The 61-Year-Old Queen of Quarantine Karaoke Won’t Stop Singing From Her Living Room
Original article found at texasmonthly.com
Alba’s Billie Hill is a star in the 700,000-member-strong Facebook group dedicated to COVID-safe karaoke. Hill shares how filming herself singing has helped her—and her fans—survive the pandemic.
I started to see the Quarantine Karaoke group popping up here and there on Facebook. I saw a video of somebody singing and thought, Oh, I’ll check that out. The first song I did was “Love at the Five and Dime”—the Kathy Mattea version. I had lost all my karaoke music, and it was one of the only songs I had around the house. I didn’t rehearse it, and before I posted the video I was scared to death.
My first thought was: I look really bad. I’m just turning 61 years old, and never in my life did anyone ever tell me I was pretty. I thought: People are going to make fun of me. But I put up the song and it just blew up. Now I hear that I’m pretty fifty times per day.
I made my own music page, and I got up to 45,000 shares last summer. That meant 45,000 people had actually heard the music. And you know what’s strange? Ninety percent of my biggest fans are from Maine.
A lot of people tell me I remind them of their mom or their grandma. And slowly but surely, my life started changing. I started dressing up, and fixing my hair. The difference when you look at me now compared with the first time I posted a song on Quarantine Karaoke is unbelievable.
If I’m going to be really honest, if it weren’t for Quarantine Karaoke, I don’t think I would be here. I was just so upset, just so depressed, it felt like there was nothing to live for. I actually went on to Quarantine Karaoke to leave a legacy of music for my kids and grandkids. I thought if I put some songs on there, they could always go back and look at them, because medically or mentally, I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be around.
I have to give credit to all those Quarantine Karaoke people. I don’t know what it was—maybe the music, or people’s responses. There was just love from everywhere. It changed my life completely.
I was at a point where I hadn’t had any music in my life in a couple of years. I’ve always loved Tanya Tucker’s music and I’m also a huge fan of Doug Stone. I love Texas music. It’s just this dirt road sort of thing. It’s about simple, country folk. It’s about the same kind of problems or issues we all have.
My husband and I had a country band called Rock Country for about fourteen years. We played all over Fort Worth—we played dive bars. And I mean dive bars. Back then I could also play the guitar, and I wrote songs. To get up there on the stage and be singing a song that you wrote is the wildest feeling. It’s just so personal, and private, but also so public. It was always the greatest time of my life.
But I stopped performing because we had five kids. I picked it up again off and on, but I had to go to work, and life took over. I’ve been a baker, a teacher in several places, worked at Goodwill and in customer service–type stuff.
And in my relationship there was physical violence and stuff like that. He didn’t like me singing. If we went to karaoke somewhere the attention would be on me, and I think he just got bitter about it.
After you hear these things for so long, it starts to take over your mind. Afterward, I looked like death. I felt like death. I wanted to die. That’s why I was so afraid to do Quarantine Karaoke, because I thought people would just start being ugly to me and telling me I wasn’t good enough.
But that never happened. I’ve never had one bad thing said to me. There was just love everywhere. When I’m singing, all the bad stuff is gone. It’s not in my mind at all. I’m just singing and hoping that I can relate to somebody and make them and myself happy.
Now I keep all my songs, about 315,000 of them, on a hard drive. I hook that up to my laptop, which has a Karaoke Hosting program. I type in whatever song I want, put my phone up there on top of the laptop, and sing it into the phone. I wish I could perform live, but I’m not able to. As far out in the country as I live, I don’t have Wi-Fi.
I do take requests, and people always tell me stories about a particular song they might want to hear. One woman’s story had me in tears for days. I just put up the song “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and she messaged me after I sang it. She said, “I had been looking for a reason all day. I was looking for a sign not to kill myself tonight, and I think you just sent me that sign.”
Somebody actually told me they took my music as a sign to hang on. I’m just a little old country girl who didn’t think much of myself at all. And for this all to be happening?
I can’t do anything but thank God for it. I have an audience. I can’t see them, but they’re there.