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Jazz vocalist and leader Lisa Thorson has not allowed her disability to define who she is. Rather, she has transcended the physical limitations imposed by the wheelchair that she has used since 1979, and used her talents in the spheres of both music and theater to bring to the forefront the issue of accessibility for the disabled. San Diego's Women's International Foundation honored Thorson's accomplishments in 1992 with its Living Legacy Award. In 1996, the Massachusetts Coalition for Citizens With Disabilities conferred another honor. Among the numerous additional honors she has received are several nominations from the Boston Music Awards in the category of Outstanding Jazz Vocalist. In 1989, the Boston Encore Awards bestowed on her its Humanitarian Entertainer of the Year Award. Thorson devoted five years to working with the Adaptive Environments Center in Boston, putting together programs that would ease the entry into the arts for individuals with special needs. She also worked to generate changes that would bring about easier access to beach areas for persons who use wheelchairs. During the early '80s, she wrote Spokesong, a vehicle that entertained while trying to teach about problems faced by the disabled population. In addition to her work with the Adaptive Environments Center, Thorson devoted more than 15 years to such organizations as Next Move Theater and Very Special Arts USA, as well as contributing her knowledge and talent to Boston's Mayor's Commission on Handicapped Affairs.
The jazz singer also arranges and composes. She has led her own quintet for more than a decade and has performed in concerts in Italy, Canada, and the U.S. Her ensemble consists of saxophonist Cercie Miller, drummer George Schuller, bass player David Clark, and pianist Tim Ray. An associate professor, she teaches at Boston's Berklee College of Music. She has also served on the faculty at Wellesley College, NE Conservatory, and Longy School of Music. She earned a master's degree from the NE Conservatory and a bachelor's degree from Boston Conservatory. The list of artists with whom she has recorded or shared a stage includes Sheila Jordan, Herb Pomeroy, Bruce Barth, Valerie Capers, the Billy Taylor Trio, Harvie Swartz, Kenny Wheeler and the New England Conservatory Big Band, Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Grossman, Linda Hopkins, and Max Roach. Her side projects include JazzArtSigns, Boswellmania, and a collaboration with Cho Yoon Seung. A video, Key Changes: A Portrait of Lisa Thorson, was made by Cindy Marshall, and profiles the jazz vocalist's work as an advocate for the disabled.