BETHLEHEM — A Bethlehem couple has been getting their voices heard around the area for the past decade, and hopes to continue to do so after the coronavirus pandemic.
Claudia and Bob Hughes are singers of big band music and jazz standards. Prior to COVID-19, Hughes performed live at community centers across Litchfield County, including Watertown, Woodbury, New Milford and Thomaston.
They’ve also had several gigs at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, and the Heritage Village, B’nai Israel, the Watermark, and Pomperaug Woods in Southbury.
Prior to the pandemic, the couple would get two to three gigs every month. Most of those have been paused, and they have instead been sharing video performances with their friends and their church, the First Congregational Church in Watertown.
They were, however, able to recently give two outdoor performances at a retirement home for women in Waterbury and at the Litchfield Community Center.
Bob said performing enables them to be able to “do some work in the community and do some good.”
The duo’s journey into music together started about three years ago, when they decided to create an Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme tribute show. The Gormes were regulars on many 1960s variety shows.
According to Bob, the Steve and Eydie show attracted an audience because of their wholesomeness.
“They were husband and wife, like us. They had a special stage presence and their music appealed to the audiences we have been playing for since they looked like a couple that every marriage would aspire to,” said Bob, who is 73. “It’s an appeal on the older generation, but also to younger generations as well.”
As part of most of their performances, the couple wears black tie evening wear, which, they said, relates to their style.
“People really enjoy seeing all the glitter,” said Claudia, who is also 73.
“It’s its own form of entertainment — a couple all dressed up. It’s so polished. When you dress up, it makes you feel better and at the the top of your game,” Bob said.
Claudia’s music career spans many decades. It began when she was in college at the University of Bridgeport in the late 1960s, where she sang in several rock and roll bands.
She also studied with late Broadway jazz musicians Bill and Rosemary Finnegan.
“They influenced my direction of the music I was interested in,” she said. “They were into classic jazz standards, the big band and swing music. This was very different than rock and roll music.”
She said what impressed her about big band music was the chord structures and the voices of classic jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.
During the 1960s and 1970s, she sang in various venues in the Bridgeport area, which she described as the “hub in the area for professional musicians.”
“I was singing whatever was required — rock and roll, jazz, and R&B,” she said. “We had to be very versatile. Talent agencies would place me with different groups.”
She recorded her own jazz CD in 2006 called “My Romance,” which became part of the jazz series at the Mattatuck Museum. In 2008, she played keyboard, sang and composed in an all-female rock band called Illuminata.
Meanwhile, Bob got started in the music business much later than his wife. After retiring from a 30-year career in manufacturing, he told Claudia he wanted to take up a hobby. She recommended he take voice lessons, which he did, and later joined the Connecticut Chorale Society.
It was at the society where he “fell in love with singing,” he said.
“I had the privilege to study voice with European opera singer Marianna Vagnini of Waterbury, Perry Price of Danbury, The Hartt School Voice Professor Eric Trudel, and former Montreal Opera star Valerie Sorel in Hamden,” he said.
He sang for many benefit concerts in an a cappella group called the Chambers Singers. He also visited local health care facilities and saw what “a positive impression we could have on those folks.”
While the couple currently performs under their own names, their original name was Let Your Light Shine.
“When we go out to facilities, we shine a light and make people happy,” he said.