The Evolution of a Musical Philanthropist
With Grace and Talent, Christine Albert Embraces a Profound Calling
     by Deborah Goldstein - Austin Woman November 2007
     Photos by Mary Keating Bruton

swan song n.
1. A farewell or final appearance, action, or work; 2. The beautiful legendary song sung only once by a swan in its lifetime, as it is dying. – American Heritage Dictionary 

As I close my eyes and listen to Christine Albert’s emotive rendition of La Vie en Rose, I am swept-up and transported from this Austin-based honky-tonk to a 1940s Parisian cabaret. Her mastery of French torch songs enables her to make this classic piece her very own.

Albert has captivated Austin with her beautiful, engaging voice and elegant presence for 25 years – both as a solo artist and as half of the Albert and Gage duo. Often referred to as a consummate “Texas Chanteuse,” Albert deftly combines her folk-country influences with eloquent interpretations of iconic and obscure French ballads. Her charismatic bilingual performances are captured on two albums which garnered critical acclaim – the 1992 Texafrance and its 2003 sequel, TexaFrance Encore! Albert also released The High Road and enjoyed watching her 1995 release, Underneath the Lone Star Sky, reach the top 20 on the national Americana Radio Chart.

When reminiscing about her childhood, it quickly becomes apparent how Albert was compelled to weave her European heritage into her artistic life. “My mother is from Switzerland, and she spoke French in our home with my beautiful artist aunt, Andrée, and my sweet Parisian grandmother, Lily. When I heard the music of Edith Piaf, I knew it had touched a vein of creativity that runs deep in my European blood.”

A deep-rooted need to engage in philanthropy has added another layer of richness to this artist’s spirit. The current project that has taken her world by storm is Swan Songs, which has been 15 years in the making. In 1992, Albert received a special request to perform a personal concert for John Swann, who had always loved her music. Swann suffered from an inoperable brain aneurysm. His wife, Denise, organized this event so his family and friends could share something memorable with him. At the end of that evening, Albert “felt struck with what it meant to them” to ask her to enter their home during such an emotional time. Realizing that many people in similar circumstances are unable to enjoy live performances of their favorite local artist or musical genre, she and longtime friend Gaea Logan, a psychotherapist with experience in the hospice community, co-founded Swan Songs to fulfill the musical wishes of individuals facing the end of their lives. It started out as an informal project, until the last couple of years, when it became an official 501(c) (3) with a board of directors and lofty goals.

Of course, Albert has been involved in a long list of humanitarian projects since moving to Texas. The youngest of four, Albert followed her eldest musician brother from her family’s home in upstate New York to Santa Fe, NM, when she was only 16. Three years later, she was making a living fronting her own classic country band. However, her life was turned upside down a few months before moving to Austin, when in October 1981, an intruder broke into her home. “When I first moved here [to Austin] as a rape survivor, I was drawn to the rape crisis center because they helped me in Santa Fe,” she divulged. “So, I wanted to contribute somehow.”

Her involvement started with benefit performances for the Austin Rape Crisis Center, which later merged with the Center for Battered Women to become SafePlace. Then, she accepted public speaking engagements, became a board member and shared her story with the masses in a public service announcement. “It was my first experience using my music for a cause or an issue that was really personal. And, it was very gratifying because – especially in that case – I had a lot of anger and grief and emotion about that experience. And, it gave me something active to do that contributed to healing that issue, both for me personally and culturally, by bringing awareness to it.”
Another undertaking Albert kickstarted was the Austin Songwriter’s Group which she co-founded in the mid-‘80s. During that time she was also included in a popular Bluebell Ice Cream spot featuring various Texas troubadours, and wrote a one-minute “Don’t Mess with Texas” radio ad. In addition to her 1994 Austin City Limits appearance with esteemed mandolinist Paul Glasse, a memorable career milestone was performing with Stephen Mills’ ballet, Red Roses, which was choreographed to Piaf’s music for the 1999 Austin Ballet season. Another special moment occurred when she became the 1994 recipient of the Austin Chamber of Commerce “Super Star of Austin” music award, for her community service contribution.

Albert has shared the stage with a long list of notable musicians – from her close friend and mentor (and March 2007 austinwoman cover) Eliza Gilkyson, to Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood and Jimmy LaFave – not to mention her talented life partner and “musical soulmate” Chris Gage, whom she married in May of 2003. Together Albert and Gage own and operate MoonHouse Records and MoonHouse Studio, and have released five albums during the 11 years they’ve performed together.

“It’s interesting, because when Chris and I joined forces, it was right around the time when I was finally starting to really trust myself in the studio or on stage,” Albert recalled. “And after many years of having different semi-partnerships in bands, and then starting a solo career when I moved to Texas, I reached a place where I felt more defined and confident about what I was doing on my own. And when I met Chris, I couldn’t resist being in a partnership because I found [that] it renewed my joy in music just to play with him.”
Not long after moving to Austin, Albert met her former husband, musician Ernie Gammage, whom she acknowledges for mentoring her on the business side of her music career. “He introduced me to the music community and taught me how to manage the business in a way that has integrity,” she recalled. They married in 1983, separated 13 years later, and finalized their divorce in 1999. In between that time, Troupe Gammage was born. Today, at the age of 19, Albert’s son is building a successful career as composer for a gaming company, as well as honing his own musical talent.

What’s next for Ms. Albert? She is raising the bar for her new bilingual CD, Paris, Texafrance, slated for a spring 2008 release. “My voice has changed and my connection to the music has deepened,” she said. “With 14 more years of experience going into No Regrets, and singing it from a deeper place, I am anxious for the opportunity to record it again.” And Austin is anxious for the opportunity to hear it.