The images of Karen Sokolof Javitch singing and camping it up on YouTube in some of her music videos don’t square with the unassuming, quietly engaging, makeup-less woman who buys flavored water at her favorite coffee shop. Not surprising, since there are many facets to the Omaha native: singer, songwriter, author, playwright, radio host, advocate, teacher, wife, mother, daughter, philanthropist.
Music is actually Karen’s second act. After earning a degree at the University of Texas, she became a teacher of visually impaired children, a career inspired by her late mother, Ruth Sokolof. “My mom taught blind children for years, even while fighting her 30-year battle with cancer. She was a remarkable human being.”
It was not until Karen’s own three children were in elementary school that her life headed in a different direction. “It was around 1993. I was talking to a friend of mine, Jim Conant, and he said he had just written the script for a musical, but he didn’t know how to write the songs. Since I had dabbled in songwriting in college, I asked him if I could try and write a song or two. This was the beginning of a life-changing career for me.”
Karen proved to be a natural at writing the 17 songs (both music and lyrics) for the production entitled Love! at the Café!, which ran for about 7 weeks. “Writing these songs was like a faucet turning on in my brain. The lyrics came first, usually a sentence and then I could hear music in my head to go with them. I then would sit down at the piano to write out the song.”
Karen next collaborated with her good friend, actress and author Elaine Jabenis, to write
two more musicals: From Generation to Generation, a very touching family musical and Princess Diana, The Musical, a tribute to the late princess. Another key player in Karen’s success, Chuck Penington of Manheim Steamroller, orchestrates her music and is the music director for all of her shows. “Whether a song is catchy, rhythmic, and Broadway-like, or a touching ballad, Karen’s melodies stay in your head. That’s why her songs are so good,” Penington remarks.
Where did her talent come from? “My father, Phil, was a song-and-dance man before he became a successful businessman. He tried his luck in Chicago when he was 17. He finally realized he couldn’t be the next Frank Sinatra, so he returned to Omaha and later started his own business.
Phil Sokolof would later use some of his fortune from his drywall company to wage a one-man crusade against cholesterol—a decades-long fight that resulted in nutrition information on food packaging.
Karen has written hundreds of songs, penned four musicals, and released 15 CDs, singing on many of them. While she should be swimming in royalties, the Omaha native has instead followed her parents’ legacy of giving back to their community.
“Almost all of the proceeds from my music go to charities, mostly in Nebraska,” says Karen. Does she make any money at all? “Well, let’s just say my goal is to break even,” she says with a smile.
Over the past 20 years, Karen has raised over $350,000 in service to others. One project in particular remains dear to her heart. The “Nebraska Celebrities Sing for Sight” CD, for which she wrote almost all of the songs. It features 20 Nebraska celebrities (including a terrific country vocal from former U.S. Senator Ben Nelson), and it raises money for visually impaired children. The man who couldn’t compete with Frank Sinatra also sings a track. “Dad was alive when I started my career in music and he was very proud.”
Karen’s CDs can be found at cdbaby.com, Spotify and itunes. Her radio show, “It’s the Beat!” with Jody Vinci, airs Saturdays at noon on KOIL 1290. And if you really want to be inspired, check out her 80+ music videos on youtube!