A father and Daughter Found Each Other— and Then Found a Musical Home in Woodbury as the The Chuck Solberg Trio Featuring Kristen Solberg

When Chuck Solberg walked into Northern Vineyards Winery in Stillwater and heard his daughter, Kristen Freyja Solberg, sing for the first time, he was impressed. “I realized immediately that she was a terrific singer—which I had nothing to do with.”

Chuck’s opinion should carry a bit more weight than the usual parental pride. That’s because Chuck, who turns 67 in December, has been a professional musician for about 60 years, playing piano and touring with blues artists including the late B.B. King and Luther Allison, and also doing temporary gigs with Chuck Berry and the Shirelles, among others. He and his younger brother Jim (a well-known blues guitarist and singer) grew up on the south side of Chicago, a hotbed of blues and jazz.

Chuck was briefly married to Kristen’s mother, a successful painter named Nancy Solberg, back in the late ’60s, but went back on the road not long after Kristen was born in 1968. He was having his own struggles with alcohol (he eventually got sober) and the unstable road life of a musician. “I was out of her life completely, until we moved back here and I went to hear her sing with a band,” he says.

Growing up in Bloomington, Kristen found out that her distant father was a musician; her mother had a picture of Chuck sitting on a porch holding a banjo. “Mom must have told me he played piano,” she remembers. “And we had some of his pottery around. She told me some really good things about him. I guess she wanted me to feel good about myself.”

While music was her first love, Kristen grew up drawing, painting and designing; she went on to earn a degree in design and fine arts at the University of Minnesota. As a little girl, she messed around on the piano and did some choir singing, but didn’t focus on performing until college, when she started writing songs. “I was told I could sing in high school choir; the director wanted me to do solos, but I was too shy or something,” she says.
Her artist mother’s record collection left an indelible imprint on her musical psyche. “I was an old soul; when my girlfriends were listening to Duran Duran, I was listening to Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt and Patsy Cline,” Kristen says with a laugh. When torch singer Nora Jones came on the national scene, “I heard her and thought, ‘Oh, dang, she’s doing what I was wanting to do.’” In college, Kristen started auditioning for bands and sang with several in Twin Cities clubs. In 1995, she formed a duo with White Bear Lake guitar player Nick Hall, and performed as a singer-guitarist for about a decade.

Now a stay-at-home mom living with her daughter in south Minneapolis, Kristen reconnected with her father at the 2001 Uptown Art Fair, where Chuck was selling his pottery. (The one-time high school dropout earned a Master of Fine Arts degree and became an award-winning potter, with pieces in a number of museum collections around the country). “At first, we didn’t know he was there, but we saw his name on the list of artists,” Kirsten says. “My friend said, ‘You’ve got to go meet him.’ I knew he was working and we had a quick conversation.”

She didn’t know it then, but the music that had separated them would eventually bring them back together. The father and daughter subsequently met for coffee a few times and gradually got reacquainted. Then he went to hear her sing in Stillwater with a band called Suede Baby, and realized his daughter had evolved into a bluesy jazz singer, with a natural “feel” for those classic styles, according to Chuck. He says, “I hadn’t been around her in 30 years and I was pretty objective, given my long history in music. She just had something special—the quality of her voice, her phrasing, her rhythmic approach.”

They discovered an affinity for the same kinds of music, and the same artists. “A lot of things we had never talked about,” Chuck says. “‘Oh, you like that song, too?’” They performed together for the first time at the Edina Art Center and realized their vocal harmonies were perfect. “I could sing all day long with her,”  Chuck says. “Our voices make a natural mix.” In 2007, they recorded a CD of Christmas songs.

Now, Chuck and Kristen have found a musical home in Woodbury at Angelina’s Kitchen, where St. Paul resident Chuck has been playing solo weekly since late 2014. In December, he expanded to the current trio format, adding  Kristen as vocalist, and upright bassist Sig Nordskog.
The Chuck Solberg Trio Featuring Kristen Solberg plays there on the second, third and fourth Saturday nights of each month. They perform a mix of what could be called classic American music, filtered through a shared sensibility of jazz and swing. They might cover country icon Hank Williams, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, a New Orleans R&B tune and Nat King Cole in the space of a single set.

This summer, they released their first full-length CD, a collection of tunes recorded live in the studio. A quick sampling of the rough mixes reveals their affinity for music with a solid groove. Even a classic country tune they recorded for their upcoming CD, Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Crazy Arms,” has bluesy syncopation and a swinging beat.

To decide what type of tunes to play each night at Angelina’s, Chuck “reads the room,” a seat-of-the-pants skill he learned from some of the blues bandleaders he worked with. The audience reception has been gratifying, Kristen says. “It’s a beautiful environment and people seem to appreciate what we’re doing. It’s nice to get that feedback, to know that somebody’s night was made.” She remembers audience members like an older man from Colombia, who came up and hugged her after a set.

Angelina’s owner Angela Verrastro says the Solberg duo brings “a big city feel to our little neighborhood spot on Saturday nights. Their sound is more what you would expect to hear in downtown Chicago, where Chuck performed for years. We are fortunate to have them here in Woodbury.”

Chuck and Kristen Solberg are home at last—together.   

Learn more and see a performance schedule at the website here.