Following the road of dreams

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Connie George
Performing artist and radio personality VJ Hume poses with her beloved Celtic harps in her music room at home. Particularly well known in the Coachella Valley for her popular “VJ’s Corner” radio interview show that ran for more than 18 years on KWXY, Hume has won numerous awards for her work and remains actively involved in acting, directing, music and writing.
Photo by Connie George

VJ Hume thought she would spend her whole life on the road, working as an entertainer from coast to coast across Canada and the U.S.

“I was uniquely suited to it because I hate housework and can’t cook, so this instantly solved those two problems,” she said of the lifestyle that began in 1973. “I loved the adventure of driving into a new town and getting to know the community and the people. I really thought that was going to be my life.” She also took her adventurous spirit to sea as a singer and musician on cruise ships.

But life took a detour when she motored into the Coachella Valley for a gig in 1987. In short order, she began establishing herself in the valley as a performer of note in various mediums and put down roots for the first time.

In her 25 years since as a local singer and musician, radio show host and voiceover artist, actress, model and playwright, Hume has earned high honors for her work.

The Palm Springs Branch of the American League of Pen Women named Hume as one of its 2011 Women of Distinction in the Arts for her achievements.

In addition, she has received five Desert Star Awards from the Desert Theatre League for her stage work — including for a play she wrote called Lush! (about the first woman member of Alcoholics Anonymous), which is gaining attention throughout the valley.

A long stopover in the valley

“I came out here to sing at the Rivera,” she said, and was subsequently interviewed on radio station KWXY’s “Alice Walker Show” about her performances.

The station owner saw on Hume’s resume that she had radio and television experience and invited her to do voiceovers for KWXY, Hume explained. When Walker retired in 1988, Hume was hired as the replacement host.

“VJ’s Corner” was launched and became one of the valley’s most popular radio programs in its 15-minute weekday morning time slot. By the time Hume retired from the program more than 18 years later, she had produced more than 4,600 shows.

The program’s relaxed and entertaining format sometimes led listeners to believe that Hume worked only 15 minutes a day, she said. But in reality, her responsibilities went far beyond making conversation with her guests, who ranged from local authors, entrepreneurs and community leaders to national and international celebrities.

Two guests of special significance to Hume were former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was interviewed twice on the show, and John Major, who succeeded Thatcher.

Hume sought out her guests, booked the shows and researched the material to be discussed. Then she conducted the interviews, which ran far longer than 15 minutes in their uncut formats, and edited them to fit her program’s time frame, but in a manner that still allowed the conversations to sound spontaneous and whole.

“There’s nothing more flattering than having someone’s ear 100 percent,” Hume shared about the warm manner in which she approached her guests.

The simple question, “Why?” in response to a guest’s response could draw out unexpectedly personal stories, she added. “Some were very forthcoming about their lives and careers.”

The job, which also included representing the radio station at numerous community functions, was far more than full-time, and the occasional 20-hour workday was not unusual, she said.

Promoting her guests’ unique strengths and projects was central to “VJ’s Corner.” “Anybody who really gets to the top of their profession is going to be a very special person,” she said. Hume admitted that she also “had a secret mission of getting people to read,” and she promoted books and their authors whenever possible.

Jeraldine Saunders, who wrote The Love Boats on which “The Love Boat” television series was based, and who later authored books on hypoglycemia, was one such guest. Hume and Saunders had much to discuss because of Hume’s own history on cruise ships.

Hume retired from “VJ’s Corner” in 2006 at the height of its popularity. “I guess that’s what I am best known for,” she says of the show, “but I missed theater.”

To increase her versatility for acting roles, she began growing out the short, spiky, platinum blonde coif that had been her signature look for years because, as someone told her, “You can’t do Shakespeare in punk rock hair.”

The next stage of the journey

The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native was born to creatively talented parents. She started out to be an actress, with a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

Over the years, she had become an accomplished autoharpist, teaching herself 750 songs in 10 languages that were mixed and matched for four-hour shows. She had added Celtic harp to her list of musical tricks, and broadened her performing experience with celebrity impersonations and cabaret acts. She had gone on the road and set out to sea and made a name for herself in the Coachella Valley.

Now, after retiring from “VJ’s Corner,” she had new freedom to focus on the stage career she’d sought at the outset. Hume began appearing in local plays and musicals.

In addition, she and husband Ted Pethes, a musician and retired IBM executive, participated in the development of the Indio Performing Arts Center, serving on its first board of directors. They also formed a nightclub band, VJ and the Initials.

Then, in 2010, she appeared in a production of the play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, about the men who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Hume received a best supporting actress Desert Star Award for her portrayal of Dr. Bob Smith’s wife, Anne.

The whole experience spurred her to find out who was the first successful woman member of the now-worldwide “AA” organization.

Research introduced Hume to Marty Mann, a woman who joined the organization in her 30s and battled up from the depths of the disease to become significant in the development and promotion of the recovery program.

Inspired by the story of Mann’s life, Hume wrote Lush!, which debuted at IPAC in May 2011 to a full house. It was a “reader’s theater” production, in which the performers play multiple roles, adopting wigs, props, accessories, accents and postures to differentiate them.

The show proved so popular that it has since been staged at the ABC Recovery Center in Indio and Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage and will play again at 7 p.m., Saturday, April 28 at the Tolerance Education Center, 35147 Landy Lane, Rancho Mirage. Admission is a suggested donation of $25.

“It’s gotten the best turnout of everything I’ve ever done,” Hume said, speculating that the show has wide appeal because “even if people aren’t interested in alcoholism per se, everyone knows somebody who is.” She has created six different versions of the play for different cast sizes and time lengths.

Lush! received five Desert Star Awards in 2011 in the category of “Staged Reading,” including two for lead performers. Hume won for director, supporting female performer and original writing.

Reviewing life’s passages

“This is the best time of my life now,” Hume said. Because of years spent learning so many facets of the performing arts, “everything works better now.”

She added that as she’s gotten older, more opportunities have come her way in the performing arts, including as an actress. “When I was 20, there were a hundred other girls just like me at every audition, but at this age there’s much less competition.”

In addition to participating in the momentum of Lush!, Hume is appearing in television and film productions, continuing as the voice of Palm Desert’s DeLuca Jewelers in TV and radio ads as she has for about 20 years, and keeping up with her music.

“In my life, I’ve usually had about five different jobs at the same time and I’ve continued to do that,” Hume said.

She will also appear in Steel Magnoliasat the Palm Canyon Theatre in Palm Springs, March 30 through April 1, in the role of Clairee, played by Olympia Dukakis in the 1989 film. Visit  www.palmcanyontheatre.org for more information on the show.

“I’ve really been privileged to know some extraordinary people and to learn from them,” Hume said, reflecting on her experiences, both inside and outside of the Coachella Valley. At this point, she added, “Everything has come full circle. I feel like all the ends of the strings have been tied together.”

For more on VJ Hume and her life in the performing arts, visit her website at www.vjhume.freeservers.com.