Deaf music interpreter Jo Rose Benfield performed at the 2018 Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival in Austin, Texas! There were SO many famous musicians there, like Chance the Rapper and JAY-Z. Plus, she was the only Deaf ASL music interpreter at the festival. Jo Rose did 7 ACL shows this year. Tru biz!
Yay! Deaf music interpreters are getting recognition. She’s been interpreting music for years and we at Tru Biz have reached out to her for a quick chat.
Jo, do you feel it’s important for Deaf interpreters to be recognized as much as hearing interpreters?
JO ROSE: It’s common knowledge that there are hearing sign language interpreters. Most people are surprised to learn that there are Deaf interpreters, too. That there are Deaf interpreters that are musically skilled, on stage performing, so… Having that type of recognition is really a great way to expose the hearing community that there are actually Deaf interpreters, not just for music and the stage, but can also do all other things that hearing sign language interpreters can do.
MELISSA: So, when you’re on stage and doing your thing, what’s going through your mind?
JO ROSE: Initially, I tend to dwell on my earpieces. I do have some residual hearing left, so I rely heavily on the earpieces and the wireless device. Usually turned all the way up. I make sure I’m only listening to the vocals, so I can perform better. I read the lyrics in a monitor in front of me, kinda like watching TV with captions. It’s like that but with sign language. My biggest fear is that will all this be functioning? Will I be able to hear clearly? Is it loud enough? Will the earpieces disconnect? Because if that happened, My brain would disconnect from the process. I wouldn’t be able to carry the lyrics to the audience. With my earpieces off, I’d rely on the monitor even more. I also have to rely on my memory of the lyrics, so my mind is always on the tech stuff in case of situations like that. Also, my big thing is, will the audience be able to understand my signs? Am I clear? Do I make sense? Do you enjoy watching me and seeing the stage at the same time? Do we complement each other? Do I do the song justice? That’s the stuff that’s always on my mind. At the same time, I always look out there and am moved at the vast crowds, I mean, vast, and I’d look down, and I’d see my beloved Deaf community nearby. I love that. The opportunity for them to have equal access seeing my performance of the song. It’s a beautiful experience.
MELISSA: How do you hope to continue your ASL music interpreting career?
JO ROSE: This is more of a side job to me. This is my passion, being one with the music. So, hopefully, more opportunities will arise. Concerts, music festivals, but my number one desire is possibly going on tour with a musician, artist, become their personal interpreter. Of course, with a team. Like Chance did with Deafinitely Dope. He had an opportunity to experience the tour. I want to see more artists do that, take on their own personal interpreters. More Deaf interpreters, too! That’s the hope; to have more of those opportunities from here on out.
MELISSA: Anything else you want to share with Tru Biz?
JO ROSE: As a Deaf interpreter, this job is not easy at all. This requires a lot of work, a lot of hours spent studying, memorizing the lyrics, working with a team, et cetera. It’s a lot. You have to go above and beyond to accomplish that kind of level. So, yes, you have to have a strong passion for music and performing if you want to become a music or performing interpreter. To get those skills you must love what you do. At my end, I always wanted to become the next Madonna. Who knows, it might happen. But I will not give up. And keep going and stay positive.
MELISSA: Wow, what a great message, thank you! Keep on shining, Jo!