The Vatican’s former soprano soloist for two popes. A contestant on season nine of American Idol. The CEO of STARROCK Productions. An autism advocate. Singer-songwriter. Wife. Mother of three. Claire Khodara might be among the busiest people in music.
Now, the multifaceted musician, mom and master-multitasker is set to release her newest project, Modern Lullaby — a collection of soothing, contemporary covers (and an original) with all streaming proceeds donated to autism awareness and education. With the first single, Khodara’s take on Beyoncé‘s “Halo,” out now.
SPIN caught up with the esteemed singer to discuss the de-stigmatization of a mostly misunderstood condition, how the compilation came together, and why it was about time for some modernized lullabies.
SPIN: Where’d the concept for your Modern Lullaby collection come from?
Claire Khodara: Since I’ve become a parent, many of my friends have suggested I make a lullaby album. My mother fell ill last summer with stage 4 cancer, which in turn made me contemplate my own mortality. Shortly after receiving the news, I was having dinner with two besties at San Vicente Bungalows in my current hometown of Los Angeles, who told me to rip the band-aid off and make the lullaby album already.
I have an amazing vocal coach and producer named Ken Stacey, who’s supported many stars such as Elton John, Kenny Loggins, Ambrosia, and countless more. He was actually the vocal coach on American Idol the season after I appeared on the show. I immediately called him and said, “I want to do an album of modern lullabies, but want them to be covers we all know and love, and also want to include the original track I wrote for my 5-year-old son, Winston, shortly after his birth.” Winston is on the autism spectrum, and I thought it would be valuable to have the album be a platform for autism advocacy.
In short, the concept came from a lack of hip lullabies on the market. As a parent of three young children, I couldn’t find a lullaby album that I loved, and apparently neither could my friends. So, here I am making music again.
Who would you say the album is for?
It’s dedicated to Winston and to my mother, for inspiring. It’s for everyone, but it’s really for the parents.
How did you go about selecting the songs for this album?
They’re simply some of my all-time favorite tunes. I recorded 17 tracks in three days with my band in LA at Doghouse Studio. I plan to release two Modern Lullaby volumes, so this is just the first installment. Between both albums, we’ve got covers of Kanye, Beyoncé, Drake, John Lennon, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Madonna, and so many more. I thought it was important to include my favorite modern covers, as well as covers from my childhood, so that parents and children can enjoy listening to the album together. Winston also has his singing debut on the album, and his voice takes my breath away!
Are there any specific foundations you’re working with?
Yes! Album proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Easterseals, a legacy foundation providing services and support for the special needs community. It’s important for me to align with a foundation that’s doing the work directly with children and adults on the autism spectrum. I’ve seen the power of early intervention and admire the breadth of what Easterseals provides.
Aside from having a talented mother, does music play a role in Winston’s life? Does he have a favorite genre, song, artist, band?
Definitely. Winston plays guitar, is an amazing singer, and a wonderful percussionist. He’s really into Top 40 and Disney at the moment — Sing 2 and the Ice Age soundtrack in particular. I’ve seen an incredible transformation in Winston through music therapy. Music stimulates him like nothing else.
What do you wish people were more aware of when it comes to autism?
The gifts associated with the diagnosis. Autism typically isn’t spoken about in pop culture, and when it is, it’s stigmatized. There’s so much shame around the diagnosis that most parents I know with children on the spectrum won’t admit it socially or even to themselves. I feel like I’ve been given an opportunity to be Winston’s mom, as I feel it is my duty to speak openly about autism and help take the shame away from special needs.
There’s no denying that it is hard to be autistic. It’s also hard to be the parent of an autistic child. But it’s worth it. Kids with autism are like a puzzle. Behind the challenges lies a genius. You’ve got to figure out how to support them, and once you do that, you kind of crack the code and the gifts reveal themselves. The depth within Winston is like nothing else I’ve experienced.
My husband and I are raising a family that champions differences. It’s beautiful to be different. That’s kind of the point, right? Who wants to be the same as everyone else?