Marian Booth Green has “always felt fabulous” But she, like her beloved hometown Billings, has grown and changed so much over the years. “At 62 I still have the spirit and heart of my younger self,” says Marian Booth Green. “Every woman feels this way. But as we age we get this embellishment of life experience; life, love, survival and accomplishment. It is all built on that core of who we were at say, 23, but with added wisdom and patience. And then at 62, you get to feel like this is a really fabulous package.”
Marian, an accomplished jazz singer, really is a fabulous “package.” She oozes music and passion from her soul as she talks, weaving beautiful song lyrics in with stories of the fun, free ‘60s and ‘70s, singing jazz music the globe over and enduring the ebb and flow of being a mother and grandmother.
Born into a family of jazz enthusiasts, Marian grew up loving jazz and its storytellers. “I loved Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan. All the greats!” Among her favorite treasures are the albums of some of those late great vocalists. However, she is more than just a music appreciator. From a very early age, she knew she was born to sing and perform. One week after high school graduation in 1972, she left for Europe, singing alto in the Montana Youth Chorale. At tour’s end, she returned to Montana and headed to Missoula to attend the University of Montana. But the call of music, performance and travel was too strong. She approached her father, who asked her to write him an essay on why she should get to go. Her essay must have been convincing, because Marian embarked on the second of many great musical adventures, traveling worldwide with Up with People for a year.
Up with People, not yet a decade old when Marian joined in 1973, has a mission to inspire young people to find their voice and purpose in the world. As a part of a triple threat (singing, dancing, acting) select group of 35 students, Marian traveled first throughout the Midwest, New York, the Great Lakes cities and on to the inner city of San Francisco. Then the teens sang and danced their way through Belgium, northern France, Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii. Along the way, Marian met “the most wonderful people” and solidified her love of creating an experience for her audience through music.
The love of performing and traveling had seeped into her soul, but Marian returned to the United States to pursue her degree in accounting at the University of Montana. After she completed her degree, it wasn’t long before the siren song of adventure pulled at her again. This time, the key to adventure was the USO. She and several friends formed the band “Ariel” and entertained troops around the globe. Their USO tour took them to bases throughout Germany and provided plenty of time to hitchhike through Austria and northern Italy. In their second year, they traveled the Pacific arena hitting up Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines, Johnston Atoll, and Hawaii.
Marian lights up as she talks about those years. “Now whenever I hear a young person vacillating about an opportunity to travel I say ‘GO! You’ll never regret going. There will always be another job or career opportunity but there may not be another chance for you to experience another culture in this way.’”
The singer also becomes animated when she talks about her three grown sons and two grandsons. Like all grandparents, she is quick to share pictures of the little boys, exclaiming their cuteness. When her own boys were growing up, Marian, like all working moms, struggled to balance career, passions and family. She found herself setting music aside for at least a decade. The thing that made her happiest, the most at peace, and the most balanced got set aside for the demands of three active little boys. Even as she says “music just feeds my soul so much that I would have been a happier person if I had just keep singing,” you can sense a grace for her younger self, an understanding that you do what you need to do. Marian is proud, with good reason, of the family she helped to sustain, largely by herself.
Music has indeed been a healing remedy for Marian, most notably when her youngest son Nathan was diagnosed in 2011 with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia as a senior in high school. Throughout his three years of treatment, Marian kept a consistent singing gig at Walkers Grill in downtown Billings. The promise of a few moments of performing is what gave her hope throughout some very dark days. Music, specifically Jazz, gives Marian wings with which she has always been able to fly above and beyond the tough realities of life to someplace more beautiful and lovely. And, she carries her audience with her.
As she has matured, Marian finds her performances are different. Songs that she would have chosen to sing in her 20’s because they were pretty may not be her first choice now. Today, the story of the song is so much more important to her. She explains by saying, “When you are young, you may approach a song musically but you may not have the life experience to understand the lyrics and be able to express them well.”
Ever the pragmatist, Marian understands she is aging and is proud of it. She feels “to continually deny our aging process is to put a huge burden on our youth. If someone tells you at 22 that this is the best you are ever going to be, what is there to reach for?”
Marian is still reaching. Still performing and determined to sing until her last breath. Today’s favorite song? “I’m Glad There Is You” because at the end of the day, relationships, the people you walk with, are what matter the most to her.
Dexter Gordon, famed jazz saxophonist, once said “Jazz to me is a living music. It’s music that expresses the feelings, the dreams, hopes, of the people.” With every word that she speaks it is obvious that Marian is simply the embodiment of “living music.”
I’m Glad There Is You
By Jimmy Dorsey
In this world of ordinary people, extraordinary people
I’m glad there is you
In this world of overrated pleasures, of underrated treasures
I’m so glad there is you
I live to love, I’ll love to live with you beside me
This role so new I’ll muddle through with you to guide me
In this world where very many play at love
And hardly any stay in love
I’m glad there is you
More than ever I’m glad there is you