Using Her Voice


In her latest work, singer-songwriter and cancer survivor Quincy Coleman ’90 creates an anthem for climate change

Quincy Coleman ’90 made her solo debut in kindergarten with “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles, and she has been singing ever since. You might know her song “Baby Don’t You Cry (The Pie Song)” from the movie Waitress, starring Keri Russell. Or maybe you haven’t discovered her yet. Either way, the singer-songwriter who Dolly Parton once described as possessing “all the goods, a beautiful voice, such sweet emotion and tenderness” today shares a lot in common with the kid who belted out that all you need is love all those years ago.

“It’s so interesting that the first word, over and over like a mantra, that I sang as a performance was ‘love,’” Coleman said on a recent Zoom from her home in California. Raised in a “very creative, artistic family” by actor-parents Dabney Coleman and Jean Hale, she was 16 when she moved to the East Coast to attend Williston. “I believe that was the first time I sang with a band…it was very exciting,” Coleman recalls. “We did ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by Joni Mitchell and a couple of other songs, and it felt really right.” She still keeps in touch with an old boyfriend, who is also a musician and introduced her to The Cure.

Coleman has eclectic taste musically. “I’m a big jazzhead,” she says, citing Billie Holiday and Fats Waller among her influences, along with classical and world music. But there’s a consistency to her messaging. “What’s coming through me to deliver is all about unity and hope,” she says, “and, also, knowing that moving through the shadow is part of embracing the light. It’s absolutely a necessity to hold the space for both.”

Coleman knows about the dance between light and shadow as a cancer survivor. In 2009, she was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a life-altering experience. “While I did not consciously step away from music, I was just stepping into my healing and stepping into, like, not dying,” she said. “The diagnosis really brought me back home to my soul.”

It was several years later before she came back to music, and, at that point, “I picked up my guitar, and I wanted to write a prayer for the world to be able to resonate with and sing,” says Coleman, who delivered that prayer in her song “I Am That I Am.” “It was an amazing experience for me as a songwriter. I loved not being in the spotlight. I loved that it was about something bigger and more of a collective offering of music.”

Now she’s giving fans another collective offering: Based on Greta Thunberg’s “Our House Is on Fire” speech, “We Can Do This Now” is an anthem calling attention to the threat of climate change. It’s also about the power to heal. “Greta really inspired me,” Coleman says. “I was conscious, but I was not a radical environmentalist, and I’m still learning. I need this song too.”