Helene and Michael Kates
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Helene and Michael Kates

Atlanta, Georgia, United States | INDIE

Atlanta, Georgia, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Beyond Walls"

When I first emailed Helene Kates, a singer and songwriter, about being a guest at a writing workshop I facilitate at Metro State Prison, she was hesitant. Jane Davis, the director of HOPE-HOWSE, had asked me to contact her. My email request went unanswered, and I wondered why. All I knew about Helene was a few fleeting moments I had been with her at HOPE-HOWSE functions, never really having spoken to her except a surface hello.

As I checked my email the following week, my request to her still lay dormant in my sent box, lonely and unrequited. I decided to email her again.

Her reply – “I kept putting off calling. Kept meaning to but I guess my fear was helping me to put it on the back burner. I am really glad you emailed me again. I would love to talk to you as well.”

I immediately called this woman who I barely knew, but to whom I felt connected in the moment when I read her words.

“I’m so glad you called,” she said. She admitted that she wanted so much to go with me, but she was terrified…afraid for her physical safety. Never having been even near a prison, her only conception of what lay behind the barbed wire was one of fear and violence – images of violent criminals she had only been exposed to on television and in movies.

I could feel her resistance. I could taste her fear, I was cloaked in her discomfort. But, somehow, woven in with the fear, I felt a longing, a yearning to connect with women she had no understanding of, women that until now were not even on the periphery of her world. I heard her cry to pull her out of her complacency into the domain that fear cannot touch – the call to make a difference, the courage to go in spite of her fear. She later told me, “I was so scared, but a little voice kept telling me this is what I needed to do.”

I heard that small voice too, screaming from a space so deeply buried that its voice was muffled, but yelling silently to be heard, just as was Helene. I sensed that tiny voice struggling desperately to emerge and shift the world – as was Helene.

She said she would come, with the caveat that she may back out at the last minute. Not for one moment did I doubt that the following Wednesday, I would be traveling with a small, but powerful woman on a journey that would touch her life in a way she never imagined. I knew that the moment she became part of this group of women, part of the unbelievable energy and love present in this group, she would know how senseless her fear had been, as it dissolved like frost on a warm windshield. I knew she would be forever changed, and so would the group. I knew – but I could not tell her. She would never understand. She would never believe me. She couldn’t see beyond her own walls she so bravely built around this pending – and impending – experience. Jane’s counsel – “Don’t try to talk her out of her fear. It’s part of her journey, part of her experience. Let her have her fear!” My co-dependency wanted to protect her from her fear, to tell her everything would be all right, to hug and comfort her. But I heeded Jane’s words, knowing the advice was sound.

I called Helene a couple nights later to see how she was – still scared, but ready to go. The day before, I called her – still scared, but ready to go. Did I say scared? Terrified would be a better description.

We met for lunch before the workshop. I told her the rules for volunteers and the procedure. She was okay she said – ready to go, but still terrified. As we talked, we swallowed the bits of anticipation and crumbs of fear like the morsels of a meal we would digest in a smorgasbord of emotions.

When we arrived at the workshop, the women were gathered, seated, waiting…waiting for an experience none of us could have requested of the Universe – because we didn’t even know it was there to request. The women were so welcoming, so open, so trusting of this woman who, a few moments before, they didn’t know existed.

And Helene was welcoming, open, trusting of these women who, a few moments before, were not human beings, but stereotypical prisoners to be feared. It’s amazing how love gently nudges fear out of its path - a path winding its way through the lives of women touching to a degree even their writing could never grasp.

Helene’s beautiful voice and powerful melodies blended with the energy and unconditional love that flowed from her heart. She sang “nigguns” – Hebrew for “wordless melodies” – so powerful, so emotional, they spoke volumes, making our hearts sing and our souls dance, capturing the range of emotions rarely felt and often avoided.

The women were touched, moved, and inspired. The tissues, as the tears and the emotional streams, flowed – merging pain, joy, and gratitude.

“God sent an angel today, “Vicki said, “God wrapped His arms around me.”

And it was true. The nigguns God sang to us – through this tiny messenger – altered the melodies of our lives.

Yes, God wrapped His arms around us all, holding - Hope-Howse


Upcoming CD - release date Spring 2008

Singles: Sweet Sally, 800 Miles, Where is Emily, Sitting Still, Empty Spaces, Ocean Lullaby



Helene and Michael Kates are a high energy, spiritually driven Atlanta - based duo. In their live performances, Helene sings while her husband Michael adds harmony and alternates between guitar and keyboards. Their songs, though varied in style, have a strong common thread that makes for a powerfully moving show. They have a unique ability to interpret a variety of different ethnic and musical genres as if they were born into them.

Helene's honest sweet soul shines through in every note she sings and word she crafts. Her voice seems to surround and transport you into the life of the song she is singing. "Her beautiful voice and powerful melodies blend with the energy and unconditional love that flows from her heart- speaking volumes..., capturing the range of emotions rarely felt" said Debbie Ellison, freelance writer.

Michael's musical chops were developed on the piano. When he was nine years old, he joined the first of what would be many bands. At 17 he began studying jazz improvisation with pianist Sal Mosca. "I stayed with Sal for 11 years as I continued to work in various jazz and rock & roll bands," Michael explains. "Sal taught me improvisation and insisted that if one can really improvise, that is, create spontaneous music without any impediment between intent, feeling and execution, one can play anything." Michael took Sal's words to heart and though piano was his first love, he dove head first into guitar as the duo began writing more folk oriented songs.

Helene's introduction to a professional career in music began in her early teens when she was cast as one of the musical leads in "Speaking Out" with the American Youth Repertory at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway. You can hear the musical theatre influence in her live shows when she belts out a note leaving you mesmerized by the dynamic energy that sparkles from her tiny 4 foot 10 frame. She is equally at home with a softer folk song as she connects with a quieter more internal voice to a range of genuine emotional moments.

Throughout her teens, Helene studied voice, dance, and acting in New York, performing in various repertory theaters and at Carnegie Hall with the South Shore Big Band. She felt like she was living her dream, but life seemed to have other plans. "My Mom died and I gave it all up to work for my Dad in the family printing business. I just didn't have the strength, to put myself out there without her," Helene remembers. "But the music kept playing inside me and keeping it locked up wasn't working."

Then Helene received a "big wake up call" when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. "That's when the songs started pouring out of me. Writing the songs was almost a kind of therapy, a search for a way to make sense of what had happened and figure out where to go from here."

The search led her back to her Jewish roots where she formed a group, "The Baal Shem Tones", with her husband and daughter. During one of their tours, they stopped at a local Cracker Barrel where they had a "Folkways" display set up. Their daughter Sarah picked out a Celtic music compilation to listen to on the long ride home and she played it over and over again. Helene was moved and realized that "there was something that reached so deep down in my soul, I wanted to sing this new music and make it mine."

And so, while the Kates continued to compose Jewish-themed material, they were also writing lyrics and melodies with a completely different sound - compositions influenced by Celtic songs, mountain music, story songs reminiscent of renaissance ballads, and a few jazz inspired melodies too. "It felt like the world was opening up," says Helene "and we were having such a great time just letting it take us where it would. It just keeps getting better and I can't wait to see what's next."