Charity Tillemann-Dick

Charity Tillemann-Dick Sings with Grace on Her Debut Album

CIW 2013 speaker and opera singer Charity Tillemann-Dick—a recipient of two double lung transplants—rarely takes a break.  She came up with the idea for her debut album “American Grace” while in the hospital waiting for her second lung transplant.  We caught up with her about the album, set for a July 7 release and available for pre-order now, and her passion for the American hymnals she sings on the album.

Charity Tillemann-Dick

Charity Tillemann-Dick shared the importance of how to live a life worth dying for on the CIW stage.

What was your inspiration for an album of American hymnals? 
When I was waiting for my second transplant, it seemed very unlikely that I would get in.  There were a myriad of reasons that it just seemed like I wasn’t going to survive.  While I was waiting, I decided that my first major project was going to be something that would express my gratitude to the universe for letting me survive.

It took me a while to hone in on what that was.  But I was brought up in a devout Mormon family so we grew up singing a lot of these wonderful songs.  It’s interesting because people think that religion is something that divides people, but hymns are nondenominational.  In practically every hymnal you find, you’ll find hymnals that span religious traditions.  I thought it was a wonderful source of unifying ideas and ideals.  I went back to my roots; it’s the most simple way to put it.
That same sense of gratitude and unifying ideals must have led you to the title “American Grace”.
Yes.  I think that there is a goodness that binds us all.  We are a nation of immigrants…. For such a multicultural society to exist, I think it really has to depend on those common elements of humanity that bring us together.  That’s the spirit of the recording.  I wanted to focus on these ideals that we share, and these different pieces of a doctrine of humanity that we bring to the table.

What was the development process like for the album?
I got the idea last January.  I went to the Library of Congress, which is a few blocks away from my home, and I started researching the oldest American hymnals.  I think we used seven different libraries that they have within the Library of Congress to find all of these wonderful, wonderful texts.  About half of them don’t have music so I set them, and the other half I arranged. It’s been a really exciting process.

We recorded last May with members of the Cleveland Orchestra in Ohio.  It’s been a fantastic collaborative experience.     

What are your next steps?

I have a number of big performances coming up, which is exciting.  Right now we’re really focused on this recording, and we’ll go from there.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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