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Annie B.: a Marquette alum with rock star status

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Annie B. & The Vegabond Company are releasing their debut album this weekend. Photo courtesy of Annette Bzdawka.

Annette Bzdawka, a Marquette alumna and 2011 Wisconsin Area Music Award nominee has dreams of touring the country and sharing her music. Known by most just as Annie B., she has made a large impact locally with her music and with her side project Milwaukee Artbeat, a showcase of visual and performing arts of all types.

Originally from the north side of Milwaukee, Annie B. grew up like any other kid. Her plan was to study hard, go to college, graduate and then settle into a career: the typical American life.

“I was on the path of getting good grades, getting a good job. The good girl type of thing,” she said.

Annie B. found herself continuing down that path here at Marquette, where she majored in psychology. After graduating in December 1991,  her anxiousness to leave the Midwest behind influenced her decision to peruse a doctorate at the University of Nevada-Reno.

But Annie B. struggled to find her place in Reno. She was depressed and frustrated to find that an institution she thought was built on actual knowledge was based instead on political games. Feeling unhappy and out of place, she came home to Milwaukee over her summer break and picked up a guitar.

“I’ve always been interested in music, but I never did anything about it,” she said. “I was told to get a job where you can make money and have a normal life.”

Becoming a rock star wasn’t something that crossed Annie B.’s mind when she first learned to strum a guitar, but that decision became the start of a path that would send her good-girl plan out the window.

Annie B. went back to school full time in Reno the next year, but brought with her a new passion. She performed at bars and found the possibility of a music career more appealing than working as a therapist.

“When I was playing music, everything was positive,” she said.

With her interest in school dwindling, Annie B. tried attending part time but eventually quit and focused all her energy towards music.

After a few small projects, she packed up and moved to Los Angeles in 1999. With no family, no job and no plan besides chasing a dream, Annie B. found a one-room apartment in the heart of Hollywood and formed her first band, Shut Up Marie.

The band received a decent amount of airplay and stirred up good press from the critics, but it was still hard to make a living in the Los Angeles “pay to play” music scene.

Hollywood eventually grew tiresome for Annie B. In 2006, she called it quits and hit the road on her own. Living out of her car and booking gigs around Texas, she discovered her inner peace and artistic freedom, and it showed up in her songwriting.

A year later she came home to Milwaukee to celebrate Christmas and found her mother in the hospital and her father suffering from Alzheimer’s. She’s been here ever since.

“I knew I would always end up back here at some point,” she said. “It’s home. It’s always been home.”

Annie B. has been back in Milwaukee for four years now. In January of this year, Annie B. formed her current band, Annie B. & The Vagabond Company, with funk bassist “Fender” Freddy, drummer Dave Johnson and lead guitarist Cam DeWinter.  Their first album, “Fancies Of A Random Heart,” debuts Oct 14. The lighthearted album is something Annie B. can present to her fans with pride.

“This is a fun project. The songs are a bit more whimsical,” she said. “I always go back to that theme of trying to find peace and love in the world, though. It’s such an important message.”

Annie B. even enlisted the help of retired Marquette French professor Steven M. Taylor and his wife Dr. Marisa Gatti-Taylor, along with others from the French department on campus to help translate her song “Cat Girl” into French.

“I’ll always have a soft spot for Marquette,” she said. “I take pride in being a MU grad.”

The dropping of Annie B. & The Vagabond Company’s first album is an achievement Annie B. has worked hard for. For any musician, the road to success is filled with mishaps that are sometimes too big to overcome. Luckily for Annie B., her rock star attitude keeps her prevailing.

Annie B. & The Vagabond Company’s release party for their debut album “Fancies of a Random Heart,” is Oct. 14 at Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave. Live music and art starts at 8 p.m. Local band I’m Not A Pilot performs at 9 p.m. followed by Annie B. & The Vagabond Company at 10:30 p.m.  A door charge of $10 includes a copy of “Fancies of a Random Heart” and free appetizers.

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