Bulldog of the month: Singer Cally Nielsen

Videography: Rachel Brown

UMD senior Cally Nielsen has loved music her entire life and has been surrounded by her passion in all aspects. As a double major in music with a vocal emphasis, communication sciences disorders (CSD), and a minor in psychology, one might wonder where she finds the time to practice this passion.

“A lot of people think it's impossible to do a lot of things when you’re in college,” Nielsen said. “I think I’ve successfully done that and I want other people to know that it's possible to do so many things.”

Nielsen said she comes from a very musical family and has sung her entire life.

Nielsen performing with Laura Velvet and the Bookhouse Boys. Photo by Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Nielsen performing with Laura Velvet and the Bookhouse Boys. Photo by Glenn Blaszkiewicz

“My dad, he does a lot of folk and blues music so we grew up hearing him play guitar and all original music,” Nielsen said. “We started singing at his shows with him when we were younger too. I remember the first open mic that we did together. [My sister and I] were so little.”

One of the many things Nielsen does is sing under the stage name Annie Blackbird in a local band called Laura Velvet and the Bookhouse Boys.

“We do a lot of motown, ‘50s and ‘60s jazz, and it’s really sultry,” Nielsen said. “We do full dress too. We have the long black dresses, big hair, and silk gloves. The guys wear their suits too. Sometimes they pull out their Ray Bans if they really want to be classy.”

The band is made up of eight members: three singers, including Nielsen, two guitarists, a pianist, a drummer, and a saxophone player. All three of the singers have attended UMD and the five other members are local businessmen.

“Besides us three girls all the guys are pretty much in their fifties,” Nielsen said. “They’ve been jamming together for 20 plus years so their sound is super tight.”

Nielsen said her favorite music to perform with the band is girl-group Motown.

“We do the dance moves and everything with it,” Nielsen said. “I’ve just grown so close with these girls, it gets so much more fun every performance we put on.”

The band is growing so much with every performance, every rehearsal, and every recording session. Nielsen said the group grows closer with every performance and she really believes there’s something worth pursuing. Nielsen is excited to see where the band goes.

“I love the band so much,” Nielsen said. “It’s my outlet.”

Nielsen said the band is mainly the reason she's decided to take a year off before attending grad school for speech and language therapy.

“Band and choir and music has always been really present in my life,” Nielsen said. “It's been my favorite way to communicate with people. I feel like I can successfully express myself more within music.”

Lisa Holmann (L) and Cally Nielsen (R) singing together Photo by Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Lisa Holmann (L) and Cally Nielsen (R) singing together Photo by Glenn Blaszkiewicz

Nielsen said she originally came to UMD to pursue instrumental music education, but changed her major to get into the clinical route of music therapy.

“I found CSD here,” Nielsen said. “We don't have a music therapy program and I wasn't about to leave UMD because I love this campus and I love this place, so I kind of make-shifted my own major.”

Nielsen wanted to go into CSD so she could do a master’s equivalency program in music therapy but said she also grew to love speech and language therapy. Her passion inspired her to do more research on how she can integrate both fields.

“I talk a lot in my everyday life and I sing a lot,” Nielsen said. “That’s always been my outlet of expression so I want to go into a field where I can help people discover how to find that outlet of expression for themselves.”

UMD senior and marketing and graphic design major Zac Mikulak first met Cally while in the same rock group during Bulldog Welcome Week. Nielsen told Mikulak she loved to sing when they first met. In response, he mentioned that he played guitar, which led to her excitedly suggesting they jam sometime. Mikulak’s first thought was “wow, this girl is a lot to handle.”

Mikulak still thinks Nielsen is a lot to handle, but said she’s come very far.

“It's been so awesome to watch her go from a girl doing some open mic nights to being in a band like Laura Velvet,” Mikulak said. “She's grown so much and I think that there's no stopping her.”

According to Mikulak, Nielsen has always been one to juggle good grades, working, being as musical as possible, while also being extremely social.

“I feel like I hit the jackpot with Cally,” Mikulak said. “She's an amazing friend who always tries to help you reach new heights. I would definitely say she's one of my best friends.”

Mikulak said Nielsen is very supportive of his interests. She’s constantly giving him feedback, giving him voice lessons and even sings duets with him just to make him feel more comfortable.

Nielsen said that she wants to produce more of her own music next year.

“I’m ready to explore more of myself,” Nielsen said. “It's going to be like my year full of creativity.”

According to Nielsen, the best thing for current UMD students to do in order to succeed is talking with your advisors, networking with friends and upperclassmen, and pushing your own boundaries.

“Try to get out and push yourself to do as many things as you can, even if you don’t think you’re going to like something,” Nielsen said.


NewsZack Benz