Vivian Male defies classification. A trustee emerita at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, former special assistant to U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke, and featured vocalist for the New England Emmy Awards, Ms. Male forges her own path at every turn. On August 11, she will take the stage for her fifth annual performance on Martha’s Vineyard at Edgartown’s Old Whaling Church. A portion of the concert’s proceeds will be donated to the Vivian C. Beard Endowed Scholarship Fund at Berklee College of Music. Ms. Male is known the world over for her distinctive renditions of classic and contemporary jazz and R&B favorites, but when she’s not at her primary residence in Boston, she calls the Vineyard home.
For Ms. Male, this year’s performance holds special significance. She first visited Martha’s Vineyard when she was 14, and recalls with great fondness her arrival in Oak Bluffs on the Island Queen. “I had never been on a boat before,” Ms. Male told The Times in a recent interview. She noticed onlookers waving from the shore, and she remembers thinking that there must have been someone special on the ferry that day. “I realized,” she says, “they weren’t just waving at somebody, they were waving at me.” From that moment on, Ms. Male has regarded Martha’s Vineyard as a warm and inviting place. “I waved back,” she said.
After years of dedicated public service, Ms. Male made her recording debut on the collaboration album “Boston Sings Out,” and in 2009 she co-produced her first solo record, “Our Day Will Come,” with Langston “Skip” Smith and Eric Preusser of Preusser International Productions. The record features Ms. Male’s soothing vocals on such classics as Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s 1964 hit “Walk On By,” made famous by Dionne Warwick. While some artists may find the task of covering such beloved material daunting, Ms. Male welcomes her audience’s familiarity with the music and lyrics. The well-known lyrics of a popular song provide an opportunity for her to forge a unique connection with the listener. “It’s important that my audience relates to me, because I’m giving of myself — because I leave myself on the stage,” Ms. Male said. Her newest recording project will feature her tried and true mastery of cover tunes alongside some original songs.
When asked about her career in public service, her roles as governor-appointed chairwoman of the Appeals Board of Unemployment Insurance and administrative judge for Workers’ Compensation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Ms. Male harkens back to her upbringing as the seventh of eight children. “I always observed a lot,” she said. “I learned a lot through other people’s experiences. I came to be able to relate to people very well, and I have a relatively easy time standing in somebody else’s shoes.” This quality of Ms. Male’s personality shines through in her work covering an eclectic set of songs across genre and time, and in her live shows she makes sure to tailor each performance to the crowd. “When you take that history of being conscious of and sensitive to other people, it allows you to step out of yourself and try to deliver what you feel people need that day,” she said.
As a performer, Ms. Male delights in the distinctive audience she encounters every year on the Vineyard. From annual renters to first-time tourists to multi-generation Islanders, Male appreciates the cross section of people for whom she gets to perform. “You never know who you’re going to meet,” she said. “The thing about the Vineyard is that however many friends you have, you make more, easily. The Vineyard is the common denominator.” Ms. Male even enjoys membership in one of the Island’s most treasured communities, The Cottagers. After many years as a renter, Ms. Male was elated when she purchased her home in Oak Bluffs and finally obtained “a little piece of the pebble.” As her record in public service suggests, Ms. Male shines when her successes are shared.
Vivian Male in concert: Thursday, August 11, at 7 pm. Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. Tickets are $35 in advance at eventbrite.com, or $45 at the door.