For 68-year-old Deena Yagi, singing is cheaper than therapy. That’s why you can find her on most slow school nights singing old song standards or current pop jazz artists like Duffy at Nick’s Lounge, a bar on Adeline Street in South Berkeley.
The lounge advertises itself as as a “relaxed, unpretentious bar” for local brews, nightly karaoke, live music and open-mic events. “It’s a very welcoming atmosphere,” said Yagi, an unimposing woman with a sultry voice reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, one Thursday evening before she took the stage.
“I try to come four nights a week,” she said. “Beyond that it’s too much, less than that it’s not enough. It’s like practice for me.”
Yagi started singing regularly at Nick’s Lounge about 10 years ago as she was going through a divorce. “I went through a bad time during that period,” she said. As her 30-year marriage was falling apart, she found that singing made her feel good. “It’s like eating dark chocolate,” she said.
Although Yagi sometimes chooses songs to fit the mood of the crowd, most of the time she chooses songs that reflect what’s going on in her life.
“I don’t have a great voice. I don’t have a strong powerful voice like Adele or something like that,” Yagi said. “It’s more about singing the song and interpreting the lyrics for me. That’s why I say I’m singing to myself a lot, because I’m working things out for myself in the song.”
Yagi encourages others to try out new songs and take risks. A lot of times people don’t sing because they’re nervous about getting onstage in front of people, Yagi said. But if you just focus on having a good time, you’ll realize it’s not as scary as it seems, she said.
“You don’t have to be a great singer,” she said. “Just do it because it makes you feel good.”