Editor’s Note: Five years ago we had an idea. Being a woman-owned publication, it made sense to us to celebrate women who were making a difference in the industries we cover. So, we started a “little” feature for Women’s History Month called “Reel Women.” To say it blossomed into something special would be a vast understatement. It exploded. Over the last four years, we have gotten to know leaders, mentors and visionaries from a variety of creative industries. We have learned about their ups. And how they get back up after being down. This is our 5th Annual REEL WOMEN. For the month of March, let us introduce you to some very special women like voice-over and TV actress, Joan Baker.
Joan’s the winner of multiple Promax and Telly awards for TV commercials, promos and documentaries, as a voice actor, on-camera host and producer. Professional voice-over credits include; narrating a documentary about the founding of the William Jefferson Clinton Library, now a part of the library’s permanent display; ABC Daytime, CBS Sports, HLN, TBS, ESPN, Showtime, Chase, Walmart, Coke, American Express, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and many more.
Joan is the first VO artist to take on being a national spokesperson for the top brand microphone, Neumann since 2009.
Let’s meet Joan.
What’s your origin story?
I grew up in a mixed-race family. My mother was Black, and my father was white. I grew up with three younger brothers in an all-white San Francisco suburb called Marin County. It was during the civil rights era in America, but Martin Luther King wasn’t marching in my neighborhood, and America’s race problem wasn’t discussed in my home.
We were the first blacks to move into the community, and my brothers and I learned about the race problem by daily examples of being ostracized by the community. I grew up with a serious ambition to be a leader in the entertainment field and to be a humanitarian. I used to dream about meeting every person on earth. I never stopped dreaming, but I came to accept that I would have to pursue my dreams in the face of being constantly slapped back, ignored, and shunned by neighbors, schoolmates, and teachers.
I carry those emotional and psychological wounds to this day, but I actively work on it from a healing and wellness perspective, and I use it as a reality that inspires me to keep dreaming and to create opening for others to dream. It’s not over. Events of the past continually remake themselves in today’s world. But I have the power to choose how I want to respond, to remake and create a way to move through the world powerfully and with the same spirit I held as a child.
In fact, it was holding on to my dreams and goals that really saved me in my darkest moments. Now I understand that dreams don’t have to manifest as you imagine them. They have a more vital purpose, which is to inspire you to keep moving forward.
How did you get into Entertainment?
My professional career started in 6th grade when I got into a top talent agency in San Francisco. I was immediately booked in a major motion picture called, One is a Lonely Number. Then I auditioned with 100’s of bay-area kids for one spot as a regular on a popular kids’ TV show called Whatchamacallit.
I got it! For two blissful years, I enjoyed being one of the players and embarking on assignments around the San Francisco area to bring back stories to the TV audience. One week I could find myself interviewing Angela Davis and the next week I’d interviewing circus clowns at a Barnum Bailey circus. Plus, I was studying ballet and modern dance at a local dance school.
Ultimately, I believed New York City would be where my dreams would manifest. I went to NYC straight out of high school on a scholarship to Alvin Ailey. I also added acting classes to my training. As Ailey training came to a close and I began auditioning for roles, I was shocked to discover the being mixed race was a marketing problem. Agents and producers would to me explain that in spite of my talent, they needed to carefully target their audiences.
They couldn’t afford to have the audience wondering what race I was rather than focusing on the product. That was a real thing. That’s when I got focused on voice acting. I would continue pursuing acting and dance, but with voice acting, I wouldn’t have to be seen by the public. I poured myself into training and got signed with the Buchwald Agency, which was as big as it gets. My voice acting career took off and that changed my entire life changed.
Who were your mentors?
My mentors were my life situations. Seriously, in New York making my own way, and with very little in the way of life skills. I learned many lessons the hard way. My saving grace was that I learned fast. The school of hard knocks as they called it. However, I did discover a beautiful soul who was deeply clairvoyant who sort of took me on as a project.
She saw my trauma and made it her mission to help me through it. I suppose I could call her a mentor, but she was more of a Saint. Other mentors were the entertainment stars that were doing what I dreamed of doing. They were mentors from afar. Also, there were the dance and acting teachers that I worked with steadily. They were the only one-on-one mentors who were preparing me for the stage. But still I come back to my life situation.
I was and still am a very introspective person. I wanted the best for my life, and I was quick to dispense with negativity and misguided notions as soon as I identified them. I was able to shape my life by holding on to my dreams, thinking positively, and surrounding myself with people I believed in and who believed in me. One thing I’ve always appreciated about myself was my knack for choosing teachers. My mentors are my late Mom and Dad, my guru, Dr. Artie Vipperla, and my most constant and influential mentor, my gifted husband, Rudy Gaskins.
While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
Honestly, and I don’t take this lightly, my biggest achievement is my relationship with my husband. True love cannot be taken for granted. I’m talking about a love that is chosen, that’s accountable, growing, and inseparable from where you want to go and with whom you want to share your being. Once that was settled, all else came into being.
From a more traditional perspective my greatest achievement was galvanizing all the years of training, teaching, and developing workshops, classes, seminars, and conferences led up to creating a global non-profit charity, with my husband Rudy Gaskins, called The Society Of Voice Arts & Sciences (SOVAS).
It’s a global enterprise that educates, empowers, honors, and acknowledges voice-acting performers and other craft professionals behind the scenes of the voice-acting community. SOVAS is the forebear to numerous other enterprises seeking to bring energy and vitality to this community I love. I am very proud of that.
What drives you to create?
My soul, my heartbeat, my joy. Aside from dance and acting, I never had traditional creative skills like drawing, painting, photography, graphic design, etc. But I could envision ideas of grandeur and accomplishment.
What I became good at was marshaling the services of other creatives to bring my visions to life. I had lots of visual ideas, and campaigns even, that I couldn’t execute without experts in a variety of fields. Rather than forego the idea of a lack of expertise in a given area, I would seek out the experts and inspire them to help me make it a reality. So, what drives me to create is an internal spark that lives inside me. But what draws me into the creative moment is recognizing, appreciating, and engaging creative minds with whom I can build things.
Award you crave but haven’t won.
The Oscar! That’s where a lot of my dreams began. I have watched the Oscar’s every year without fail since I was 5 years old. It’s still an incredibly inspiring and magical event for me. Even more so today because I understand the struggles, hard work, sacrifice, and pain that go into the achievements recognized by the OSACAR.
Now, an OSCAR is not an award I see in my current trajectory, but being acknowledged is something I do see and feel almost every day. And that comes from my work, including having created the Voice Arts Award, which is bestowed by SOVAS on an annual basis. In fact, when we created the Voice Arts Awards, we didn’t select an off-the-shelf bauble from a trophy company.
We custom-designed the award with the same company that manufactured the OSCAR. We insisted on the same level of quality craftsmanship as the OSCAR, and we gave it a distinctive look that spoke to the craft for which it was designed to honor.
I feel like I got my OSCAR in this process. Every time I hear one of our winners deliver an acceptance speech, I feel like I got my OSCAR. The motto of that story is that you don’t have to wait for your OSCAR. You can create one.
What shows/movies/songs are doing the best job of portraying strong women on TV?
I find myself a little frustrated by what I see. Many of the so-called strong female characters are written as digital copies of roles typically linked with male characters: hostile, gun-toting, aggressive hard-asses who blow things up and save the world.
These characters are powerful, to be sure, but many of them seem to be portrayed as powerful only because they are doing things that male characters typically do. Women have always brought more to the table than the typical superheroes.
We have quietly been the truest superheroes all the long. Now we’re seeing respect for a woman’s vulnerability, intelligence, and fullness as human beings. We’ve reached a point now, where a growing aspect of manhood is to show the vulnerability that is typical of womanhood.
As actors, without a doubt I would point to Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, Olivia Coleman, Michelle Yeoh, Zendaya, Katee Sackoff, Mindy Kaling, Kim Wexler then in music Lady Gaga, Lizzo, Beyonce, Adele, and Billie Eilish. Of course, you didn’t ask about politics, STEM, literature, and human rights. Hello! We’ve come a long way, baby, and we’ve brought men along for the ride.
Is there still a boy’s club in entertainment?
Yes, but we’re trying to get them to come out of the clubhouse and play with the grown folks. The boy’s club is still there but is quickly falling apart. The boy now has wives and daughters who won’t stand for being less than their whole selves. You can’t stop that train.
The rich boy’s club is the real threat. You have animals like Elon Musk who wield their power like angry children. But more and more, these individuals are becoming laughable caricatures of power – unenlightened and expendable.
Today’s adolescent females are, in many ways, lightyears ahead of women over 40. We’re all sharing the same space at the same time, but their point of view penetrates deeper.
Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman (living or dead) you would like to attend each function with.
Coffee with Oprah because, like me, she operates from a spiritual path, and I feel I would resonate with her insight in ways that reach me to my spiritual bone marrow. Lunch with Rihanna because she seems to hold a deep wisdom and seriousness that is a gift to anyone seeking to scale up their business acumen in the world of entertainment. Josephine Baker is my fun-loving, kindred spirit. Happy hour would be the perfect time to swap stories, get on the dance floor, laugh till we drop, and then share war stories.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled against Roe v Wade. What can women in entertainment do to defend a woman’s rights?
Each woman’s body belongs to her. We can each choose what we want to do with our bodies. It’s an absolute right. And it’s just and proper for those who chose one side or the other to live their lives according to their belief.
That does not only go for women, but it goes for the medical professionals who choose to help women follow their beliefs with every expectation for a healthy outcome. The one good thing that has come out of the Supreme court decision, is that the Supreme Court never had any business deciding this matter in the first place. It’s like asking the Supreme Court to decide on matters of love and kindness.
It’s interesting that the Supreme Court “decides” matters. “Cide” comes from Latin, where it has the meaning of “to kill, killer, to strike down.” So, when you decide you get to a result by killing off options until you arrive at the one you want. However, when you choose, nothing is killed in the process. I believe in choice.
What keeps you up at night?
Whether I will be able to complete the next step, goal, or milestone toward achieving my dream and leaving something meaningful behind. That’s what it is ultimately. But the way it shows up is in a myriad of little things having to do with projects, deadlines, and funding – a la never-ending to-do list. I also worry about my mortality, my well-being, and the well-being of the people I love.
I worry mostly at night. Fortunately, comes the morning, I find I slip easily into my action plan, and I revel in small successes that will eventually become meaningful achievements.
What’s up with Beyoncé being nominated for 4 Best Albums of the year but never winning?
It may be a blessing in disguise because every album she creates is a radical breakthrough in creativity, style, movement, and message. Maybe she reaches deeper and further because of it. One day she will win Album of the Year and when she does it will reverberate around the globe like none other! Watch!
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