There is no doubt in any concert-goer’s mind that Sally Rogers can sing. Boy, can she sing! But not all singers are also gifted songwriters. Sally Rogers also has that gift. Several of her songs have been mistaken for traditional material, with memorable tunes that follow you wherever you go.
Sally’s first “keeper” was her song about her grandmother, Lovely Agnes. It was written for Agnes’ 92nd birthday and she never intended it to go further. However, it was immediately picked up by Claudia Schmidt and sung on A Prairie Home Companion. This resulted in an immediate personal invitation from Garrison Keillor himself to perform on his nationally syndicated radio show. The rest is history.
Rogers also has a knack for using old melodies for new lyrics. She loved listening to Helen Schneyer’s rendition of the old Southern Baptist hymn, I Will Guide Thee, but wanted a more secular version for her own use. So she wrote Love Will Guide Us which is now featured in both the Unitarian and Quaker hymnals, as well as in the Silver Burdett music textbook series. Her children’s song, What Can One Little Person Do? is featured in the MacMillan music textbook series Spotlight on Music as well as in TeachingTolerance.org’s book/CD compilation, I Will Be Your Friend.
Sally was also commissioned to write the music for several folk operas based on oral histories from a Mennonite Community in Newport News, VA. Working closely with playwright, Jo Carson, Rogers wrote the songs that punctuated the stories in Cross Tides, Pieced Together, and Plowing Outback . The plays were performed in the Yoder Barn in Newport News, VA, which had been moved from its original foundation, now in the middle of a shopping mall, to a safe triangle of land a mile away. It was then converted into a wonderful, earthy theater where all the folk operas were performed.
Sally’s song, Over in the Endangered Meadow was based on the children’s song Over in the Meadow which her grandfather used to sing to her as a small child. Sally’s re-write includes endangered species from around the world. The E. P. Dutton publishing house transformed her song into a beautiful picture book , Earthsong, with illustrations by artist, Melissa Bay Mathis.
In recent years, Rogers has spent much of her energy teaching young people to write their own songs, often learning about their communities in the process. She frequently participates in in-school residencies where she empowers students to collect local oral histories. Then they create songs based on the stories they collect. Her Songs of the Heritage Corridor CD includes songs she was commissioned to write based on primary source documents, plus the songs written by students at Pomfret Community School in Pomfret, CT, Mary Fisher Elementary School in Thompson, CT and Sweeny Elementary School in Willimantic, CT, all based on the oral histories they collected. Days Gone By and Lebanon: Of Farms and Famous People were created for the tercentenary celebrations of Lebanon, CT and Mansfield, CT respectively.
Sally Rogers will continue to compose and record her songs, spreading them like seeds wherever she goes. Once during a live radio interview in Michigan, a woman called in to say that her child came home singing all the words to “Lovely Agnes”, a song she had never exposed the girl to. When she asked where the child had learned it, the answer came: “On the playground”. No higher praise could have been awarded to this songwriter.