Carried by her gift for music, Windy Hope of Port Washington has risen through the entertainment ranks to a role as singer for the well-known band Streetlife
Growing up, Windy Hope was a shy girl. When she was 4 years old, her mother made her sing at nursing homes and in church, and later musicals at school.
“She didn’t force it but guided me,” Hope said. “She pushed me in a positive way.”
Now, Hope is living her lifelong dream. The Port Washington resident is the new singer for Streetlife, the well-known former Milwaukee Bucks house band.
“I always, always wanted to be a singer and I knew I was going to,” she said.
Hope never received any formal training, but she connected with mentors who inspired and motivated her. Hope credits her choir teacher at Calvary Baptist School in Menomonee Falls and former Streetlife lead singer Rhonda Begos, who retired from the band when she started to lose her singing voice.
“I’ve been blessed with big role models in my life,” Hope said.
And she’s been given some vocal talent. Hope said she has a soulful voice and likes to sing Adele songs.
“I know that God gave me what I have,” she said. “I don’t take credit for it at all.”
Singing has made a childhood made difficult by divorce a little easier.
“Without the gift of music he gave me, I don’t know where I would be. The reason I do it is to give back,” she said.
Begos noticed Hope had talent when she won Ozaukee Idol in 2007. Begos was one of the judges.
“She handed me a piece of paper with her name on it and said you belong somewhere else. She just put me under her wing and guided me,” she said.
That guidance has paid off. Hope sang for six years with Cold Sweat and the Brew City Horns and as a sub for the Eddie Butts Band.
She gained more local notoriety through earning a performance at Chick Singer Night in Milwaukee, a multiple-city worldwide song fest for female artists from which Nora Jones and Cheryl Crow came.
Hope comes from a musical family. Her parents weren’t in bands but played guitar and sang around campfires. She said she most takes after her 90-year-old grandmother, a yodeler and singer who played accordion and organ. She is a former member of Sweet Adaline and uses modern technology to her advantage.
“Every time I take her out, she says, ‘My granddaughter’s in a band and I’m Grandma Vi on YouTube,’” she said.
While Hope was comfortable singing in church, it was her father-in-law who helped expand her repertoire. About 12 years ago, Jim Bohn, a former member of the Ozaukee Jam Band, got Hope to sing outside of church.
“Singing in church is not about the showcase at all. It’s worship. I was used to making it vertical —about me and God,” she said.
“The last thing I needed for the career side of it was the performance side — polishing the last part of the diamond that was rough.”
Hope continues to sing at Christ Church in Mequon and has performed many concerts at Summerfest and other area festivals and events. One highlight was opening for Bruce Hornsby on July 3. Hornsby is her father-in-law’s idol.
“I didn’t even care that I sang. That I got to bring Jim back to meet him was pretty sweet,” she said.
But singing before Hornsby and the Noisemakers was special.
“I’m honored to be in their presence and to be on stage with somebody that’s been to the top of the charts. I’m humbled,” she said.
The packed Summerfest crowds are her favorite.
“The crowd is just, like, roaring. It’s just exhilarating for me,” she said.
Those are the times she feels heavenly intervention.
“It’s God saying, ‘See, your hard work is paying off and you were meant to do this,’’ she said.
Certain members of the crowd provide the most inspiration.
“The biggest moments are when my family’s in front. Music has been able to bring them all together. When I see that with my family together with the crowd behind them, that’s when I feel like it’s meant to be,” she said.
Hope has two younger brothers and two younger sisters, each involved in music in some way.
Her youngest brother loves the oldies and can play piano by ear. Her other brother sings and plays guitar. He has performed with Hope and the two plan to play together more often.
Her youngest sister sings and the older one plays guitar and sings.
Performing musically as a family is in the works, but scheduling is a challenge. Hope’s mother, Lori, owns Divino Gelato Cafe, and her siblings all work at the Waukesha or Racine stores.
“I’m giggling and their lines are out the door on weekends,” Hope said. “If you want to see them, you’ve gotta work. And if they want to see me, they’ve got to sing and play.”
Hope’s schedule has loosened a bit as she eases into performing with Streetlife. Last summer, every weekend was booked from June to September, sometimes with four shows per weekend.
The strenuous schedule is one of the most difficult parts of being in a band, she said.
“I can’t just set my instrument down. It gets really physically draining. A voice is tough to take care of,” she said.
Hope is enjoying the break.
“I’m out fishing and swimming every day,” she said. “I needed a summer not to be busy.”
But she misses her band and performing often — “musicians just need to be busy” — and told her 10-year-old daughter so. Her daughter responded with, “‘That’s OK, mom, then you wouldn’t be here with me.’”
Her daughter sings and, like mom, sometimes needs a nudge.
“I don’t want to push her too hard,” Hope said. “I asked her who is going to take over when I’m gone, and she said, ‘I will.’”
Hope can play a little piano and guitar, and she performs with a trio that is becoming a quartet. Michael Hecker, who plays lead guitar and bass, and Paul Bretle on percussion will be joined by her father-in-law on acoustic guitar.
Hope’s husband, Joe, whose entire family is musical, doesn’t play but mixes music instead. He also serves as her agent.
Music is Hope’s full-time job, though she describes herself as a stay-at-home mom. She works for her mom in winter and cleans for both of her 90-year-old grandmas one day per week.
Her musical career has come a long way from a shy child whose mom had to push to try out for parts. Now, she doesn’t want to leave the stage. But she still gets pre-performance jitters.
“Every single time I sing I’m nervous. Every time. I’ve learned to push them deep inside,” she said.
“I’m at home on stage. Once I get a microphone in my hand, I’m like, OK, I can do this. It’s natural for me, I guess.”
Her most stressful spot was singing the national anthem at a Milwaukee Brewers game in 2008.
I think it’s the most important song that could be sung,” she said. “That’s a lot of people there.”
Thoughts kept rolling through her head.
“Please don’t forget the words, please don’t forget the words,” she said.
“I didn’t. I’m alive.”
And she is continuing to live her dream. As a young girl, Milwaukee seemed like Hollywood to the Waukesha native.
“All I wanted growing up was for Milwaukee to know my name, just for my own self. That was my dream, my goal,” Hope said.
“It’s really cool because it’s happening, and it’s still happening. I’m really blessed.”
Image Information: Hope has no vocal training but is now a singer with the well-known band Streetlife. She said she uses her musical gift to give back to God and still sings in church. Photo by Sam Arendt