Lauribeth Quinlivan is well known south of Boston for the music she makes with her keyboard, her guitar, and her voice. Professionally, she goes by just Lauribeth — no last name — and her band, Possession, plays regularly at Great Chow in Abington and All Seasons in Halifax. For 10 years, she played Jamie’s Pub in Scituate every New Year’s Eve. She does weddings, parties — once even sang at an event in the towel department at Bloomingdale’s.
“It was the best gig I ever did, singing to the towels,” she says, laughing.
Soon, Quinlivan hopes to be more than just a local name. On Saturday, she is auditioning for “The Voice,” the NBC vocal competition series hosted by Carson Daly. A member of ReverbNation.com, a website that focuses on the independent music industry, Quinlivan was asked to apply for an audition. After sending in some of her music, she was tapped for a coveted slot.
What may set her apart from the crowd is her age. Unlike most of the others, she is not in her 20s or 30s. Quinlivan is 40-something — she won’t be precise — and hopes that her more “mature” voice will wow the judges.
During the day, Quinlivan is scheduling coordinator at ENT South Suburban Center in Quincy, a division of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Her husband, James, also works for Mass. Eye and Ear as an administrative assistant in a retinal research lab. In his off hours, he serves as his wife’s manager.
The two met in 2001 at Hanscom Air Force Base in Concord, where Laurie both sang and acted as disc jockey. James, now retired from the Navy, was living on the base and requested that she play a Cake song, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” They married in 2004 and live in Hull, where her family summered during her childhood in Longmeadow.
“Oh, my God, can she sing,” he says. “I make her do small concerts for me at home. She sings without music, she plays the piano and guitar by ear, and can sight read and memorize everything.”
Her passion for music started at age 3, when her older sisters taught her the endless Don McLean hit, “American Pie.” The next year, she started playing the piano, and at 13, took up the guitar. She majored in nursing at Fitchburg State, studied at the South Shore Conservatory in Hingham and the Hartt School of music at the University of Hartford.
Eventually, she started her own company, LBS Productions, and does solo gigs as well as band sets.
Try to pin her down on her genre, and Quinlivan ticks them off: ballads, rock ’n’ roll, jazz, top 40, country, and rap. “I like it all,” she says. She says she has hundreds of songs in her repertoire, and on a recent day, sings a few bars of several of them quietly, since she’s at a Quincy coffee shop, still dressed in her blue Mass Eye and Ear scrubs.
Despite the cacophony of coffee orders and chatting in the crowded shop, Quinlivan’s voice is rich, strong, and rhythmic. She says she sings bass to soprano, a six-octave range, and she writes many of her own songs.
Her favorite artist? “You’re going to laugh,” she says — and I do. “Barry Manilow.”
“I love him,” she says. “He’s the classiest musician on the planet. His songs helped me through a very difficult childhood.”
She grew up bullied by other kids in Longmeadow: “my singing, my hair, everything.” Manilow, she says, went through similar stuff growing up, and became her role model. “He gave me the nerve to continue music, despite what the other kids said.”
Despite all her years in the music business, Quinlivan says she works on her craft every day, practicing voice and piano. The last several years have been tough, as she took care of her ailing parents. Her mother was paralyzed by a spinal tumor and died, her father died from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and her sister died at age 54 from cancer — all within the past four years.
Six weeks ago, her beloved 12-year-old dog, a rescue that she and Jim adopted as a puppy, died. Her eyes well up as she talks about Rocco, and she apologizes. But for those of us who have loved, or do love, a dog, no explanation is necessary.
Both of Quinlivan’s parents were musical, and her sister, she says, was her biggest fan. Her dad, an Air Force pilot during World War II, sang in the boys’ choir at Boston Latin School; her mother played the piano.
When the invitation to audition for “The Voice” first arrived, Quinlivan refused to leave her sick dog. When Rocco died, she decided to tackle the project. According to the rules, she must sing a capella.
“I’m very scared,” she says. She has about 60 songs “in my head” for the audition, but won’t know which one she’ll perform until she meets the judges and shakes their hands. Sort of like “The Mentalist?”
She laughs. “I’ll get a feel for them.”
If she passes the New York audition, there will be another in Los Angeles in March, and if all goes well, tapings start in October. This season’s judges are Shakira, Usher, Blake Shelton, and Adam Levine. The grand prize, of course, is a recording contract.
If she makes it, it will be a long way from singing to those towels at Bloomy’s.
She feels she’s been preparing all of her life for this “vocal Olympics.” She’ll be wearing her father’s ring, which she always wears when she sings, and a necklace made of sea glass her sister collected the summer before she died. That way, two of her biggest fans will be up on the stage with her.
Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at email@example.com.