Clairdee on the greatest challenge she faced in her career

Clairdee Hero Faculty

A health crisis could’ve derailed her singing career early on, but Clairdee had other plans.

In her own words, professor of jazz voice, Clairdee discusses overcoming pulmonary sarcoidosis early in her career.

This is the first time I've talked about this to anyone outside of my family. The greatest challenge that I ever faced in my career was a health crisis when I was in my late 20s. At that time, I was on tour with the Air Force Band of the Golden Gate. Toward the end of the tour, I was starting to feel really short of breath, and completely exhausted. I can't even tell you what that felt like, just to walk a couple of feet felt like I was climbing a mountain. I was experiencing sharp pains in my chest. As I was singing, I was unable to sustain any notes. In fact, the real challenge was just to get enough air to sing through part of a phrase. I was scared. I had no idea what was going on.

When I got home, I made an appointment with my doctor. They discovered that I had pulmonary sarcoidosis. It's a disease I had never even heard of. Just hearing that was devastating. I'm a singer. I need my lungs in order to sing. It was really difficult to imagine that the dream that I had worked so hard for was going to be derailed by lung disease. The doctors wanted to prescribe me huge doses of steroids, and after researching all the side effects, I just chose not to do that. I thought the side effects were worse than the disease itself. I wanted to go a different route, something that would be personal to me. I like to take ownership of my physical health.

I did a lot of research and I determined that the better thing for me to do was to change my diet. I eliminated red meat, sugar, preservatives, and all of that. I have to say, my relatives thought I had lost my mind. “What do you mean, you're not eating mac and cheese, girl, there’s fried chicken over here, come on over here, get this cake.” That’s what we did–this was back in the 1980s. Though it may sound simplistic and naive, I really, truly believe that my determination, my persistence, my positive attitude, and also my faith, were really essential to my healing. It took about two years or so before I could really get that pulmonary strength back. I never gave up the dream that I was going to be singing professionally. That was 40 years ago.”

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