Over the past twenty-five years, audiences have become unknowingly familiar with the impeccable work of renowned vocalist Laura Jackman. The talented singer has amassed over a hundred credits across film, television, and album recordings.
A selection of Jackman’s notable film credits include The Lion King (2019), Amistad (1997), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), and most recently Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021).
For Spielberg’s Amistad, Jackman’s dream of working with legendary Oscar-winning composer John Williams came true (she was twelve-years-old at the time). Unlike other children in the choir, Jackman was well aware of the ET and Star Wars composer’s prowess. “Most of the other kid-singers had to be told by their parents to go get Mr. Williams’ autograph,” Jackman shares. “They had to get out of my way as I rushed up to meet him. He signed my chart, ‘with thanks, John Williams’ and I just about died.”
Growing up with veterans of the music business: session singers, vocal contractors, music directors, and producers, Jackman’s natural talents were developed by her vocal contractor Aunt, Luana Jackman. “I was lucky to have access and session opportunities as a youngster due to my aunt and her colleagues in the session world,” Jackman admits. “I quickly became addicted to the thrill of being on a studio soundstage, or on set with other kid-singer that I befriended.”
Two decades later, Jackman remains an in-demand singer as well as vocal contractor. She’s also the face of the Society of Lyricists and Composers (SCL) as its Chief Operating Officer (COO), responsible for the COVID-complaint and smooth execution of all in-person events as well as the SCL’s online FYC panels for Emmy and Oscar contenders.
Despite the tremendous workload, Jackman also works as an instructor, vocal and session-singing coach, and contractor to young singers with The LA Youth Studio.
Jackman has made it a point to share her own experience as a child performer and to use that unique perspective to help ease the tension in studio and capture the best possible performance. She teaches a fun and approachable method to sight-reading, musicianship, and session-singing etiquette with her business partner, friend, and colleague, Baraka May.
Ahead of the holidays, Jackman spoke with Awards Focus about juggling her various titles amid the pandemic, her family’s impressive history in the business, and recent career highlights — like performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live (engaging in some Christmas caroling satire).
The interview with Awards Focus is edited for clarity and time.
Awards Focus: Seeing as you started so young in this business, was there ever any fear of burning out? With experience comes insight, and I’m curious what you’ve learned about yourself and this business — and do you find it that it’s rare for child singers to maintain a career well into adulthood?
Laura Jackman: Age sort of organically worked out the ‘burning-out’ factor. At fourteen, my voice got drastically lower and I grew about two feet, so I was no longer as castable as a “child singer.” So, I dove into club soccer and became convinced that singing and music was a fun hobby and less of a perusable career path, even though a couple members of my family maintained successful music careers.
I studied Art History in college and always focused on other interests, while simultaneously always singing in the background; I was either in a choir, leading a jazz trio, or participating in musical theater, yet I never considering studying it exclusively.
When I decided to return to music and singing in a serious way, I was much more invigorated, passionate, and determined to make up for the lost time. I believe that taking ten or so years off from the extremely competitive and often stressful world of session singing was essential to a sustainable career in my adult life.
AF: Can you talk about your family’s history in music and how that influenced your decision to enter this highly competitive field?
Jackman: My aunt, Luana Jackman was a very successful vocal contractor, and ironically had a similar latent journey to a musical career, realizing after entering the job market that singing and leading musicians was the true path for her. She was actually assisting Mike Post when he needed singers for the show Cop Rock, and Luana knew it was a major opportunity to insert herself as a musical and leadership asset, albeit a terrifying one. Needless to say, she’d found her calling.
Her father, my grandfather, Robert “Bob” Jackman was a songwriter, composer, arranger, manager, producer, and ultimately ran the music department at Walt Disney Studios from 1955 until the early 1980s.
He was one of those unique humans who was great with people and especially with ‘creative personalities’, while also being able to speak the musical language, all the while organizing and running productions and the department. He was the person that found and hired the Sherman brothers for Mary Poppins, and he even provided the voice of Goofy in many of the 1950s cartoons!
I sure wish he was still alive today, so we could trade stories. I feel my passion and perhaps, more importantly, sustaining personality traits and work ethic that I luckily inherited are what keep me grounded and always in sight of the bigger picture when it comes to this crazy business. My father, Tom Jackman is a talented songwriter and guitarist, and my brilliant mother, Gloria Flores Jackman raised me on a consistent life-soundtrack of the most excellent music of all genres, styes, tempos, and ancestry that I maintain a broad appreciation and, I’d like to think, sophisticated ear because of it.
AF: You’ve worked wth some of the great composers, specifically John Williams quite early on… what do you recall about that experience?
Jackman: Vocally harmonizing and being a part of a juicy blend creates a real joy in my life. Singing in collaboration with some of the best musicians in the universe while giving life to a composer’s brilliance, and more often than not, recording in an iconic sound space, just takes me away to another planet.
Singing “Dry Your Tears, Africa,” the whole song and not just a cue, in front of John Williams while also reading the music in real time, and then being instantly gratified with the collective talent and sound, adding the cherry on top to the stellar orchestration, well, it rarely gets better than that.
I still remember every word, harmony, and modulation. When I heard a children’s choir perform the song at one of the John Williams’ nights at the Hollywood Bowl, I sang along, word-for-word, and genuinely cried in sublime gratitude that I had lived that experience.
AF: Given the responsibilities of leadership in the SCL amid your career, what drew you to the position? I know Michael Boddicker and Edie Lehmann Boddicker were instrumental in pushing for you to answer the call so to speak.
Jackman: I continue to be so grateful and awestruck by the magnanimous mentors I have been blessed with learning from and growing with throughout my career; All badass and strong, successful women, who have approached this business in unique ways.
I began my adult session-singing career in trepidation that any success would be attributed to nepotism, therefore, I’d like to think my determination in proving myself outside of my family connections and general work ethic rewarded me with amazing leaders and mentors willing to guide me on the path to a sustaining media-music career. I worked for many years as legendary vocal contractor, Bobbi Page’s executive assistant and assistant contractor. I learned an exorbitant amount about both the singer and contractor role from helping with contracts, wrangling talent, speaking with production, studios, and of course, seeing Bobbi work her magic to all whom she encountered.
I met the incredible Edie Lehmann Boddicker and her brilliant husband Michael (composer, session musician, and legendary Synth Lord of the music industry), well, probably when I was a young singer, but truly got to know them in my capacity as an adult session singer.
Edie was my music stand partner on Danny Elfman’s Oz The Great and Powerful and then again at Elfman’s live concert of the Music from the Films of Tim Burton (one of my all-time favorite singing experiences).
I quickly came to know and adore her as one of the most exceptional musicians I have ever known, an extraordinarily generous person, a fantastic and fair vocal contractor, and simply someone I strove to be like, as a person as well as a professional musician. Edie and Michael also generously hosted LA Youth Studio workshops at their studio and home (pre-covid), so that our students could have a professional and safe location to learn and grow.
After knowing me, my work ethic, my nerd-tastic obsession with composers and the film score world, as well as my breadth of work behind the scenes for contractors, in A&R, in customer service, in music history, as a singer, etc., they approached me to consider applying for the COO role at the SCL.
I was flabbergasted and honored, and I was also terrified at the prospect of letting them down, and potentially not being ready for the role. They saw in me the qualities I had not yet seen in myself, and now, in successfully navigating this wonderful and fulfilling role for just about a year, I know in my soul that I have been working and building towards this position my whole life and career. In fact, I realized at my SCL interview how similar this role is to the one my grandfather had at the music department at Walt Disney Studios. It feels like I am carrying on his legacy, and that is a pretty wonderful feeling.
AF: That’s so wonderful, I’m finding myself quite moved just from hearing it.
Jackman: That’s so nice to hear!
AF: Back to when COVID hit, could you imagine the number of Zoom FYC panels and screenings that would be coming down the pipeline?
Jackman: Absolutely not! I had been given a verbal preview from my highly capable, SCL COO-predecessor, composer Mark Smythe, that the awards seasons garner little to no free time, as every waking hour is focused on coordinating, planning, managing, and ultimately hosting Zoom FYC Q&A panels. We have now, however, far surpassed the monthly amount of Q&As even in Mark’s time. One of the blessings and curses of the having everything converted to the virtual world, is that without travel-time eating into the day’s hours, as well as being able to reach and access talent all over the globe, we can fit two and even three Q&As into one day. We’ve hosted thirty-three in past month alone! And, we now have the new experience of facilitating both virtual and in-person Screening + Q&As in the same day.
AF: Having worked as the SCL’s COO for some time, what’s been the most rewarding moment to date?
Jackman: It has been easing into in-person events and finally getting to meet the amazing SCL members, composers, songwriters, and even colleagues that I have only known through the Zoom-sphere for months previously.
The most rewarding, by far, would have to be our first in-person Screening + Q&A since March 2020, of Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE with the incomparable Hans Zimmer. I had been looking forward to this film and score for years, ever since it was announced.
Being a lifelong Frank Herbert and DUNE nerd (plus a Zimmer fanatic), I had been eagerly anticipating this collaboration for what felt like an eternity. I even remember feeling happy and relieved that they chose to push the release of the film by a year, since Villeneuve insisted it be projected in theaters with the score properly amplified.
Our SCL audience was massive, and the members were so excited to be back together and in person. I had an incredible team with me as well, and in trying to think ahead for anything that could potentially go wrong, the whole event went swimmingly.
Best of all, I was able to properly introduce myself to Mr. Zimmer, not only as COO of the SCL, a title of which I am very proud, but also as one of his singers for his recent ‘live-action’ The Lion King as well as when he toured live around the Los Angeles area in 2017.
I thanked him for always writing such brilliant vocal score, especially in DUNE, which may be his best vocal writing to date. The satisfaction of seeing so many new friends in person for the first time, presenting a film and soundtrack I was already very obsessed with, along with the relevancy of my lifetime of music and singing work to get me to a place where I could have that ease of conversation with one of the greatest, is a high I have not yet come down from.
AF: On Halloween of 2021, you not only returned to sing live with Danny Elfman at his concert to picture of The Nightmare Before Christmas, you did so at his largest venue yet. How did the Banc of California experience post COVID lockdown compare to doing the live to film concert at the Hollywood Bowl?
Jackman: These concerts are the absolute best and every year I get the honor of being a part of them feels as special as the first time. I grew up in Los Angeles and therefore, I consider the Hollywood Bowl to be the pinnacle of the concert going experience.
I even worked there as a tour guide and music museum historian for many years, and in doing so, I only grew to love and appreciate the venue more. Nothing is better than performing there. You can literally feel the history of that space while on that stage as well as in the dressing rooms.
The stage has the most incredible production team, many of whom I know personally from when I worked there, and it always just feels like a well-oiled machine. I always used to say on my tours, ‘you know that this place is special because almost every artist that takes that stage here speaks about how special it is for them to be there, on such hallowed musical ground where their idols performed.’ You know you’ve made it if you get to perform at that special and iconic place.
The Banc of California stadium was indeed special because we were back after the 2020 lockdown; my first major, live, in-person concert since quarantine, and it also happened to be the largest audience I had ever performed in front of.
There is nothing like an Elfman-fandom audience, and then you go and add Weird Al, Paul Rubens, Ken Page, and, ehem, Billie Eilish – it was unreal! The energy, the normalcy feelings, the reminder that this sort of high-caliber music, entertainment, orchestration, vocal writing, etc. is powerful, important, and enduring. Danny and the Kraft-Engel team have been doing these shows since 2013, and every year they are sold out. That all being said, the stadium I don’t think was quite as prepared as they should have been for the magnitude of crowds as well as a complex live-to-picture-production with so many synced elements. It was still an astounding experience I will very much treasure and never forget, however, nothing beats the Hollywood Bowl. It remains supreme forever.
AF: I understand you’re under NDA for several projects, but one you can talk about is the signing you did on Spider-Man No Way Home. When you recorded that, what did you see of the film if anything? And what was your reaction when you saw the film and heard where your voice was used?
Jackman: Yeah, Marvel does not mess around with their NDAs! We usually have film playback up and rolling in the soundstage as we sing, but we certainly did not see a single frame of this while we recorded.
We were all individually partitioned into solo, glassed-off singing spaces, eight feet apart from our colleagues. This, of course is a new and necessary development in the COVID-era, often making it tricky to establish a tone and blend right away as it is harder to hear the rest of the group. We sang through so many cues in such a short amount of time, proving that we were all so excited and eager to be back in the groove and working together. Our fearless contractor, Vangie Gunn really crushed the whole session. I was unsure how the spaced-out choir would sound and I was delighted to hear clarity and a full-bodied mix when seeing and hearing the film.
In terms of hearing my voice, with these sorts of sessions, I know I’ve done my job well if you cannot distinguish my voice – I am one with the group! Giacchino always does such a wonderful job of featuring vocals in his scores and even mixing us up if necessary.
AF: And lastly let’s talk about Jimmy Kimmel’s Karen Christmas Carols. Is this the first big network series you’ve performed on? How did that feel doing it, and how most notice did you have before you needed to dive in and film it? Were the other Karens colleagues or complete strangers?
Jackman: Ah yes, my first national tv appearance since 2019, and I am a ‘Karen’ in velour sweatpants and a baggy, cheetah-print, bedazzled shirt. No, truly it was an honor, and I haven’t laughed that hard for two days straight since I can’t even remember when.
I have been on other big network series before but usually as background and/or in a larger choral group – never quite spotlighted in this way before. I knew I was going to be a “Christmas caroling Karen”, but we didn’t see lyrics until the night before and they were often changed, even up to 20 minutes before filing.
I knew 3 out of the 4 other Karens previously – other brilliantly talented session singers whom I have worked with on a variety of projects throughout the years, and I made a new friend in Karen #4. Everyone was so uniquely hilarious, talented, collaborative, a team player, and easy-going. I could go on, and l love and cherish my Karen sisters. It also felt wonderful to stretch the other side of my singer-musicality brain; instead of sightreading music on a staff, we learn everything by rote – we each pick out a harmonic line, memorize it, and/or utilize the number system of scale degrees for our individual pitches instead of notes on a staff – the BGV way instead of the session singer way. It felt wonderful to do.
The writers were so collaborative with us and honored our musical choices and preferences, which was lovely. They changed lyrics, and wardrobe dramatically shifted our looks so many times that our character quirks had to change right along with them… thus is showbiz.
It felt so great to be in a stage production like that again, where you have to be constantly on your toes. Also, may I just say, the crew on Jimmy Kimmel Live is the most kind and gracious that I have ever encountered… I never wanted to leave!
Kimmel came in at the very last rehearsal and we got him to laugh. The best, however, was that Sting was the featured artist the night before, when we had to run-through the songs for the first time. He popped around the partition as we were signing to tell us that “we sounded wonderful” as we all tried not to squeak out in our surprised delight.
We asked him if he was ‘listening to the lyrics, though?’ since we may have sounded wonderful, but we were singing absolute abhorrent things, as Karens would do. As he walked away and we rehearsed “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” with replaced lyrics of “I swear that I’m not a racist, I swear that I’m not a racist, I swear that I’m not a racist, I have a black friend…” we hear Sting erupt with laughter in the back room, and it just made our day. We knew we had nailed that one.
AF: As we look to 2022, are there any goals or projects you can talk about?
Jackman: Well, as is the gig-life, I tend to get notice of projects and sessions with a week’s notice, if I am lucky, so I know not yet what 2022 has in store, but I have high hopes. I was invited to sing at Coachella in 2020 right before COVID swiftly cancelled everything, so I would sure love to be asked back when the festival returns.
I would love to do more live-events and BGVs in general, maybe even a tour if I can manage it with my SCL schedule. I do however love session work most of all, and I am secretly hoping that Hans feels inspired to perhaps write for a Fremen Choir in DUNE part II, but I dare not jinx such a thing or presume that I would be called, but I can dream.
More than anything, I simply want scoring work and vocal sessions to return to LA musicians as we lost a lot of work overseas during the pandemic. When my musical colleagues win, I win, too.