A stunning soprano tone has made Anne Hills one of contemporary folk music's premier vocalists. But her affinity for choosing unforgettable material and her knack for writing heartfelt original songs have brought her to the upper echelons of her craft. In addition to her memorable solo albums, Hills has recorded duo albums with Tom Paxton, Cindy Mangsen, and Chicago-based songwriter Michael Smith, and trio albums with Mangsen and Priscilla Herdman. A veteran of the Chicago folk scene of the 1980s, she performed in a legendary trio with folksingers Paxton and Bob Gibson. Her vocals have also been featured on albums by Smith, Jim Post, Livingston Taylor, Artie Traum, and Si Kahn.
The third daughter of American missionaries, Hills was born in India and raised in Michigan. While attending the Interlochen Arts Academy, she was a featured soloist with the school's big band, a group that also included Dave Brubeck's son Chris and percussionist Peter Erskine, later of Weather Report. Moving to Chicago in 1976, Hills helped to found Hogeye Music, a folklore center and recording label. Her first three recordings -- The Panic Is On, recorded with Jan Burda, in 1982; 1984's Don't Explain; and a multi-artist Christmas album, On This Day Earth Shall Sing, in 1984 -- were released on the label. Hogeye's catalog and roster of performers, which included Paxton, Mangsen, Gibson, and Andrew Calhoun, was taken over by Flying Fish.
Hills' second solo album, 1988's Woman of a Calm Heart, was produced by Artie Traum and Scott Petito and showcased her interpretative skills with deeply personal renditions of songs by Ilene Weiss, Gregory Simon, Eliza Gilkyson, Jack Hardy, Kris Kristofferson, and David Roth. On her third solo album, 1993's October Child (produced by Erskine), Hills showcased the songs of Michael Smith. Hills stepped forward as a songwriter on her fourth solo album, Angle of the Light, in 1995, with eight original songs and collaborations with Smith ("Forget-Me-Not") and harp player Jay Ansill ("Lover's Knot").
Hills' partnership with Cindy Mangsen was sparked when she heard Mangsen performing on a Chicago radio show, Midnight Special, in 1977. Their first opportunity to sing together came in 1988 when they were joined by Priscilla Herdman at the Old Songs Festival. In 1990, they released their first trio album, Voices. Their second trio recording, Voices of Winter, followed in 1997, and the threesome returned with their third album, At the Turning of the Year, in 2000. Hills and Mangsen have also recorded 1994's Never Grow Old and 1998's Never Grow Up as a duo.
Living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Mark Moss (the editor of Sing Out! magazine) and their daughter Tamlyn, Hills balanced her musical career with work as an actress, performing in productions of Quilters, Foxfire, and The Courtship of Carl Sandburg. In 1995 she composed, performed, and sang (with Jay Ansill) the score of Brian Friel's show Lovers. She helped to produce a multi-artist concert and album, Part of the Village, to benefit the Carole Robertson Center in Chicago, a learning program for children and families in need. In September 1997 the center presented her with an award for outstanding service and loyalty.
Hills reached a creative apex in 1997; together with illustrator Liz Paxson, she released her first children's book, Dreamcatcher, adapted from her original song. A cassette with her singing the song on one side and daughter Tamlyn singing it on the other was included with the full-color edition. Hills' musical skills were also showcased on tribute albums of the songs of Pete Seeger (Where Have All the Flowers Gone) and Phil Ochs (What's That I Hear). She capped the year off in December, when she was named Outstanding Female Vocalist by the Kerrville Music Foundation. The following year, Hills released another solo outing, entitled Bittersweet Street and consisting mainly of all-original material, and in 1999 she collaborated with Michael Smith on the duo outing Paradise Lost & Found.
The new millennium found Hills continuing both solo and collaborative endeavors -- after the release of 2000's Herdman/Hills/Mangsen trio recording At the Turning of the Year, she reunited with Tom Paxton to issue the duo recording Under American Skies in 2001. Fourtold, a quartet recording featuring Hills, Mangsen, Smith, and Steve Gillette, was released in 2003, and as the decade continued Hills released two albums (both on Collective Works) setting prose to music -- 2006's Beauty Attends: The Heartsongs of Opal Whiteley, and 2007's Ef You Don't Watch Out: Anne Hills Sings the Poems of James Whitcomb Riley. In 2009 she was back with another solo album of primarily original songs (her first since Bittersweet Street over a decade previously), Points of View on the Appleseed Recordings label.
~ Craig Harris