A Strong Bond Through Song


Jessica Howard is a contained, reserved introvert who knows when to speak her mind.

Siri Howard is outspoken and hard-headed, unafraid to defend what she believes as she forges into the fray.

Joanna Howard is a romantic, independent bohemian who marches to her own beat.

The three are all fiercely passionate and tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. And while they don’t look much alike, they each have a talented set of vocal chords and a sisterly connection.

“Despite the fact that we’re all very different individuals, when we sing together, we seem to have one wavelength that we’re all plugged into,” 29-year-old Joanna, the youngest of the three Westhampton native siblings, said last week during a telephone interview from her home in Manhattan. “We have this sort of ESP that I think people pick up on a little bit when they watch our performances.”

The Howard Sisters’ mother, Linda, saw their bond immediately. So did their father, John. It wasn’t until 2002, when the girls sold out the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, that the singers truly realized how unique a sound and vibe they had.

The sister act has been done before—countless times, they pointed out, since it was made popular in World War II-era music. Heavily influenced by the Andrews Sisters, the Howard Sisters strive to bring a fresh lushness to the jazz standards and three-part harmonies of the 1940s, with a little musical theater through the ages on the side. On Friday, October 25, they will kick off the Bridgehampton Historical Museum’s Parlor Jazz/Art of Song concert series with pianist Jane Hastay and bassist Peter Martin Weiss.

“It’s great to be able to come back after experiencing so much and moving on with our lives in a lot of ways,” 31-year-old Siri, the middle sister, said last week during a separate telephone interview from her home in Manhattan. “I can’t wait to sing with my sisters again. And near our hometown, too.”

For a year and a half starting in 2010, Siri was off touring the country as Cosette in the 25th anniversary production of “Les Misérables.” Last Christmas Eve, she was in Dallas, Texas, when she received a phone call from her mother.

Ms. Howard, an organist and choir director, was at the Westhampton Presbyterian Church—where she started the girls in cherub choir when Joanna was 3, Siri was 5 and Jessica was 8—warming up the singers for the service.

It is an annual tradition, Siri said. And last year, she missed it. The best they could do was sing over the phone together.

“I got really weepy because I love that experience,” she said. “That’s something I can’t compare to any other kind of performing. It’s very soul-satisfying, to be able to sing with my sisters. It’s on a completely different level and I’ve really missed it.”

When the Howard Sisters are on stage, they click into a rhythm that doesn’t require words, Siri explained. All they have to do is look at each other to know when someone needs to take a breath or when to move a song along.

They are never thinking about themselves individually, Joanna said. They’re thinking as a trio.

“We’ve been singing together for over 20 years,” she said, “so we have a bit of a shorthand at this point.”

The singers’ style came naturally to them, Siri said, considering their musical education began before birth when Ms. Howard would play classic radio to her belly when she was pregnant with the girls.

In fact, Joanna was singing before she spoke.

“My mother had the classical music radio station playing while I was in my high chair and she was feeding me,” she said. “And she said that I put down my spoon and stood up, very deliberately in my high chair, and sang a note along with this opera singer. So she’s convinced that music was in me from birth.”

Armed with classical training at a young age, the girls often found themselves practicing at home in Westhampton. And during every rehearsal, no matter what he was doing, their father would quietly come into the room, sit down in his chair and listen.

When they were finished, the sisters would look over and see him crying.

“I think it was one of his happiest things,” Joanna said. “To hear us sing.”

Mr. Howard died in 2006. He was a World War II veteran and a singer in his own right, the girls said. And his spirit is with them for every performance.

“Even though our father’s passed away, we still think of him as our featured audience member,” Siri said. “He helped us realize what we can give to the audience, the kind of joy we can bring to audience members. He helped us understand that.”

The Howard Sisters will kick off the Parlor Jazz/Art of Song concert series on Friday, October 25, from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Historical Museum. Tickets are $25, or $15 for members. For more information, call 537-1088 or visit bridgehamptonhistoricalsociety.org/parlor.html.

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