Kate Quinby’s life is defined by two songs on her debut album, Tribute to Water. The first is the title song, inspired by the spiritual feeling she experienced after visiting the breathtaking Sipi Waterfalls in Uganda. The second song, “Katrina,” recounts her memories of New Orleans, which she was forced to evacuate following the devastating hurricane.
“I didn’t really think about it until the album was complete, but my life in many ways has been touched by water,” Quinby says.
When she came to Loyola in 2005, her name was Katharine Scrantom, a sophomore from Loyola University New Orleans. She, and some 250 other students displaced by Katrina, were accepted to LUC in early September 2005 for what was supposed to be one semester. But Quinby immediately fell in love with Loyola.
“I was studying Spanish and education, and Loyola had this new program called Bilingual Elementary Education. And I ended up with a scholarship,” she says.
While at Loyola, Quinby helped to start Invisible Conflicts, a student organization dedicated to shedding light on global issues that don’t receive major media attention. One of the group’s cornerstone projects is the Dwon Madiki Partnership, which raises money and conducts service missions to northern Uganda, where residents are trying to rebuild after war destroyed their villages.
Quinby had long been involved in music. She learned piano and flute as a child and sang in the high school chorus. She learned to play the guitar as a teen and began writing her own songs. At Loyola, Quinby began performing at open mic nights at local venues such as the Heartland Café and Uncommon Ground.
After she graduated in 2008, Quinby spent six months as a substitute teacher in Chicago before traveling to Uganda for some mission work. When she returned, Quinby decided to pursue her musical career instead of being a teacher.
“I was offered my ideal teaching job. But my gut was telling me it wasn’t right,” Quinby explains. “I said, ‘This is great. I spent all this money, and four and a half years of school, and I don’t want it.’”
Instead, Quinby performed her music at night while spending her days as a family support worker at the Howard Area Community Center, a social service organization in Rogers Park. She recently quit that job to focus on her musical career full time.
“It was kind of scary at first,” she says. “But I’ve come to believe that whatever comes in life, you need to immerse yourself in it. You can try to envision what your life is going to be like, but you can’t really predict what’s going to happen,” she says.
The songs on Tribute to Water combine folk, soul, jazz and blues. Quinby hopes that her music can be an instrument for something positive.
“My hope is to keep playing music to promote peace and social justice,” Quinby says. “I think music has always played a role in bringing people together, and I hope to continue that.”