By her own admission, Beth Blatt has “a chequered past”. After college at Dartmouth, the American had a promising career in advertising but quit after three years to become an actress in musicals. She toured the US and the world until a 5-week stay in Tokyo turned into three years when she landed a regular TV and radio gig. “It was great being an expat there because I was allowed to do all sorts of work I had no experience doing,” says Beth. “I became the pop-rock music critic for the Japan Times, had a role in a Godzilla movie – and started writing lyrics with the composer of the musical I’d done.”
After Japan, and with a six month-detour in Hong Kong (where she met Red Pear Theatre founder Hilary King), Beth moved back to New York City with the decision she preferred writing to performing. She was accepted in the prestigious (and free of charge) BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop where icons such as Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic) became mentors. “I worked hard and my work was recognised, developed and produced. Then one day I realised musicals are so US-centric and that ‘The World’ was missing in my work. I wanted a purpose beyond that. And so I created my music-for change-business, Hope Sings –Singing Stories of Change to Change the Stories of Lives.”
Beth believes the power of music can change the world. “Not an original belief, I know. But my vision was to combine the specifics-rich stories favoured by musicals with music from all over the world to reach casual listeners in a deeper, more transformational way.” She started by commissioning Latina singer-songwriters to create songs inspired by success stories of women whose lives had been uplifted through microloans.
Then one afternoon on a playground in NYC, Beth heard a mom who worked at the United Nations talking about the formation of UN Women. “And it just popped out of me: ‘They need a theme song.’ The mom introduced her the UN’s head of communications, who was “rather taken aback by my idea, but didn’t say no” and, through Hilary King, she was able to reach out to composer Graham Lyle (What’s Love Got To Do With It). With Somalian songwriter Clay, they created “One Woman,” which became the finale for the UN Women launch at the gorgeously-gilded UN General Assembly. “When thousands of staid diplomats and bureaucrats stood and sang along – well, it’s one of those moments you treasure forever.”
The next thing that popped out of her mouth: “Now you have to record it.” Beth spent the next two years working every connection she had – cold-calling managers and Googling to assemble a cast of some 25 internationally-acclaimed artists, including Brazilian Bebel Gilberto; Indian Anoushka Shankar; and Angelique Kidjo from Benin. On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2013, the recording was released and Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon (below with Beth) ended his speech by quoting Beth’s lyric: “Shine, Shine, Shine – We shall shine.” This gifted her another treasured moment.
Every year since, groups perform the song on International Women’s Day at the UN and beyond. “If you are reading this and have a sudden urge to sing the song here in the South of France, please drop me a note. I’ll share the score, lyrics – even a karaoke backing track.”
Beth is a long way from New York and the UN General Assembly. So how did she end up here? “We moved to Paris from New York in July 2022 when my husband’s work transferred him over. We were both itching to come – he is French, an Antibois, and I was a French-German language major in college. We’d spent little bits of time in France over the years, but nothing substantial.”
The minute Beth landed in the City of Light she hit the museums, the historic monuments, the churches, and immediately discovered amazing women she’d never heard of. “I did what I always do. I started ‘writing’ them.” Her Forgotten Women of France series includes Clotilde, first queen of France; Christine de Pisan, first female professional writer in Europe; and Marie-Thérèse, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette – who survived the Terror and three years in prison.
Marie-Thérèse’s story was the richest and Beth turned the monologues into a play. “I went on a tour of the Chapelle Expiatoire, the Paris memorial to her parents that she had helped build. I’ve always wanted to create site-specific theatre, which takes place in a cool space relevant to a character’s life. I asked the guide there if they’d like to attract more Anglophone visitors. Turns out they did. Six weeks later, I brought a group of women there for a combination visite dramatique and one-woman-show. They loved it – so I’m now figuring out what to do with it next.”
For the past few weeks, Beth has had the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on her radar. She is committed to doing a presentation of new material about women who stand up for themselves and others. “Since I’m spending time in Paris and Antibes, I decided to do something in both places on November 25.”
In Paris, she discovered Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, who built the first shelter for battered women in Paris, and was a patron of the arts. On the Coast, two women have grabbed her attention: Béatrice de Rothschild Ephrussi and Eileen Gray. “Their stories are unexpected and heart-breaking – I long to bring them justice, dramatically. That’s what this Forgotten Women of France project is about for me. Telling the stories of women who’ve been erased from or misrepresented by history.”
This is where Beth needs help. “I’m looking for more stories of brave women that need to be told. I want to connect with historical sites who would value my bringing their spaces to life – and attracting more Anglophone tourists. I’d love to talk with organisations that help women who are dealing with violence – including, but not limited to, abuse from a partner, being forced into an early marriage or deprived of an education.”
Beth has been non-stop since she relocated to France 15 months ago and being fluently bilingual is definitely an advantage. “I grew up just outside of Chicago and from age four, went to a small private school attached to a teacher’s college. A French woman wanted her kids to go there, so she offered to teach French lessons. I started French at six, in first grade. I continued through high school, and in college, where I studied in Toulouse one year, worked the next summer in La Rochelle at a Credit du Nord. Years later, I married a French man. I guess France is in my destiny.”
She considers it a privilege to live on the Côte d’Azur. “I love Paris – the energy, the culture, the people I’ve met – but I feel it’s almost a physical need, to have this nature, this space around me. And I’m discovering amazing women to write about here, too. Wherever I am inspired and have stories to bring to life I am a happy camper.”
And Beth just learned that she has been awarded an artist’s residency at Le Chateau de la Napoule in Mandelieu. “I’ll get to spend a month there with the goal of bringing to life the story of Marie Clews, and her husband Henry. I’m thrilled!”
Article first published October 21, 2023.