Debra Cowan was once asked what kind of songs she writes. Her reply? “Bad ones. Besides, there are so many good songs out there written by others and they should be sung.” Her captivating warm alto carries each folk song she chooses with such emotion that you’ll forget that they were written by others. She performs a cappella and with guitar in the great tradition of folk singers like Joan Baez and Judy Collins, with a clear vocal that calls forth the ghosts of long past but can also offer a more modern urban landscape. Her newest release, a live recording entitled Among Friends, she demonstrates her ability to interact with her audience and have them enthusiastically sing along on choruses and refrains.
As a young girl she idolized Julie Andrews and in her teens discovered Jethro Tull and Steeleye Span. At the age of 21 she needed escape out of a small Midwestern town so she threw darts at a map and ended up in northern California where she attended college, sang in bars, and eventually worked as a middle school math teacher. She continued her discovery of folk with English singers like Sandy Denny and Scottish singers like Ray Fisher. Debra started performing in California 35 years ago and began touring in 1998, with frequent stops in the US and UK, from folk clubs to festivals like the Old Songs Festival and Broadstairs Folk Week in England. That led her to where she is now, a full-time singer who bridges the old and new with a refreshing stage presence -- she may start with a moving ballad like “Rainbow,” a profile of one woman’s courage, and segue into “Johnny Be Fair,” about a poor lass who can’t marry anyone in town because, well, she’s related to everyone.
Debra’s shared the stage with artists as varied as Colum Sands, Tret Fure, Si Kahn and John Roberts. She has collaborated with well-known guitarists Brooks Williams, Bill Cooley (Kathy Mattea) and British fiddler Tom Leary. Her third solo recording, "Fond Desire Farewell" was arranged and produced by former Fairport Convention drummer Dave Mattacks. She’s performed in many prestigious UK venues and for six months in the late 90’s held a residency at Sandy Bell’s Bar, Edinburgh's premier folk music pub, following in the footsteps of Scottish musicians such as Dick Gaughan and Aly Bain. She was a formal showcase artist at the International Folk Alliance Conference in 2009 and 2005, and a formal showcase artist at three of the five regional Folk Alliance Conferences. She has performed three times on the nationally syndicated American live radio show Folkstage, hosted by Rich Warren. Her earlier recordings Dad’s Dinner Pail and Other Songs from the Helen Hartness Flanders Collection and The Long Grey Line brought her praise from both the US and abroad. Debra's music has been included in many compilation recordings, most notably her rendition of Richard Thompson's "Has He Got a Friend For Me" that was included in the Free-Reed Records box set RT-The Life and Times of Richard Thompson.
When Debra isn't touring internationally or busy with her activities as American Federation of Musicians Local 1000 Vice-President, she makes her home near Worcester, Massachusetts with her husband and their two cats.