Chatting With Singer June Montgomery on Pursuing Her Dreams in Retirement

December 2023
a photo portrait of singer June Montgomery next to text which says Retiree Spotlight

After her extensive career as an educator in several Virginia school systems and universities, June Montgomery, Ph.D., is finally chasing her dream of becoming a solo artist. Her debut album, “All Things in Time,” is available on all major music streaming platforms. Her next project, an EP of jazz standard covers, is slated to release early next year.

Fresh off the plane from recording in California, Montgomery sat down with VRS to discuss her journey from musical theatre to teaching, raising her children and finally recording her own music. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

It sounds like music has been an integral part of your life. How did those early experiences influence your style and approach to music?

I come from a musical family. My mother was a church organist, and my grandmother was a gospel singer and preacher. It seems as if I would sing gospel music, but that’s not where I was led. I was led to pop and jazz music. During my freshman year of college, I entered as a music major.

One evening, I went to the dinner theater with my mother to see “The Music Man.” While sitting there in the audience, I whispered to my mother, “I would love to do this.” She whispered back, “Why not?” That’s how I started my career in musical theatre.

So, what made you decide to make the switch to studying education in college?

I remember calling my mother. My vocal coach in college said that I could come to Detroit that summer, stay with him and his wife, and I could start singing at a club. I got so excited, and I called home.

I told my mother all about it. She was quiet as I was talking. “I have an opportunity to sing at a club in Detroit, and I want to leave college,” I said.

“June, you’re not going to leave college,” my mother said. “You need your education. If you were to get married and get a divorce, God forbid, I want you to be able to take care of yourself. Do you understand me?”

She said, “The bright lights are not promised to you, June. You need something to fall back on.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. When I hung up talking to her, I was so upset. A couple of days later, I went to the registrar’s office and changed my major from music to elementary education. That’s how I became an educator, and my mother’s [concerns] turned out to be true. My marriage did not last, but I was able to take care of myself. I taught elementary and middle-school-aged students and later became a school administrator. After my children were grown, I decided to pursue a doctorate degree at Virginia Tech.

a full length portrait of singer and educator June Montgomery
VRS retiree June Montgomery, Ph.D., is recording music after a career in education.

There’s a line in the title song of your 2019 album, “All Things in Time:” Good things come to those who wait. Just like momma said – all things in time. Was this a reference to that moment in college?

Yes. I named that CD June 16, 1991, long after college. I said if I ever do a CD, that’s going to be the title: “All Things in Time.” I didn’t do it when I was 18, but I can do it now. All things in time. If you just wait, it may not come about as you would want it to, but it will happen.

Releasing that first CD must have been a significant moment in your music career. What were the most memorable aspects of that experience and what did it mean to you?

It was such a difficult project to do because I was so anxious about getting it done. You know, when you get a certain age, you feel like time is passing you by, and it is. It meant so much to me to complete my CD after being in the field of education for many years. Finally, with grown children and young grandchildren, I had the opportunity to record – something I have always wanted to do for many years.

Even while I was teaching, I was doing musical theatre, which made me a happy teacher, because I had something else I could do other than teach.

Were there any lessons or skills from your teaching career that you found valuable in your music journey?

In the classroom, I was always so animated. I would say, “I need an example of a sentence using a simile.” And when someone would give it to me, I’d throw my hands up, turn my back to the class, and with both hands hit the board and say, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” They’d look at me like, “Has she lost her mind or what?” The animation came from the stage, and it kept my students interested and focused – and me, too.

What is your creative process like when you’re creating new music?

With the project that I’ve just finished, I wanted to do covers. I didn’t want to do anything original. I wanted to go back and cover jazz songs – the older ones. I would sit at my desk and search for songs on my computer. I would listen to Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Natalie Cole and others for songs that have not been covered much by other artists.

I chose songs that had meaning for me. You see, if a song does not have meaning to me, it’s not going to have meaning to you when you hear it. In other words, I sing songs I like. Then the chances are greater that you will like them, too. That’s how I chose the songs for my latest project.

I am realistic about my music and goals. I want to put out good music that people would enjoy. If anything happens as a result of that, I would consider it a blessing.

Throughout your journey, you’ve shown that it’s never too late to pursue your passion. What advice would you give to other retirees who may be hesitant to explore their creative interests later in life?

Take a chance. Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you should sit at home and do nothing. It’s an opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do. Of course, healthy eating is important. Exercise is important. Reading is important. But to do nothing – totally not an option.

Find Montgomery’s discography, including her album “All Things in Time,” wherever you stream music.

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