Eastern is fortunate it has a large talent pool in its music program. Even so, in this pool, one voice in particular leaves you slack-jawed.
EOU senior Holly Sorensen, 27, has that voice. Sorenson’s blistering vocals are reminiscent of such powerhouse R&B singers such as Etta James, James Brown and Aretha Franklin.
Sorensen names the singers above as her main inspirations but she admits, “I’m one of the biggest music mutts out there. I could name blues people and opera singers I love. I’m all over the map.”
Sorensen was born in La Grande but moved with her family to many different places during childhood. She says she’s always considered music her life’s calling.
After high school graduation, Sorenson knew she wasn’t ready for college. She found herself working retail in Olympia, Wash. when her sister called and asked her to check out the La Grande area.
Not long after arriving in La Grande Sorensen started working at La Grande Stereo and Music and got her first music break. “The ‘Wasteland Kings’ (a local music group) were auditioning some girl singers and the owner heard me singing along with one of their songs and told the group, ‘You need to audition her.’”
Sorensen met EOU instructor Luke McKern through her work with the group. He started using her to sing vocals on demo songs he was recording in the EOU recording lab.
“Just seeing the lab and the gear, I was like a kid in a candy store. I wanted to come here and take these courses and be in the choir—everything,” Sorensen says. She started her career as a student soon afterward.
While Sorensen has enjoyed her time at EOU, she is concerned about the proposed cuts in the music program which include cutting essential adjunct instructor positions. “Even though I’m leaving, it breaks my heart to see that drastic kind of change. It could kill the department,” Sorensen says.
Sorensen plans to stay in La Grande for a while after graduation. She still works part-time for La Grande Stereo and performs with the “Wasteland Kings” and other groups.
Although Sorensen sings on other people’s CDs, she looks forward to making her own while fronting her own funk/blues band complete with horns.
Sorensen has several performances scheduled for the near future. Her senior recital is scheduled for June 9 in the Methodist Church at 3 p.m. and a performance with Luke McKern and others on June 13 at Ten Depot.
One challenging project Sorensen is excited about is a McKenzie theatre performance of the Pink Floyd album “Dark Side of the Moon” June 21-23. She credits Wasteland Kings member Roger Barnes for her involvement with the project. “I’m pretty nervous about it,” Sorensen says, “It’s very difficult and I hope I can reproduce the sound from my YouTube clip.” Type “Holly Sorensen sings The Great Gig in the Sky” in the YouTube search bar and after a listen; ask yourself if Sorensen has anything to worry about.
Even with her disappointment over looming music department budget cuts Sorensen doesn’t regret her time at EOU. “I came just to check out the music program to see where it would take me, and I’m so glad I did.”