Joan Cartwright has spent a good portion of her life traveling around the world singing jazz. Music had been her first love since the age of four when her mother put her in dance school, and her childhood home in Queens, NY was often filled with the sounds of jazz records being played by her father.
Now 68, Cartwright lives in West Palm Beach, Fla. where she remains a creative force using many different platforms – from writing books, blogs, and poetry. In March, she taught her first college course in speech communication at Southeastern University. She also heads Women in Jazz South Florida, a non-profit organization she founded to support the success of fellow women jazz musicians, and hosts a weekly radio talk show called “Music Woman.”
“Musicians are messengers,” says Cartwright, who calls herself “a communicator” above all else. “Music is about delivering messages. So I don’t see music as necessarily art, but as communication.”
Ever since she was in college, she was adamant about combining her love of music and communication. And now she is finishing up her doctorate in marketing at Northcentral University.
“My passion now is to get my doctorate,” says Cartwright. “I’m working on my dissertation research right now on women in jazz, music publishing and marketing. I have to interview 20 women composers and ask them about their marketing practices.”
She says she realized early on that musicians have very poor business skills, and she decided to pursue that topic, because she wants to help them – especially women, because the jazz music industry has long been dominated by men.
Cartwright herself remembers returning to New York to sing after getting her master’s degree in communication from La Salle University in Philadelphia.
“New York was a little tougher,” she says about the music industry in the early 80’s. “In Philly, there were five or seven of us jazz singers. In New York, about 30.”
She said she would hustle during the day doing odd jobs like word processing and working as a legal secretary, and at night she would sing.
“I used to be a street musician in Central Park for a while with my boyfriend who was a drummer,” remembers Cartwright. “Sometimes we’d make more money there than in the clubs.”
In the 90’s, she got her first contract which allowed her to tour Europe.
“I met a piano player who became my music arranger, and he produced my first CD in Catania, Italy, called ‘Feeling Good,’” recalls Cartwright.
“I toured Italy for four years with him, and I sang in Spain, Austria, Germany and England, Holland, France and Switzerland. I met some wonderful musicians and got to see a lot of famous musicians.”
When she moved to Florida in 1996, she had collected so many photographs of beautiful places and people all over the world that she decided to take them to the publisher of African American Travel magazine. She ended up writing for them for four years.
These days, she’s excited to be back recording music with her daughter, and fellow singer, Mimi Johnson, and also plans to keep teaching business courses once she finishes her doctorate in December.
“I keep doing what I’m doing…and then I’m going to publish “The Best Business Practices for Women Musicians,” because women have to use different strategies than men use,” says Cartwright. “One of my triumphs is that I’ve got a collection of at least six CDs of music with 63 songs from 45 women. So nobody can never say that women don’t write music.”
And what is her one piece of life advice that she wishes she could tell her younger self now?
“Love yourself first,” says Cartwright, adding that she is “blissfully single” after four marriages – she’s even written a poem about it. “Women tend to give away their hearts to men, and men generally take those hearts for granted.”