Singer Judy Collins On Mental Health, Not Slowing Down and Finding 'Strangers Again'

Feb 17, 2016

Folk legend Judy Collins is the keynote speaker at the 2016 Folk Alliance International annual conference. She will speak and perform on Friday, February 19.
Credit Folk Alliance International

At 76, you might think that folk singer Judy Collins is getting ready to slow down. 

You would be wrong. 

The folk legend, who has released more than 50 records since her debut album A Maid of Constant Sorrow in 1961, is still on the road — performing as many as 120 shows a year.

Her latest album, Strangers Again, came out in 2015.

She's been candid about her struggles with addiction and bulimia and continues to fight for various social causes, including mental health. 

After all that, it's understandable that she's not the same performer she was 50 years ago.

"I'm better," she says.

Collins spoke with KCUR's Steve Kraske this week on Up To Date and she is the keynote speaker at the 2016 Folk Alliance International annual conference. 

Here are some highlights from the interview:  

On why she wanted to record an album of duets, Strangers Again

"Well I didn't. What happened was that I was ambushed into this effort. The reason was ...that I am so fond of this guy that I sing with sometimes named Ari Hest. He's so wonderful — wonderful writer, wonderful singer. And I was looking back through his materials that he's written over the years and I found this song called “Strangers Again” and I said, 'Oh my God what a song.’ I was working on a new album of my own songs and you know thinking about recording just Judy singing this that and the other thing. But I found this song... and I said, ‘I have to do this song before Diana Ross gets her hands on it.’

"[Strangers Again] is a great song and I'm gonna do it and I'm gonna do it no matter what. 'So how should I do it,' said I to myself. How [would] I accomplish a couple things. The first thing I want to do is sing it, obviously. The second thing I want to do is to make Ari Hest a household word, which he wasn't. So I have to sing the song, first, and secondly I have to find a bunch of guys that are really famous and somehow induce them to sing with me.

"So that's how it happened. It was a hit and run sort of thing. I had to find the right artists and I had to get it done and I had to make beautiful album which would be on it’s own terms as good as that song. That's what I wanted. That was my goal." 

On why the duets had to be with men

"Had to be all guys ... because I like guys."

On seeing mental health issues being discussed in the open

"It’s certainly long in coming ... secrecy is not helpful for mental health.

"I think that social media has a lot to do with it. I think that had a lot to do with getting gay rights passed and getting past the taboo of same sex marriage, etc. I think a lot of things that used to be taboo were taboo because people didn't talk about them. Now you can't help it — you go online you're gonna see. No one has any secrets anymore, that's the truth."

On why she keeps touring and performing as many as 120 shows a year

"Of course. What am I gonna do? I don't know how to do anything else but write books and sing songs and go on the road. And those are all things I get to do, How lucky is that?"

Judy Collins will speak and perform Friday, February 19 at Folk Alliance International's 28th annual conference. For information, visit

Lisa Rodriguez is the associate producer for KCUR's Up To Date. Find her on Twitter @larodrig.