“I like the country,” says Ellen Trnka. This coming from a girl who grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, only minutes from the George Washington Bridge, and sang with blues and jazz bands throughout the Northeast.
“The New York City area is great and exciting, but it’s really not my thing,” she concedes.
Moving to Hendersonville in 2002 to help care for her aging mother, Trnka discovered how much she loved the mountains. She also discovered the will to accompany herself on guitar, and step out to sing as a solo artist. Trnka has become a fixture on local stages, covering singers such as Patsy Cline, Elvis, Etta James, and Ella Fitzgerald with an unpretentious, engaging style.
Bold Life: What are your earliest memories of singing?
Ellen Trnka: I started when I was very little, in the shower, and in the car. My mom would sing parts of songs to me, old jazz standards. She had a very good voice, so she would every now and again sing like one lyric, and it would be annoying to me. But in fact I’m grateful, because I think I got a lot of what I have in my voice and my tone from her.
Do you have a good ear for picking out harmonies?
I do. I was doing that in second grade with my sister. We used to sing harmonies together, singing to the AM radio station. I got a lot of that from her. It’s fun, it’s healthy, and I like to share, so that’s my thing. My dad listened to swing and a lot of Frank Sinatra, and I think a lot of that got into me too.
What was your musical experience like in New Jersey?
I was a background singer in a blues band that played in New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York, and that was like going to school. It taught me how to be more confident singing, and dancing in front of the microphone. At first I just couldn’t do it, but if it’s your passion — and singing is my passion — the more you do it, the better you get at it.
You are so natural on stage, it’s hard to believe you were ever less than confident.
Singing is personal. You’re supposed to be nervous. Your voice is your body. It’s your instrument, but it’s your body. When I first started I had the dry mouth, my face turned white. I almost quit, but I wanted to do it so bad I just kept it up. I’m so grateful now that I did stick with it, because it’s just good for my soul. And it’s healthy to do what you feel is your passion. Now, it’s my favorite spot, my most comfortable spot to be: on a stage, singing and sharing what I have.
Do you have any pets?
I have kitty cats. They’re my babies. I got one of them from the Humane Society when I moved here, Ginger. And I found one about four years ago — it was as if someone had left her up on a mountain, so she’s here. I love them. I love all animals.
Ellen Trnka performs in Hendersonville at St. Paul Mountain Vineyards (588 Chestnut Gap Road) on Saturday, November 21, at 3pm, and at Southern Appalachian Brewery (822 Locust St.) on Sunday, November 22, at 5pm. Follow her on Facebook.