Joan Hammel 



Local Performer a Model of Success

Sometimes flaws can tell you as much about a person as their accomplishments.

Accomplishments, by definition, are easily touted. I have spent the better part of an afternoon trying to find fault in this person. OK, no one’s perfect, but I’m hard pressed to find any dirt.

Across the table sits a remarkable woman. She shies away from the question of her age, but only because it is that age that everyone dreads somewhat. In her young life, she graduated summa cum laude from Columbia College in Chicago, has modeled for such accounts as Diet Pepsi, McDonald’s and Universal Pictures, and has worked in several films, including "Ground Hog Day" with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, and Mad Dog and Glory" with Robert Deniro and Bill Murray.

She sings with a band, and is now branching into the natural extension of music composition. Five months ago she was elected to the Board of Governors of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences -- the people who give pout the Grammy Awards.

In that capacity, she developed a program which she will bring to her alma mater, Warren Township High School on Nov. 16. The program -- Grammy in the Schools -- will bring a wide range of musicians, recording engineers, television and radio production personnel to the school to offer behind-the-scene insights into the recording and film arts.

"It’s startling to me that people will come and spend the day with the kids for free, just because I ask them, the Lake Forest native, now living in Wildwood, says. "But I want to give students some opportunities that I never had growing up."
Those opportunities will include the involvement of a number of industry notables, so far including Donny Osmond, most recently noted for his role in "Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat," and the rock band Survivor.

Other professionals include Damon Booth, of ASCAP, to discuss music publishing an royalties; J. Spencer Greene from Chicago’s Famous Door Theater onstage and screen design; Carol Freeman, graphic artist and album cover design artist; Jay B., Ross, entertainment attorney; Mike Caplan, weatherman for WLS-TV; composer James Mack; and music video director Lou Antonelli. Several of the participants are fellow graduates of the high school.

The program has met with such interest that it is likely to become the model for similar programs throughout the nation. Other schools are already interested in it, and it has yet to actually occur.

At least part of her own success comes from a decent bit of luck, a healthy does of talent and being in the right place at the right time -- sort of the Forrest Gump school of career management.

"My life has been a tapestry," she says, alluding also to one of her favorite songs by Carole King. "Balance is something that’s really important for me."
That balance has led, obviously, to a very extensive resume. But if there were a unifying theme, she says, it would be music.

"Music is the beginning and the end for me, "she says. In college, she supported herself by performing full-time. Later, her efforts led her to Vegas where she performed at Caesar’s Palace and other noted venues. "In Vegas, as a performer, I learned more about performing than anywhere else."

"I’m way beyond my first goals," she says, laughing. "Really, all I wanted was t get to sing one song with a band on stage."

She cites a survey conducted by SAG-AFTRA, the national union for virtually all performing artists, which indicated that only eight percent of the members of the union could support themselves by their art.

"I am a working performer -- I’m really amazed I’m part of that eight percent, "she says. "Everything else is strawberry shortcake."

It’s that eight percent, though, that motivates her to offer students a glimpse of the myriad possibilities of jobs within the performing arts -- you don’t have to be the star to be successful, she says.

"There’s really no mentor for what I’m doing," she says. "You have to pave your own way."

Joan Hammel