Tracy Bonham

Tracy Bonham

Calling Tracy Bonham’s musical journey “diverse” is an exercise in profound understatement. For almost 30 years, she’s shape-shifted – effortlessly, it seems – from being a classically trained violinist and pianist to a singing sensation, an alt-rock cause célèbre and, most recently, a curriculum developer for kids’ music education and the star of a children’s album. After recording seven LPs, six EPs and one live album, the self-taught guitarist seems completely unfamiliar with the term “resting on your laurels.”

Born in Boston on March 16, 1967, and raised in Eugene, Oregon, Bonham showed a keen interest in singing by age five and began taking violin lessons at age nine. She won a full scholarship to the University of Southern California for her playing, but after two years she transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston to study voice instead.


Laser-focused on songwriting from her time at Berklee forward, she recorded her first EP in 1995, The Liverpool Sessions, and one of the songs, “The One,” was named Best Single in a Boston Phoenix readers poll. In 1996, Bonham eclipsed that local success by leaps and bounds, soaring into the stratosphere of alt-rock superstardom when Island Records released her debut LP, The Burdens of Being Uptight (recorded at Fort Apache Studios in Cambridge), which won a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Performance. The album’s single, “Mother Mother” hit #1 in the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart and earned Bonham a second Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance plus two MTV Video Music Awards (Best New Artist and Best Female Video).


In 1998, finding herself in the unenviable position of being under pressure to repeat the phenomenal success of The Burdens of Being Uptight, Bonham recorded her second album, originally called Trails of a Dust Devil. The LP was renamed Down Here before Island released it in 2000 but the lead single, “Behind Every Good Woman,” failed to chart and – although many critics explained it away as a “sophomore slump” and predicted a strong third outing – Island dropped Bonham from its roster.

In 2001, while without a label, Bonham toured with other acts including Aerosmith and The Blue Man Group. In 2003, one of her appearances was featured on the DVD The Blue Man Group on their Complex Rock Tour Live. Also that year, she self-released an EP, Bee, which included her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” on which she replaces Jimmy Page’s classic guitar riffs with violin.


In 2004, Bonham signed with Rounder Records and in 2005 the label issued her third album, Blink the Brightest, which she promoted with performances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. That same year, she released her first self-funded EP, Something Beautiful, followed by her second in 2006, In The City + In The Woods. In 2010, indie label Engine Room Recordings released the Bonham’s fourth LP, Masts of Manhatta.

In June 2012, to celebrate Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday, Bonham recorded a concert in Copenhagen where, backed by the Danish band The Damn Crystals, she performed his 1971 album Ram in full. The resulting disc, Pure McCartney, was released in 2013. From 2013 to 2017, she recorded two EPs, All I Wish Every Christmas (2013) and My Big Red Heart Beats for You (2015), and two LPs, Wax & Gold (2015) and Modern Burdens (2017).


In 2020, with Rene Hart, her bassist and musical collaborator, and Jasmyne Lawrence-Hart, one of her former students, Bonham developed a children’s music-education curriculum and founded Melodeon Music House. Inspired by educational shows of the 1970s like Sesame Street, School House Rock and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, their objective is to “share a passion for music theory and harmony through original songs and stories.” The program has been adopted by the Brooklyn Preschool of Science and the Woodstock Day School, and hundreds of classes have been live streamed.

In 2021, Bonham recorded her first children’s album, Young Maestros Vol. 1, an 11-song collection that teaches music theory with a focus on confidence building. It provides “plenty of musical depth and diversion to keep an adult entertained on many a long car ride,” said one review. “More importantly, the kids will just love it.” Also in 2021, Bonham performed at Rock n’ Relief, a live-streamed event held at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. Organized by CORE, a non-profit founded by actor Sean Penn and singer Ann Lee, free Covid-19 testing was available at the show, which also featured Sheryl Crow, Foo Fighters, Dawes, Carly Simon, L7, Perry Farrell, Linda Perry and Jewel.

(by D.S. Monahan)

Published On: April 13, 2022