Numero Group: By The Numbers

Pearl of Peoria
December 15, 2008, 10:35 am
Filed under: Ladies From The Canyon, Uncategorized

Judson stumbled upon this tender little blog dedicated to Jennie Pearl a while back and sent it over. It’s a really endearing series of posts written by Jennie’s neighbor, providing real insight into both her current and past lives. I wish this kind of thing existed for every artist we work with as it fills in a background our compilations often lack the space to deal with. 

Our friend Andy Newman at the New York Times is the catalyst for Jennie’s minor return to singing. He contacted us several years back after being haunted by Jennie’s 15-year-old voice on “Maybe In Another Year.” He spent two years using the full resources of The Grey Lady to track her to a tractor manufacturer. Here’s Andy’s story in full:

It wasn’t enough that it was a gorgeously pristine heartbreakingly heartbroken song by a 15-year-old with a voice like an angel in training, accompanying herself exquisitely if sometimes unsteadily on the piano. It was a gorgeously pristine heartbreakingly heartbroken song sung by a girl who lost touch with anyone in the music business shortly after recording it and might as well have vanished from the earth.

And so as I listened, over and over again, to “Maybe In Another Year”, recorded in 1970 by one Jennie Pearl of Peoria, IL, and resurrected on the mind-blowing Numero comp Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From The Canyon, I kept thinking, where is she? What happened to her? 

Numero’s sleuths tracked down most of the ladies on the compilation — they were selling painted hubcaps outside Terlingua, Texas, or doing voices for hit Disney films or running bed & breakfasts. The liner note on Jennie’s page ends with the sentence “Her current whereabouts are unknown.” Facing it is a reproduction of the cover of The Peoria Folk Anthology Volume Three. Jennie, sitting barefoot on a curb among a group of twenty-something-looking performers, looks like a painfully confused little kid.

I had to know what happened, so I started making calls. The man who put together the Peoria anthology, Chuck Perrin, said he had no idea where to find Jennie, but he offered some data: she was born on Dec. 20, and she went to Richwoods High School, probably class of 1972 or 73.

I combed through Nexis, looking for Pearls in and around Peoria, looking for women in Illinois named Jennie or Jennifer and born Dec. 20 1954 or 1955, making little headway. I called the high school. They put me in touch with the alumni chair for the class of 73, a woman named Susan Fellerhoff. She remembered Jennie and made some inquiries. Nine days later came an answer, and a phone number.

With trembling fingers, I called a number at Caterpillar Inc., the construction-equipment giant based in Peoria. “Jennifer Hays,” said a weathered voice that sounded nothing like the teenage Jennie Pearl. But it was the same person. 

Jennie had had plans to get out of Peoria. After high school, she said, she got a BA at in international studies at a local university, but realized she needed a masters degree to get a decent job in her field. “I probably stopped and thought, ‘I’ll think about this for a while’ and never went back,” she said. Instead she went to work for Caterpillar, her hometown’s biggest employer. That was 28 ½ years ago. She’s now a database administrator and helps “design and maintain IMS databases for applications and areas in this company.”

Jennie kept singing in her spare time, usually in choirs, including one that performed at Carnegie Hall a few years ago. But she’s not doing any singing now. The story of “Maybe in Another Year” is that Jennie was planning to record only one song for the Peoria record, a brutally sad song about her father leaving the family called “Bye-Gones,” but Chuck Perin wanted two songs. Pearl recalls, “I didn’t know what to do, so I wrote it really fast.” She said the song was partly autobiographical. “It was initiated by a real thing and I just kind of went with it,” she said. 



“Bye-gones” was the first song Jennie ever wrote. `Maybe in Another Year” was the second. She has not written another song since. Asked why she stopped writing songs, Jennie replied, “I had never heard anyone other than family members say anything good about any of them.”

A true reporter (and a Numero employee in spirit), he just never stops pushing. He even turned us onto the Niela Miller record we’re issuing next year, a record only he and Niela’s closest knew existed. When asked why, he meekly replied, “I was curious.”

1 Comment so far
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Oh Yes, I was fortunate enough to be in Jennys high school class. Even shared some classes together, including music courses under the dirrection of Dr. Coventry.
Jenny, was one of of those girls whom had it all. Beauty, Intellect, and Talent all wrapped up in one. As I remember there were quite a number of young man who carried around a secret crush on her. She was , back then, a kinda quiet girl. Almost timed. But sing, Oh ya, This one has the gift. I always felt she was destine for greatness. I had heard there was some recordings made and was waiting for the first album. Never did hear much after that. I persued my life. And yes,music is and will always be a major part of it. I’m not now or ever have been very good at it, but it brings me unspeackable joy and content.
If there is anything I can do or say to encourage Jenny to continue and persue more music in her life, please let me know. As gifted as she was, and is, her music should be enjoyed by all. Music is truly a Universal language. Its a emotional experience for both the performer and the audience. Ture talent doesn’t go unnoticed, and Jenny belongs in the spotlight.
Thanks for keeping all of us advised. I’m yes even after 38 years I’m stiil waiting for that first album. Thanks Again.

Comment by Van Ladendorf

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