Once a month, the Bohm theater will host local musicians for Blues at the Bohm. Concerts consist of different blues and jazz performers, and Cliff Harris, a chemistry professor at Albion College and an active member of Blues at the Bohm, says it’s the best kept secret in southern Michigan. Along with Blues at the Bohm, Albion has another hidden gem: The War and Treaty.
Composed of Michael and Tanya Trotter, the duo blends roots music, bluegrass, folk, gospel and soul to create a unique sound. But they didn’t always perform together; Michael wrote a few songs for Tanya and her brother, but when her brother couldn’t make a rehearsal, Michael stepped up.
“Michael and I heard how our voices sounded together on the song he wrote for my brother and I, and we were looking at each other like, ‘This is really good!,’” said Tanya. “We weren’t dating at the time, just working together, but we ended up getting married. Two or three years later, people were telling us to sing a song together. So we ended up singing our songs together at church, and the people were so amazed by it.”
Originally from the Baltimore area, the Trotters stumbled upon Albion after getting lost while driving to Indiana. After spending a night at the Days Inn to rest, they decided to explore the Albion area. After talking to a few people and searching for a home they liked, the couple moved to Albion and fell in love with the small town.
“Michael is a two-time award winner, and so what we wanted was a small town where we could raise our son and a place that’s quite peaceful and quiet,” said Tanya. “We landed here and fell in love with it.”
Both artists have extensive histories in music but on opposite sides of the spectrum. Michael was deployed in Iraq in 2004, and his unit encamped in one of Saddam Hussein’s private palaces. In the basement sat an old piano, and Michael made it his personal mission to teach himself the piano. He wrote his first song after his captain was killed, and he sang it at his captain’s memorial service. He began to sing for many other memorial services, and after gaining widespread recognition, Michael won “Military Idol,” the army’s version of American Idol. He also received a medal of recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives.
Music holds a special place in Michael’s heart, but even more so today because he believes that without music, he might not be alive today.
“To tell you the truth, not only would it not have that special impact today, I don’t believe I would have stayed alive to tell you this story,” he said. “The war was very taxing and demanding of its troops, so I don’t see a way I could’ve survived without the influence of art and healing in the arts that way.”
Tanya’s path to music was much different. As a professional recording artist at 19, she scored a role in Sister Act 2 and sang “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” with Lauryn Hill. She also had a solo single, “Through the Rain,” which raced to the top 30 on the Billboard R&B singles chart.
“It was amazing,” she says, “and Sister Act 2 was a life-changing, life-altering experience. I’ll forever remember everything about the experiences, relationships, lessons and friendships. I still talk to most of the cast, and it’s just been a lifetime of experiences that I will never forget.”
Performing as a couple is no small task. It can be taxing and frustrating at times, but for Michael, the reason he performs and plays music is because of his relationship with his wife.
“My love, relationship and friendship with Tanya is the basis of why I do what I do, and it’s so unique that the music we have is a testament to how close we are,” he says.
The War and Treaty are coming out with their new EP album, “Down to the River,” which is named for the forks of the Kalamazoo river where Albion sits. Coming out on their own record label, Strong World Entertainment, Tanya says they were able to “break down barriers” with this album because they’re able to control the way their music is produced and distributed.
“With this album, there’s folk music, country, Irish — it’s just a blend of every style of music we enjoy, and somehow it all comes together,” she said.
With the Trotters on vocals, the band features many Albion musicians. On bass is Ronnie Parker; Benjamin Wade plays the guitar and autoharp; Steve Opp plays the Mandolin and guitar; and Jeffrey Rodgers on drums.
The War and Treaty will be releasing their music video at the Bohm on May 24. They’re hoping to get a guest host for the event, and they’re talking with an American Idol contestant who’s “very popular.”
Photo courtesy of Michael and Tanya Trotter.