UA Law Library Assistant to Sing With Lyle Lovett

UA Law Library Assistant to Sing With Lyle Lovett

By La Monica Everett-HaynesUniversity Communications
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Vanessa Guess-Johnson, left, rehearses for her upcoming performance as one of Lyle Lovett's background singers.
Vanessa Guess-Johnson, left, rehearses for her upcoming performance as one of Lyle Lovett's background singers.
Vanessa Guess-Johnson was hired by the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law in 1978. (Photo courtesy of the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law)
Vanessa Guess-Johnson was hired by the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law in 1978. (Photo courtesy of the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law)

Vanessa Guess-Johnson recalls waking early on Saturday mornings with her mother and sister and singing to the rhythm of the wringer washing machine as they cleaned together.

Guess-Johnson, now a library assistant senior at The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, has remained devoted to her musical talent, having performed in every choir in her church and also in a number of theatrical performances and concerts in Tucson and elsewhere in the United States.

On Thursday, she will perform as a background singer with Lyle Lovett in a concert at the Casino del Sol AVA Amphitheater, 5655 W. Valencia Road.

The opportunity to sing with the Grammy-winning country singer came through her involvement with the Gospel Music Workshop of America's Tucson chapter.

"It's because of them that I have this opportunity," said Guess-Johnson, who has been a member of the chapter for more than 20 years. During that time, she has performed at weddings, ceremonies, community events and even the opening of “The Lion King” when the production came to Tucson in 2006.

That 2006 performance gave the chapter a boost, she said.

Representatives who work with Lovett contacted her chapter to recuit singers for the performance. She and five or six others will sing seven songs with Lovett, whose music, she admits, isn't exactly the kind she prefers.

On Monday evening she joined other Gospel Music Workshop chapter members at Mount Calvary Baptist Church – where she is a member – to rehearse for the Thursday night performance, which begins at 7:30 p.m.

A soprano with no formal training, Guess-Johnson said her ability has come from a lifetime devoted to singing.

“I love to sing,” said Guess-Johnson, a Tucson native who is in her 30th year working for the UA.

“It’s freeing. It’s making melodies and songs to God. It’s because he has given me this gift to sing and I enjoy it.” she said. “I just enjoy it.”

Her grandfather, B.F. Barber, founded Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in the 1930s and became one of the first African Americans to found a church in Tucson, she said. Guess-Johnson sang with her youth choir, then her young adult choir and then the mass choir.

She now volunteers with Westside Church of God, where she is helping the congregation to revitalize and strengthen its adult choir. She also worked with “Up with People” on one of the organization’s tapes.

Michael Chiorazzi, associate dean of information services at the UA College of Law, knew Guess-Johnson was a singer, but wasn't aware of how active she is.

In fact, many people at the college learned about her performance secondhand, he said. Chiorazzi said she has sung at a number of College of Law ceremonies honoring graduates and is part of Sisters in Law, a group of College of Law affiliates who get together to sing at various events.

In fact, one of Chiorazzi’s early memories of Guess-Johnson was when she sang at a birthday party.

“She comes in with this harmony and amazing voice. I had my croaking voice and she had this amazing voice,” said Chiorazzi, also the law library director and a law professor.

“She’s usually one of the powerful voices in the group, but she’s never the type to say anything about herself,” he said, adding that she was named staff person of the year in 2007. “She never makes a big deal about herself. But she’s a wonderful person and has been a great employee.”

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