Raison D’Etre, Musical Trio
The French term raison d’etre means “reason for being,” and these three women definitely know theirs: They live to sing together. This trio of versatile musicians, all originally from Northern Kentucky, put their tight vocal harmonies to good use in everything from Shaker hymns to swing tunes. But the talents of Raison D’Etre go well beyond their vocal skills—each member plays several instruments as well.
Those members are Vickie Ellis on vocals, keyboard, and mountain dulcimer; Violet Rae Downey (left) on vocals, acoustic guitar, and percussion; and Violet’s sister, Roberta Shultz, on vocals, acoustic guitar, and percussion.
Formed in 1990, Raison D’Etre was soon commissioned by the Cincinnati Museum Center to research and perform a program in which they ventured into the musical lives of the pioneer women of 1790. The three women say that the experience opened their eyes to an a cappella vocal life beyond their folk, jazz, and country influences.
Since then, they have completed two more commissions for the museum, on the musical influences of World War II and the Shakers. These projects not only taught them a lot about the different time periods, but also helped them grow musically.Violet and Roberta grew better on their acoustic guitars, and Vickie learned to play horn parts for “In the Mood” on her keyboard.
More recently, Raison D’Etre has been appearing at many venues throughout the area, including the Cincinnati Music Hall, the Sharon Centre, the Brown Theatre, RiverPark Centre, EdenSong, and the Leo Coffee House. In addition to their Mixed Media appearance, KET viewers have seen them on In Performance at the Governor’s Mansion. The trio appeared in the Kentucky Arts Council’s Performing Arts on Tour directories for 2000 and 2001.
To music that started out a little bit folk, a little bit country, and a little bit original, the women of Raison D’Etre have added a Shaker influence and a wonderful blend of a cappella offerings. They play the music they like, just the way they like it ... and audiences throughout the region like it very much, too.