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Best known as the musician behind the acclaimed Baltimore alt-folk act disappear fear, singer/songwriter Sonia Rutstein has performed and released music under the name SONiA, SONiA & disappear fear, and, in the latter part of her career, SONiA disappear fear. Since emerging in the late 1980s, her music has been quite varied and difficult to pigeonhole, though themes of feminism, political activism, and LGBTQ rights have continuously informed her songwriting. She began disappear fear as an acoustic duo with her sister, Cindy, who later bowed out in 1996. After a series of solo releases in the late '90s and early 2000s, SONiA resumed using different iterations of the disappear fear moniker on albums and tours including 2007's unique, multilingual Tango album, which received a Grammy nomination. She was briefly joined by her sister for the band's 2011 album, Get Your Phil, though subsequent releases like 2013's Broken Film were again led solely by SONiA. A world traveler and celebrated humanitarian, she has performed around the globe, from Fiji to Jerusalem, and has been featured in numerous rallies, marches, and benefit concerts for peace, LGBTQ advocacy, and progressive political issues. She has also shared stages with dozens of high profile acts, from Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger to Green Day and Joan Jett. She is the recipient of the Coin of Honor from a joint coalition of the U.S. military and has earned awards from the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards (GLAMA) and the Gay and Lesbian American Anti-Defamation Awards (GLAAD). After singing out against anti-Semitism on 2019's By My Silence, SONiA celebrated her career with the 2020 retrospective Love Out Loud. Rutstein and her sister, Cindy Frank (who, like SONiA, went by stylized moniker CiNDY), formed disappear fear in 1987, establishing themselves in Baltimore's folk scene with socially conscious songs that paired feminism and LGBTQ issues with sophisticated harmonies and pop-inflected melodies. Unlike their folk contemporaries, the Indigo Girls, disappear fear remained a staunch D.I.Y. act and released music on their own independent label until 1994, when they signed with folk stalwart Rounder Records. By 1996, Cindy left to focus on her family, and SONiA began performing as a solo artist, releasing the solo albums Almost Chocolate, Me, Too, and No Bomb Is Smart. As a solo artist, her music tended toward a mix of rugged folk-rock with pop elements, though she also toured a solo acoustic act, playing around the world. In 2007, she began a new strain of her previous group called SONiA & disappear fear and issued the Grammy-nominated Tango album, which was sung largely in Spanish with a few songs in Hebrew and English. The unique project raised her profile, and she followed it up with a 2009 compilation, Splash, and a 2010 live album credited to the same group name, Blood, Bones, and Baltimore. Reuniting with her sister, CiNDY, in 2011, they reverted back to the disappear fear name for a proper duo album. CiNDY again bowed out for 2013's Broken Film, which featured a full band led by SONiA. Focusing on touring Europe, she began identifying by the name SONiA Disappear Fear and recorded the 2015 solo acoustic concert album LiVE at MAXiMAL in Rodgau, Germany. In another unique project, she collaborated with Baltimore playwright Jody Nusholtz on the musical Small House, No Secrets. SONiA's 2019 album, By My Silence, reflected on her time spent in Europe and her experiences witnessing anti-Semitism. 2020 brought a compilation of her solo years called Love Out Loud.
© Timothy Monger /TiVo
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