Toni Childs began her traveling early. Born in Orange, California, she grew up in small desert farm towns and moved to distant states such as Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nevada. Raised in a family where movies and rock'n'roll were forbidden, she ran away from home at 15 and hitched up and down the West Coast jamming with local blues bands.
In 1972 Childs saw Pink Floyd at the Cow Palace in 1972 and had an epiphany that sparked her imagination and spurred her to seriously consider becoming a singer/songwriter. In 1979, after briefly becoming one of many singers for the group Berlin, she formed Toni and the Movers which included Micki Steele (later of The Bangles) and Jack Sherman (a future Red Hot Chili Pepper).
In 1981 Toni formed a band called Nadia Kapiche, which included Dave Rhodes (Peter Gabriel), Mike Cotzi (Shreikback), Martin Swaine (The Waterboys, World Party) and Steve Creese (World Party).
With the release of Childs' debut album, Union (1988) Time Magazine wrote: "In a year of auspicious breakthroughs for women writer-performers, Childs was the standout." The New York Times called Childs "one of the most promising among a new generation of composers and performers." Not unexpectedly, she earned Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rock Vocal Performance (Female). Her first tour? Opening for Bob Dylan.
"It was all very scary-a roller coaster," she says. "Music is such a personal thing for me and I'm a very private person. I thought I wanted to be seen and then I realized I didn't want that at all."
1991's House of Hope had a very different take on life. "The first album was joy and love. But we're not all light, and my darkness had to have a voice. Some people asked, 'Why so dark?' That confused me because I didn't think it was a negative. I thought it was courageous saying what I saw, living past it and letting it go. I'm very proud of it."
The album (whose title song was heard in the film Thelma and Louise) was dedicated to "people who are growing, people who are just getting by, and people hanging on for dear life." Touring Australia, Childs found that description encompassed an audience even more diverse than she imagined. "This gray-haired older woman at an airport x-ray machine referred to the song 'I've Got To Go Now' and said, 'You wrote my life!'" Toni says of her Australian shows: "There'd be a guy with long red hair and a beard singing his heart out to 'Stop Your Fussin.' On the other side of the stage a housewife, and up front two kids with spiked hair."
It was while she was making House of Hope that she volunteered to join an Earthwatch excursion to the Kewola Basin lab in Hawaii. During her last week there, she saw a boy with terminal cancer swimming with dolphins. The joyous effect it had on him touched her deeply. She subsequently conceived Dream a Dolphin, an organization designed to create a care facility where such miracles can occur.
In February of 2003, supporting an effort to raise money for the island of Kauai‘s YWCA Sexual Assault Treatment Center, Childs was invited to perform in a local production of The Vagina Monologues at the Kilauea Theatre. After the performance Childs got to spend some one-on-one time with Eve Ensler, the Vagina Monologues author. Almost instantaneously, Eve asked me in her blunt New York manner I would come to know and love, “Why aren’t you singing?” It was definitely a subject I didn’t really know how to respond to. Yes, I hadn’t made a record in nine years. I started to stammer out an answer and before I could get a word in she hit me again with, “Why aren’t you singing?”
Childs then proceeded to explain…by the end of 1997 with one eye bulging, and her heart pounding, she had been diagnosed with acute Graves Disease and was told by three doctors that she needed to change her lifestyle. At that time, she had been living at high stress altitude for over a year, and had jokingly dubbed her life "the stress Alps".
She was put on heart inhibitors and told she would have to be on thyroid medication for the rest of her life. So she stopped her life in Los Angeles as she knew it, and eventually landed on the beautiful island of Kauai in Hawaii.
“At first it felt good to stop, but after a while I started to put on a great deal of weight. I was depressed. My realizations were this; I had overly defined myself through my work achievements, and my disease boiled down to a lack of self-love -- a beauty wound. Essentially I had to admit that I had what so many of my women friends have -- the not enough syndrome. Just proclaim, "I’m not thin enough" (smart enough, pretty enough, etc.), and you're part of an international women's club”, she says.
In an effort to change her constant mental pattern of never being enough, Childs proceeded to create a physical meditation with salt rubs she had made myself using herbs and essential oils. She applied her concoctions religiously every time she took a shower, and lovingly touched and thanked every part of her body. Soon, the weight started coming off and she was able to reduce her reliance on medication - slowly, weaning herself off it completely.
It was around this time that Eve also asked Childs to write “an anthem that will inspire people to end violence against women and girls for all time”. Eve wanted to include it in a documentary called “Until the Violence Stops. Say yes!”
Childs was given an August deadline, and after seeing the rough cut of the documentary, ruminated about the song for months. She was deeply moved and inspired by the incredible work Eve’s V-DAY organization was doing internationally. However, everything I tried seemed empty and trite in comparison. Finally however, waking up one morning watching a beautiful sunrise, she had an "Aha" moment. I reflected on the power of the moment and realized:
When the sun came out and lit up the world, it didn’t judge itself, it just was. I thought about all the women in the world, and how each and every one is a living beauty. It just is so. And then it hit me: if violence was really going to end against women, women needed to first stop the violence they inflicted upon themselves. I thought about the violence I had perpetrated on myself every day. I reflected on the small ways that I inhibited myself from feeling the beauty and power that I truly am. I thought about the lack of love I have felt for myself and how it manifested itself in bad health, and what a difference the powerful effects of self-love and acknowledging my unique beauty had on my overall presence.
The result of this realization was the son Because You’re Beautiful, recorded with the help of David Ricketts, David Tickle and Eddy Free. All proceeds from the song were gifted to the V-DAY Organization to assist with their commitment to end violence against women. The team were very happy and proud to have been awarded an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Music and Lyrics for this inspired project!
This article appeared in Vol 3 Issue 28 of The Art of Healing