Blues Singer to Ada Comstock Scholar
many Ada Comstock Scholars, Lydia Warren’s path to Smith has been roundabout,
filled with detours, endeavors and experiences gained through hard work and wits.
Warren; read more about her at
Smith's Ada Comstock
Scholars Program is 37 years old, but this week celebrates
the 136th birthday of Ada Louise Comstock, born December
11, 1876, for whom the program was named.
In celebration of the
anniversary, a birthday cake will served, on Tuesday,
Dec. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Ada Comstock
Lounge in Hopkins House. Adas are invited to join the
In Warren’s case, her life before Smith was that of a blues musician—performing
as a singer and guitarist in smoky clubs, building an audience while cultivating
her style and musical chops, spending months at a time on the road.
It was an
education of a different kind than Smith offers, though no
less rich in knowledge and insight.
As the Ada Comstock Program
celebrates the 136th anniversary of Ada Comstock’s birth, on December 11, 1876, the program also celebrates 37 years,
since its founding, of providing a place for women like Lydia Warren AC‘14J,
who have lived some life, to rediscover and resume their intellectual exploration.
“The Ada program is the perfect fit for me,” says Warren. “The fact that programs
like this exist, for people who don’t follow the conventional path, is so refreshing.”
“Ada Comstock graduated from high school at age 15, became a college president
when most women didn't have the opportunity to attend college and married for
the first time at age 67,” notes Sid Dalby, associate director of admission. “Ada
did things in her own time, in her own way, just like our current Ada Comstock
For Warren, there was little
doubt about what she wanted to do after high school. From
the time she recorded and self-produced her first album,
as a high school senior in Franklin, Mass., her life has
revolved around music, and she has built a successful career
as a performer, traveling to festivals, selling her albums
and frequenting clubs in the greater Boston area.
only a few years ago, after about a decade of that life,
that Warren considered going back to school. The national
economy had taken a hard hit, and while that might be fodder
for more poignant blues, it wasn’t good for business. Many clubs closed, strapped
municipalities cut back their arts budgets, gigs were drying up.
in courses, first at MassBay Community College in Framingham,
Mass., then at Middlesex Community College, in Bedford, Mass.,
from which she graduated in 2010 with an associate’s degree in music.
Even after her acceptance to
Smith, the blues weren’t quite ready to relinquish Warren to full-time academia. She deferred
her admission for a semester to travel to Amsterdam for a months-long performance
tour. It was another notch on her world-traveling resume, having performed in
Lebanon, Italy, Germany, Canada, and all across the United States.
Not that Warren
has given up on the blues or music now that she’s an Ada Comstock Scholar. She
has continued to perform during her Smith career, and plans to camp out in the
recording studio for three days during the upcoming holiday break to record her
For that matter, blues plays
a central role in her academic study as well. Formally a
music major, Warren is also completing a certification in
ethnomusicology, with an emphasis on blues.
“Blues hasn’t been widely analyzed as a musical discipline from the inside,” she
explains. “As someone who’s come up in the blues world, I hope I can study blues
from an informed perspective.”
Since about age 15, it’s always been about the blues for Warren, a rock bass
player at the time. After viewing a video of legendary bluesman Albert King,
she knew what she wanted. She went to her father, a fellow guitarist, and “I
said, ‘I want to trade in my bass equipment and get a guitar.’”
Her father accommodated her
passion, accompanying her to clubs and introducing her to
other musicians. Soon enough, Warren struck out on her own
as a performer—a
standout as a young female teen among seasoned blues musicians.
It’s a status
Warren has been comfortable with ever since, fronting stages worldwide and now
embarking on uncharted academic territory.
Standing out and blazing new
paths are notions Ada Comstock—an 1897 Smith graduate who became the first female president
of Radcliffe—would be comfortable with, whether it’s breaking new ground for
women in academia or playing the blues.