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MUSIC’S IN HER SOUL
by Mike Strobel
Jul 29, 2004
Diana Drew nearly lost her voice to cancer.
Now she’s singing again, writes Mike Strobel
Let's close our eyes and make our own paradise
Little we know of it,still we can try
To make a go of it
- Let's Fall in Love
THE STAGE lights come up. They sparkle in her sky-blue eyes. Two hundred faces turn to her, but they are a blur in the glare. Some know her story, most do not. You cannot see the scar on her throat, unless you look real close. She knows her husband stands near the back of the ballroom, mouth tight, eyes fixed on the stage. The piano begins behind her, softly, lazily. "Here goes nothing." She draws a deep breath, steps to the front and begins to sing ...
"I love Billy Holiday," Diana tells me. "Not just because she had such a beautiful voice, but because you can hear her life in it. No bubblegum, no toffee. You can hear that lady has gone through stuff."
We are talking over coffee in the High Note lounge at the Sheraton Parkway in Markham . Drew, 43, did a six-month gig her~ once. Played guitar, sang blues, jazz, classical, lounge, rock, whatever they wanted, with the pool as a backdrop. She has played a lot of places. Turned pro at 19, when she was Diana Nahr, at a Mississauga truck stop, that powerful-sultry voice soaring over rows of sleepy drivers. She sang O-Canada at the SkyDome for the Jays and Raptors and at the Gardens for the Leafs. She fended off amorous drunks at Nag's Head North. She worked fairs, festivals, the Ex. There was a little TV, including a Nashville Network spot. And countless hotels and bars, mostly across the top of Toronto .. "I got pretty cynical, night after night, cranking it out. And I didn't think much of men for along time." She could pump out country as Deanna and the Northern Drawls or do a gig of flamenco guitar. She taught singing too.
And she taught, starting the Diana Drew Singing Studio 15 years ago. "It's always been in my blood. My dad (Bill Nahr) was on Broadway and I've been singing since I was seven." She was halfway through a demo CD, in December 2000, when routine surgery found cancer in her thyroid.
They cut it out, plus 35 lymph nodes. She healed. She could talk: "But I couldn't sing. Nothing. Just one low note, maybe. "It was the hardest thing. I cried and cried.
There was more. A mammogram found cancer two years ago. It was early enough for a lumpectomy, though she lost her blonde locks a while to chemo and radiation. Still, she taught herself to sing again. One note at a time. All but one octave, her top rung, came back. She even finished the CD, which had a fling on Jazz FM9l.
The voice is powerful still, growly or sweeping, husky with hickory smoke. 'Even when she laughs. Which she does often and easily. "Before, I'd freak out at every s----y little thing. Now, if it's not life or death, it's not important. "I think there's more realism in my singing. When I sing something, I mean it." Her husband, Don, 45, whom she picked up in a singles bar 16 years ago, was so impressed with the volunteers who helped his wife through her illness that he has started a charity' in their honour. Care Unlimited provides store discount cards, which charities' use to reward volunteers. The first fund-raiser is Diana Drew's comeback concert in a Markham ballroom. She holds the last note of Let's Fall in Love, holds it forever, leaving the sax and drums in her dust.
"Silk," she tells herself, relieved. She is trembling, sweating in her long, black velvet jacket. A split second and the ballroom crowd goes wild. "I can still do this," she thinks, "and they like it." She swerves into My Foolish Heart. She sings all night.
Diana Drew almost lost her voice to cancer. Now she's back after teaching herself to sing again, one note at a time.
SINGER’S RECOVERY FROM CANCER LEADS TO VOLUNTEER THANK-YOUS
The Markham Economist & Sun
June 13, 2004
BY ERIKA HEFFERNAN
Sometimes bad news can be a blessing in disguise. In the case of Don and Diana Drew, it most definitely was. Ms Drew, a local jazz singer, had to undergo surgery because of thyroid cancer. Because of scarring, doctors weren't sure she would sing again.Six months went by and she could only whisper; another six and her voice was constantly raspy, but she never gave up. With support,. courage and the determination, Ms Drew went on to record a jazz CD that has been played on radio station Jazz 91.1.She and Don,.both Markham residents, were taken. care: of by many volunteers at the hospital. 'They're giving back to the community. It's a selfless act and they can feel good about helping others.' The Drew’s were so moved by
She and Don,.both Markham residents, were taken. care: of by many volunteers at the hospital. 'They're giving back to the community. It's a selfless act and they can feel good about helping others.' The Drew’s were so moved by the assistance they decided to start a program to recognize volunteers and promote volunteerism. Their initiative, Care Unlimited, launches Saturday 7:30 p.m. in the Hilton. Suites Hotel ballroom at Hwy. 7 and Warden Avenue in Markham. The event showcases live entertainment, including Ms. Drew and her jazz band, a comedian and many local. celebrities. There will be auctions, a cash bar and hors d' oeuvres.
"Volunteers, in my view, are heroes and they need to be recognized," Mr. Drew said. "They're giving back to the community. It's a selfless act and they can feel good about helping others."
CANCER CHANGED SINGER'S LIFE
The Markham Economist & Sun
February 17, 2004
Diana Drew looks at life with a difference now. A successful entertainer with a new CD in the works; a good man and two great kids, Ms Drew, 43, had the world by the tail four short years ago. Then, with no warning, her world crumbled. She was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer was found in her thyroid, lymph nodes and later breasts. Ms Drew had no choice but to dig in her heels and undergo surgeries as well as radiation and chemotherapy treatments. She held on for dear life. At the same time, Ms Drew reached out to her man.
Her husband, Don, proved to be a rock throughout the ordeal; he was the caregiver for the family. At the time, Denam was six years old and Dashawna was a baby. "Without Don, I wouldn't be," Ms.Drew said.
The first cancer discovery was a fluke. She had a cyst in her throat for a number of years. "Even though it was benign, I decided to have it removed:' Ms Drew said.”During the surgery, they found cancer in my thyroid Cancer was also found in the lymph nodes. I had 35 nodes removed." A few months after undergoing treatment, cancer was found in both breasts and extensive treatment followed. During her healing, she took stock. “I’d honed in on jazz," she said. “I’ve done it all. I even had my own country band, but, I never felt at home as I do with jazz."
Ms Drew has always been at home with an audience. It's in her blood. Her father was with the New York City Opera Company. Over the past 20 years, the Markham resident has performed across the continent singing and playing guitar and piano. Ms Drew has made guest appearances at such spots as the SkyDome for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Toronto Raptors, Maple. Leaf 'Gardens for the Toronto Maple Leafs and at Toronto's finest hotels, including the Royal York, Hotel and the Four Seasons Sheraton. Locally; she has entertained at the Markham Civic Centre; Markham Fair and Markham Theatre. She has also performed on television and radio shows and done some acting.
CD ON TORONTO JAZZ. STATION
Just before she was diagnosed with cancer, she started working on a CD, Diana Who. She finished it just after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her husband was so proud, he recently took the CD to Toronto radio station Jazz FM 91.1. "They listened to it," Ms Drew said."They played it a couple of times. I was thrilled.”Today; her career revolves around teaching voice at her Markham home. "I have actually taught music for 15 years so it comes naturally;" she said. "I learned a lot from having cancer. I learned what's important in life. I learned that from the greatest pain, we can gain the most. My family has been awesome. I am loved. I am very thankful to be alive." Cancer not only altered her' outlook on life, it has changed her voice. "I tried out my pipes (after early treatments)," she said. "They didn't work as well. But, it's better than dying. It wasn't what it used to be. There was a lot of scarring. It took away an octave. I was at a different range, but I can still sing. It's wonderful."
MARKHAM SINGER HAS WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE
September 21, 1991
Markham's Diana Drew has sung. for a wide variety of audiences, but one of her biggest thrills was singing the national anthem before 50,000 fans at a recent Blue Jays game in the Sky Dome.
"It was an unbelievable experience, it's hard to explain what it was like," said the 25-year-old Drew of her performance before a Jays-Kansas City Royals game. "It was a real honor, and best of all the Jays won the game." And while she's probably not going to be the next Kate Smith (the singer the Philadelphia Flyers always called on when a victory was needed), Drew said she is 2-0 at games she's sung the anthem at. She earlier sang it at a California Angels game which the Jays also won .
However, singing national anthems is a very small part-of Drew's musical repertoire. Formally trained in the Bel Canto singing method by her father Bill Nahr, a music teacher in Markham and former member of the New York City Opera, Drew has a wealth of musical experience and can perform a wide variety of styles. She also has an honors degree in music from York University.
singing, and is hoping to arrange more performances in the near future - possibly a tour where she sings with symphonies. "It's nice to be with a symphony and perform with musicians of such high calibre," said Drew.
"Bel Canto is the most difficult singing method to learn, and it was a lot of hard work but I'm glad I have it now," said Drew. The method has its roots in the operatic form, but Drew said it gives singers a huge range once they've mastered it. "I can sing any kind of music I want." she explained. A few years ago, Drew performed as a solo entertainer in a number of hotels, accompanying herself on piano and guitar. "That was every kind of music, and it was a lot of fun at the time." However, Drew prefers to sing with symphonies and in other more formal situations since it relates more to her classical training. "I prefer to perform for people who have a real appreciation for the music," _ she explained.
"Doing the clubs was sometimes tough because you're playing to a bunch of drunks who could care less about the music."
Drew grew up in Markham, but attended high school in Scarborough, before moving back shortly after marrying her husband Don. She now runs her father's studio in Markham where she teaches
Markham singer Diana Drew sang the national anthem at a recent Jays
game in the SkyDome.