Even as a kindergartener, Muriel Anderson (MUS ’82) knew that she wanted to connect with other people through the arts. She just didn’t know which one — that is, until she rescued an old guitar from a family friend’s trash and began plucking out melodies on it.
Today, Anderson is one of the world’s foremost fingerstyle guitarists, having released more than 15 CDs in genres spanning folk, bluegrass, world, classical and jazz. She recently has been recording and touring with the German duo Tierra Negra, leading proponents of Flamenco Nuevo, a rhythmic blend of folk, jazz, pop and traditional rumba-flamenco.
Her music is on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and her “Heartstrings” CD accompanied astronaut Susan Helms on the space shuttle Discovery.
With a piano-teacher mother and a grandfather who played saxophone in John Philip Sousa’s band, the Downers Grove, Ill., native grew up thinking that being a musician was “about the coolest thing you could do.”
As a student at Downers Grove North High School, she led a bluegrass band and played in the school’s jazz band before coming to DePaul on a full scholarship to study under guitar professor Leon Borkowski.
“I will never forget my first class with him,” Anderson recalls. “He said my tone was terrible and that I should come back when it’s better. I spent an entire week reshaping my fingernails and practicing a single note. He loved it. It was the best guitar lesson I have ever had.”
She also took a class with Herman Pedtke (MUS ’49, MM ’50), which explored the mathematical relationships between sounds, an interest that continues to influence her playing and composing.
After graduating in 1982 Anderson (who incidentally is now known for the quality of her tone) went on to study with guitar legend Chet Atkins and classical virtuoso Christopher Parkening. In 1989 she became the first woman to win the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship.
In addition to almost constant touring, Anderson is the driving force behind the annual Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night (ASGN). The event brings together some of the finest guitar talent on the planet for an evening of music making in support of the Music for Life Alliance, a charity she founded that helps nonprofits bring instruments and music instruction to disadvantaged kids in their schools.
Anderson makes frequent stops in Chicago to visit family and to teach. For more than 20 years she also has hosted an annual Thanksgiving concert at her high school alma mater. This year’s show is on Saturday, Nov. 26.
When she’s not on the road, Anderson resides in Nashville, where she practices a few of the nonmusical arts, including gardening, painting and cooking. “A good recipe blends tastes and aromas just like music blends sounds,” she explains. “The arts inspire one another.”
To learn more about Anderson and hear her music, go to www.murielanderson.com.