Judith McQueen came to the Wood River Valley more than 30 years ago. In the past three decades, she has established herself as one of the premier culinary forces in the county, both as a chef and a caterer. With her own business—Judith McQueen Entertains—she has served a wide variety of events and has accrued a healthy stack of happy customers.
A few months ago, in the summer of 2019, she catered an event for the Sun Valley Opera—a fairly standard engagement with a recurring client. It began that way, at least, but things changed when McQueen got to chatting with Robyn Watson, the then newly appointed executive director of the opera.
“Most of my clients and people who know me know that I sing,” McQueen said. “I was doing one of the opera’s salon events and I was saying that if I had a wish I’d have my own concert at the Argyros—just talking, really—and Robyn said, ‘I can make that happen.’ For me, this whole thing is a testament to what can happen if you just ask.”
Ask and you shall receive—in this case, the old adage rang true. McQueen’s wish will be fulfilled tomorrow night, Thursday, Jan. 30, with a jazz concert at The Argyros. She is producing the whole thing as a benefit event for the Sun Valley Opera.
McQueen has been singing both professionally and recreationally for longer than she has been catering.
“I was a professional jazz singer in Los Angeles for about 12 years. I opened for Joan Rivers, performed at a club in Beverly Hills—all the things you do as a singer in that area trying to make a bone,” she said. “Then I had a baby on my own and I had to figure out something else to do. Couldn’t hang out at after-hours jazz clubs anymore, you know?”
After relocating to the Wood River Valley and establishing a much more reliable paycheck in the catering business, McQueen never fully turned her back on music, playing a reasonable smattering of gigs here and there alongside local pianist Alan Pennay.
Now, though, circumstances have changed. Again in partnership with Pennay, but now headlining the bill, McQueen will be belting out a variety of beloved songs, filling The Argyros’ lofty ceilings with her inimitable voice. Local arts community cornerstone R.L. Rowsey will join them as director and producer.
With regards to the program, McQueen said the first half, prior to a brief intermission, will largely consist of familiar jazz classics. The second half, she said, “will have some surprises.” She remained coy on the topic to preserve a degree of mystery, but teased that audience members may be in store for some Celtic music, a little country-western and perhaps even a smidge of pop for good measure. Even those intimately familiar with McQueen’s talents will get to hear her take on some new vocal styles and challenges.
As for staging the whole event as a benefit for the Sun Valley Opera, McQueen said the decision was a no-brainer. Not only was Robyn Watson an integral part in making McQueen’s dream concert come to fruition, but the singer has long admired the organization’s commitment to the vocal arts.
“One of the things I love best about the opera is that they’re very inclusive to all genres of music. Opera, Celtic, Broadway, country—all these figured into last year’s season, and now they’re doing jazz. I’m very fortunate I’m under their umbrella. They’re not my sponsor, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without them, so I’m doing it as a benefit for them.”
Tickets are available now at theargyros.org, ranging in price from $25-$150 per person, with that top tier including cabaret-style seating with complimentary wine.
“Judith McQueen’s sultry voice resonates through the room like a warm hug that lingers a touch too long and you are surprised and glad it did,” Robyn Watson said. “We are so pleased she chose to benefit Sun Valley Opera. Her beautifully trained voice will add jazz to our diversified repertoire!”
Those who have never heard McQueen sing are in store for quite the eye-opening show, and those familiar with her talents will get to experience something a bit different: finally, at long last, her own headlining jazz concert in a state-of-the-art venue.