Grief Sings: Angels Appear at the Tractor

Photograph by Heidi Peters

Of all the musicians who took the stage at Tractor Tavern on the first Sunday of December as part of the Angel Band Project – a musical group started in memory of slain South Park resident Teresa Butz – one woman in particular stood out. Not for the level of her grief, but for her ease and grace when mingling with guests and her commanding presence as she stood in front of the mic, often closing her eyes as she powerfully belted out the lyrics.

After her performance, she walked toward where I sat with a smile on her face. When I stopped her to ask her name, my jaw dropped slightly at her reply. This was Teresa’s partner, the woman who was with her when both were stabbed and raped in their home in July 2009. Rather than  hiding, broken, the Boston Conservatory trained–vocalist was positively radiant – although her voice caught as she talked about Teresa between songs.

The evening of music was a year in the making. Inspiration came to Teresa’s friends at the funeral held in her hometown of St. Louis as many members of her large and musical family put their grief into song. “It helped everyone else who was there feel a little bit better, like we could breathe,” Teresa’s childhood friend Jean Fox told me before the show. 

A few months later, Fox and another friend, Rachel Ebeling, decided to create the Angel Band Project to share that moment and honor Teresa. “Rachel and I just felt like someone needed to capture that, and that maybe if we did that it could help other people,” Fox said.

So began the collaboration of Teresa’s loved ones in four cities. They held five live recording sessions of original songs and covers, beginning with a session in Teresa’s parents’ living room. The proceeds from the album sales will be donated to the Voices and Faces Project, a national nonprofit that supports survivors of sexual violence. “It’s a very isolating experience for people who live through it, and we wanted to change that conversation,” Fox said before preparing for the performance that would put Teresa’s partner, who has asked to remain unidentified, onstage.  

Later, as Teresa’s partner brought the fittingly sad set to a close, she announced that they would be performing an up-tempo version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” a song that she said encapsulated Teresa’s joy. “One of my favorite things about Teresa,” she continued, “is she did nothing small. Including clap.” So audience members wiped away the tears and clapped along to the music. •