Meagan Gipson, a Phoenix singer, songwriter and guitarist, is a fifth-generation Arizonan. Among other prominent family members, her grandfather, Virgil Gipson, was a well-known Grand Canyon Village resident (and Arizona Highways contributor) in the 1940s and ’50s, and her great-grandfather, Bert Lauzon, was a cohort of the Kolb brothers. Now, Gipson is making a name for herself: She’s a finalist in the ReThink “Why Housing Matters” Song Contest, which features singer-songwriter Jewel and aims to educate people about the benefits of public housing. She’s also begun a Web project to chronicle her family’s history. Below, she answers a few questions about these endeavors.
Q: Tell us about your background. What led you to pursue music as a career?
A: I grew up in Phoenix, attending local schools the entire way through, graduating from Arizona State. I now work three jobs, all in the name of pursuing dreams! I work with my dad in our family sign business, where I am a graphic designer and manager. I am also a social worker for two juvenile-law attorneys. And of course, I am a singer/songwriter/guitarist.
When I was in third grade, a teacher (who has since become a good friend of mine) came into our class one day and talked with us about the new strings class that was starting. I was fascinated with the idea of playing an instrument, so I chose violin, and so it began! I played through the seventh grade, until I reached a point where I wanted to play something with a little more punch. My parents gave me a guitar for Christmas my eighth-grade year. Seeing as how I had no idea how to play the guitar, let alone tune the instrument, it sat there in its lonely case until I enrolled in guitar class at Moon Valley High School the next year as a freshman. I learned how to read music for guitar (it was slightly different than that of violin). Come my senior year, I was given a practice room as my “class,” and the deal was I could come to “class” and work on crafting my own material, writing and singing and playing whatever I chose, as long as I played a piece per week that was in the music book from which the teacher taught.
So here I am, this many years later and loving the discoveries of new sounds and the creation of new lyrics and the culmination of new songs that keep my repertoire building and coloring itself brighter and bolder with every new completion! I have had the opportunity to play in the lobby of Comerica Theatre before one of Stevie Nicks’ solo shows, as well as in the Platinum Club at US Airways Center for benefactors before a Fleetwood Mac show. I was invited by the Arizona Heart Institute Foundation to perform at a private event in which Nicks was the guest of honor. I also have done numerous other shows all over the Valley. I love marketing and promoting and playing shows where I have a chance to engage and share my heart’s work with others. And the sweet reward is when I have listeners come up and tell me how a song or a word or a phrase catches them, takes them back or evokes some kind of emotion. People respond to music, and I respond to that!
Q: What is it about public housing that made you want to enter this contest?
A: Jewel is what it is! I was watching her in an interview, discussing her past while promoting ReThink Housing, and although I had already respected her as an artist and her background, I learned so much more about her on a deeper level in what she shared in the interview that by the end of it, I had an even more profound respect for her. The determination and vision she kept … just amazing. And regarding public housing itself, my entry was inspired by the work I do with children. When I enter homes, they are sometimes foster or group homes; other times, relatives’ homes. I talk to kids who have been through many struggles to a degree others would think could break a spirit, and yet when I listen to them, really hear their voices, their hearts, I can find hope still in existence. And that hope flickers because these children have basic necessities covered and can then start breathing again, looking at creating a future, continuing school, gaining knowledge there is more out there in this world for them. And that comes from a sense of security, structure and love.
When I wrote Home Is Universal, which is my entry in the contest, I kept each of those children in mind, along with countless others whose lives can be changed when they feel they have a place to call home, a tangible that can honorably accept that definition. And public housing is that answer for many, children and adults alike, because those children grow up. They have goals, dreams and the desire to keep their eye on them. That is important for seeing a future community, city, state, nation and world grow and develop in a positive way. When I entered, I knew that I could possibly lend one more voice to raising awareness, making a difference. And I think this contest has become a beautiful platform for just that. All of the people who entered have made a difference thinking about the idea themselves and having others pause for thought, pause to look up ReThink, pause to discuss with others. That’s making a difference right there. And as an artist, Jewel is making a difference; she is using her talent, her name for good, and how heartwarming that is to see?
Q: How did you react when you learned you were a finalist?
A: Probably by squealing with joy inside. I really was overjoyed, utter excitement comes to mind, only after the residue of shocked delight wore off (that took several minutes)! My alarm had just gone off, my email notification followed. I read the email, smiled, started getting ready for my workday and my fingers and voice and eyes kept up a fast pace the entire day, making sure all social-networking outlets were notified, people were called, emails were sent, and so on. I knew this was special; this notification meant people were aware, people listened, people read, people absorbed, people supported, but the icing on the cake was the fact that people took action! Taking action, playing your part, taking up space and making your voice be heard, making your vote matter … that matters! And because of those pieces coming together, I am a finalist and so very grateful and appreciative. And ReThink has really put together something great in this, and I hope we can all do our part to raise awareness and give back through the opportunity they are placing before us.
Q: Where can people learn more about the project and vote for you?
A: They can learn more by visiting www.ReThinkHousing.org. People can read my entry, Home Is Universal, and vote here: http://bit.ly/1jWPVit. You can also use the hashtag #HousingMatters and follow @jeweljk and @ReThinkTweets.
Q: Tell me more about your family history project. What spurred you to put it together, and what do you hope to accomplish?
A: The project is called Grand Canyon Project, and it is a multimedia, music-driven series based on my five generations of family history here in Arizona, most of which really has roots in the Grand Canyon. My great-great-grandfather was W.W. Bass, who started the Bass Trail and on my great-great-grandmother’s tombstone in the Pioneer Cemetery in Grand Canyon Village, it reads, “First white woman to raise a family on Rim of Grand Canyon.” They were true pioneers who started much of the early tourism at the Grand Canyon.
I love history to begin with so delving into the family kind wasn’t daunting at all. There are many amazing pieces of the puzzle, including the fact my great-grandfather, Bert Lauzon, accompanied the Kolb brothers on the last leg of their expedition, and my great-great-grandparents led the likes of President Taft, silent-film star Mary Pickford, George Wharton James, artist Thomas Moran, naturalist John Muir, Henry Ford and many other well-known individuals down through the Canyon on tours. But the most fascinating element was my great-great-grandmother Ada Bass’ diary. She kept an ongoing diary for 50 years! She wrote nearly every single day, documenting life happenings or lack thereof at the Canyon. I have a copy of the contents of her diary and have been reading it and doing research for the last year and a half; the stories are just jaw-dropping.
All of my ancestors were writers and poets, with W.W. publishing more than one book in his time and all having the entrepreneurial fire in their eye. My family line has a definite creative streak, a love for nature, art, entertaining and the blending all of those pieces into a joining and sharing of those exact parts for which we have a passion. My grandfather, Virgil Gipson, was a photographer for Arizona Highways, and my dad and family grew up with the magazine being a staple.
I do hope to keep the spirit of history alive. I think history needs to become more vivid, as opposed to washed out, as is a fear that comes along with the advanced age of technology, immediate gratification, living in the fast-paced, ever-changing world we are in today. But I think that very movement of technology can be beneficial to preserving history if handled with care, handled properly and respectfully. I think in some ways, we can keep better track, better record of history today as long as we keep the interest and understanding intact. I believe education is key, and I think making history interesting again in the way people learn about it and are exposed to it is needed.
My goal is to gain more and more interest in the Grand Canyon Project and find avenues I can take to bring my stories, my songs, my history to people! I want to possibly pique interest, curiosity, find people wanting to learn more about these amazing lives and stories and see commonalities, see motivation, find encouragement. People come along with me on a journey through honky-tonks and train stations, down trails on horses and inside the minds of souls that still reside in the echoing Canyon. It is one for all of the senses when you accompany me!