Making A Joyful Noise
Singer, speaker and teacher Kim Michael Polote has made a life and career using her voice
Kim Michael Polote once heard the words, “Shut up, you can’t sing.”
Luckily, her critics were just some bratty kids on the playground when she was a little girl. She ignored them and sang anyway. Growing up, she sang in church, in school at St. Vincent’s Academy, in plays and sometimes just to herself whenever she felt down or stressed out.
Fast forward to 2001, when she heard the words “first place.” Polote had won the American Traditions Vocal Competition, which is held each year in Savannah. She remains the only Savannah native to have won the competition.
She continues to use her voice today not only to entertain and connect with people, but also to encourage them—especially those in the next generation—to use their own voice to enrich their lives and the lives of those around them.
Just Do You
“I think I came out of the womb singing,” Polote says with a laugh. As much as she loved—and still loves—performing for audiences of all sizes, from the beginning she was happy to sing to an audience of one.
“I knew God heard me,” she says. “It brought me joy. It wasn’t for applause. There was joy in the release. Anytime I felt down, I sang more.”
She found another place of refuge on the tennis court, playing for Armstrong State University (now part of Georgia Southern).
“Tennis was a release for me, too,” she says. “A physical release that was both fun and challenging. I would get lost in the game. We’d start early on a Saturday morning and before we knew it, the whole morning was gone.”
Polote thought for a moment about attempting to go professional. “A singing pro tennis player!” she says with a laugh. But it was singing alone that took her to first place.
When Polote entered the American Traditions Vocal Competition in 2001, it was for the third time. The competition had quickly become famous as a place where the world’s best vocalists could display their mastery of classic American music.
“I didn’t think I had what it took,” Polote recalls. “There were people coming in with music degrees and operatic voices, and I just had what was in my heart. But finally I just said to myself, ‘Step on the stage and just do you. Don’t compete with anybody — just do you. And I think that is true of life, as well.”
That philosophy not only helped give Polote the win at the 2001 competition, it also fostered the relationship that she has had with the entire organization since. Her championing of the American Traditions Vocal Competition over the years led to the creation of the Kimmie Award, which is given each year to recognize an individual’s special level of generosity, support or impact on the competition itself or American music in general.
One Body In Voice
Polote’s focus on support and impact have opened new doors for her as well. She has become a sought-after speaker, of which the highlight so far has been her invitation to speak at the convention of the National Council of Catholic Women. Part of her motivational message when speaking to groups is to not talk yourself out of opportunities or let your past mistakes hold you back.
“I believe God put each of us here for a purpose,” she says. “So instead of labeling yourself as the sum total of your pain and your mistakes, use your pain for His purpose. Use it to help someone else.”
For Polote, it all comes back to using your voice.
“It doesn’t mean you are starting a revolution,” Polote says. “Just use your voice to extend a kind word; to encourage somebody; to say ‘I’m sorry,’ even if it was something that happened years ago. Use your voice for good.”
Life lessons are the underlying theme of Polote’s recent work as an educator as well. She serves as the Artist-in-Residence for the Music program at Thomas Heyward Academy in Ridgeland, SC. The program is sponsored by Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, created by Dinah Gretsch of the Gretsch Company. Polote calls Gretsch her “musical sister” and says they are both invested in the impact that music can have on a person’s life at every age.
“That moment of inclusiveness, when everyone sings and we become one body in voice and in rhythm, that’s when I know I was called to be here,” Polote says.
Releasing Something Inside
Polote now also serves as a music consultant at the place where she really started to find her voice as a young woman, St. Vincent’s Academy. She helps the students with vocal exercises and training.
She is also proud to be a coach and instructor at the Otis Music Camp, a songwriting and music performance camp held each summer in Macon by the Otis Redding Foundation. Polote is passionate about the organization and is helping them raise funds for a new Otis Redding Center for the Arts.
“Every child writes and performs a song at the camp,” she says. “Last year, there was a child with autism. He didn’t really say anything for those two weeks. But he wrote a song, and when it came time for him to perform it, he rocked the house! That is the difference that music can make.”
Bringing everyone together with the power of music and voice — whether it’s her students, her speaking audience or a group of tourists being treated to Johnny Mercer tunes — is what continues to drive Polote each day.
“Some people tell me they can’t sing,” Polote says. “But I say, ‘You have a voice.’ You don’t have to get on stage. You don’t even have to turn on the mic. But singing will release something inside you. And the saying isn’t, ‘Make a joyful noise if you’re on key.’ No, it’s just ‘Make a joyful noise!’ Your life is a song.”
Singing for pleasure has been shown to be one of the great tools of stress management. Learn some of the other fun and healthy ways to relieve stress here.