that have needed to change and ways to relate to people better. It's a journey worth taking because it has not only bore fruit for the relationship but I think how we relate to people outside of our our married relationship.
KATIE: What do you feel about your personality differences and how those come together?
GEORGENE: I think I'm much more active and outgoing than my husband. He's more quiet and contemplative. He's a musician. So he's an artist. And it was a challenge at times because I like to get up and get things done and work through things. For example, when we first started out, he was going to handle the bills, because that's how it was in my household growing up, but we learned that I was better at overseeing that. So we decided that whatever our strengths are, we would exercise those strengths rather than deciding based upon, "Well, that's what you're supposed to do." And it's worked really well. I can remember one time just recognizing that I was completely different from him. He's completely different. He doesn't think the same way I do. He doesn't see things the same way I do. And just kind of looked at him like he's almost an alien in some ways. I had to put aside the expectation that he's gonna see it exactly the way I do and really recognize the uniqueness of who he is, not just as my husband but as a male. And how do we work this together? Because this is the plan that God's put in place. How do we work this out for our good and for His glory? There is purpose in living a married life together, that God intends to reveal something about His character to others, so we wanted to get it right.
KATIE: Thank you so much, Georgene! Was that inspiring or what?! That was incredible! You are such an inspiration, my friend!
GEORGENE: Oh, my goodness. Thank you! I've now been interviewed by Miss America, so I'm sitting here going, "Wow!"
MANY THANKS to Georgene Rice for pouring her heart and wisdom into our interview. She is a mighty and beautiful Fearless Femme, and it is an honor to call her a mentor, friend and onstage colleague!
Wishing you all a peaceful 2022,