Bonnie was born in Iowa. She was the first in her family to ever go to college, attending a teacher's college, The University of Northern Iowa.
Bonnie grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, her father worked at the John Deere Factory. They lived in a "cement block house" As Bonnie put it:
The Queen of the Chicago Folk Scene!
It's been said that together with Steve Goodman and John Prine, Bonnie made up the trinity of the Chicago Folk Scene. Not much has really been written about her, and today, she is sometimes forgotten. Perhaps that is the way she wants it to be.
I guess you could say we
were poor; we lived in a cement block house outside the city limits
of Waterloo, Ia., and my dad worked in the John Deere factory.
Money was very tight. I wore a lot of hand-me-downs, and I thought
that people who had indoor johns must be rich. I had a really
unstable childhood, because my parents were divorced when I was 12,
and there was a lot of chaos. I spent a lot of time during my high
school years trying to get myself together from my childhood
Bonnie had majored at first in Drama and then Art.
She was paying her way through college by singing. This led to bad grades due to lack of study time. Eventually she gave up on college and came to Chicago to persue her singing career. When Bonnie was a young child she had always wanted to be an actress, or artist, or singer. She wasn't sure which one but she knew she didn't want to end up in a factory job. She began singing at the age of three. We all know of her because of her music but she has also managed to fulfill her other childhood dreams. She has also been in a couple critically acclaimed plays, winning the Theatre World Bronze Award for her role in Joseph Papp's Broadway production of "The Human Comedy."
In the early 1980's with the death of her long time boy friend, Bonnie left Chicago for New York. It was around this time that she started "dabbling" in art again. By 1988 she was finishing up a B.A. in Art. the degree would've certified her to treach art for K-12 in Iowa. She had been planning on getting an M.A. in Art.
- Bonnie on Art and Music:
- Someone said to me recently, "Oh, you're a singer, isn't it
nice that you're interested in art, too, and getting an art
degree." But I really believe that I am a visual artist who sings.
It just happened that I put a lot of time into the singing and
developed that. It isn't like, "Oh, now I'm going to do this." I
could have done it before; it just happened that I put more time
into singing. If I had had some great art teachers when I was in
high school, I probably would have gone into visual arts right from
While Bonnie has been concentrating on her art work she has not given up on singing. In 1988 she was planning to move to Nashville, marry a writer from Connecticut and continue to write songs and sing and take guitar lessons. She still tours.
A few personal thoughts from Bonnie:
- About her early years in Chicago:
- "Had I played the piano I
never would have been called a folksinger."
- Her fears:
- "I hate to fly. My God, I hate to fly . . . I
always had anxieties about everything. I wanted to be the kind of
woman who was not afraid to go here, go there."
- Growing up in Iowa:
- "All the kids I knew married, and their
husbands worked in the factory. I just thought I want more than
this. I didn't want to be ordinary."