Interview: Charmin Michelle, Minnesota’s hardest-working chanteuse


Jazz chanteuse Charmin Michelle must live on roller skates. The Twin-Cities-based veteran is either working, just finished working, or gearing to go to work. Consistently booked solid, week to week, month after month at local nightclubs and on tour, whatever the lady’s doing, she is doing it right. For instance, during September, she sang Mondays and Wednesdays at Fireside Pizza in Richfield and Sunday mornings at Kozy’s in Edina. In addition to appearances at Bella Sera, Cue (at the Guthrie) and, with the Charmin Michelle Trio, Crave in Edina. This month, she’s even more all-over-the-place, playing Midtown Global Market (with Joel Shapira), Hopkins Center for the Arts, White Horse Tavern (with the Twin Cities Jazz Imports) in St. Cloud, twice at Cue, Bella Sera again, Crave, and on the 24th she’ll do a Tribute to Billie Holiday at Jax Café in Minneapolis with the Twin Cities Seven.

Since a 1993 Minnesota Music Award nomination as Best Female Jazz Vocalist, Charmin Michelle has staked an undeniable claim to prominence. Specializing in classic fare—memorable songs such as “Them There Eyes” and “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”—and applying her signature style, it isn’t hard to see how she’s come to be in ever-increasing demand here and abroad. The indefatigable Charmin Michelle has toured Germany, Egypt, Israel, Sicily, Italy, Turkey, and Greece—and, on her last trip through Spain, recorded with such heavyweights as saxmen Henry Allen, Grant Stewart, and Scott Hamilton, guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Ignasi Terraza, and the Toni Sola Quartet.

She’s got four albums: Your Eyes, Pure Imagination (with guitarist Joel Shapira), Hot (with Doug Haining and the Twin Cities Seven) and her auspicious debut Destination Moon.

You have to be about the hardest-working woman in Twin Cities show business. How did you come to be in such demand?
I think just taking on as much work as I could handle and being “out there”—more people have been able to see me. Having weekly performances helps.

You don’t do bad internationally, either. How do those gigs get put together?
I have a promoter who sets up my international tours. I’ll get a phone call or e-mail for some dates, then my flights, hotel, and transportation are all taken care of.

Your technique is second to none. How did you come by it?
Thank you! I take from many of the greats I enjoy listening to—Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Anita O’Day—but deliver in my own voice. I love great lyrics and try to give the feel of a storyteller when I sing.

How do you like singing in the Twin Cities?
It’s great to be able to make a living singing in a town with such a wealth of great talent.

What moved you to sing jazz for a living?
It was a happy accident. What was supposed to be “just for fun” ended up being my calling…so I ran with it.

What’s next?
I’m working on the concept for a new CD, and hopefully more international tours.

Dwight Hobbes is a journalist based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.