If you’ve seen any TV commercials from the 1980s or early 90s, you’ve probably heard the voice of Cindy Fee.
She was the voice behind the Hoover vacuum cleaner (“Nobody does it like you”). She told consumers to “get on your Pontiac and ride.” She assured them that Wheaties were “what the big boys eat.” And she was the voice behind, “Thank You For Being A Friend,” the song that became the theme for the sitcom “The Golden Girls.”
But now, the former jingle-pop singer and Oak Park resident says her interests have changed. She’s still performing—her band has a gig next week at the Open Door Repertory theater—and she hopes her songs will start conversations about issues she cares deeply about.
Fee and her husband and band mate, Rob Landis, moved to Oak Park about 14 years ago. They lived in Los Angeles for eight years, but decided they didn’t want to raise a family there once their son was born. When a producer in Nashville heard about Fee, the family relocated and she recorded pop records for RCA. But she liked Chicago, where RCA would occasionally fly her out to work.
After a year in Park Ridge, Fee, Landis and their two sons settled in Oak Park.
The band, Cindy Fee and Cin City, has been together for a couple years, Fee said. During a lot of that time, they’d get together at backyard barbeques and play music, but they recently started playing at some area venues.
The Open Door provides the intimate setting that Fee said fits well with what she sings about these days. Once you’ve been happily married for a while and have kids, it’s hard to keep writing the same pop songs, she said.
“I’m not out there looking for love,” she said. “There are great songs, but it’s just not what I’m interested in now.”
Not being part of the jingle world has given her more freedom to explore the political and social issues she’s always been interested in, Fee said. She’s performed at union rallies and has written songs about environmental issues, homelessness and “archaic” drug laws that she says use taxpayer money to keep non-violent offenders in jail.
Fee said it’s important to discuss these issues, and not only with those that will support her point of view. She wants people of all ages to hear her songs because there are multiple ways to think about the same issue, as long as discussions are civil.
There’s a “huge divide” now, and “if we don’t talk about it, then we’re going to stay on these polarized sides.”
Her start in jingles gave her a certain kind of confidence, Fee said, because there was only so much time to make an impression.
“You’ve got to be able to walk in and learn a song in about three or four minutes and go out there and then just really sing it,” she said. To her, the shorter length of jingles wasn’t limiting because it was still a creative process.
“In the music industry, there’s no one way to do anything. You have to be willing to, when you get a shot, really make the most of it.”
Even though she’s kept a lower profile in Oak Park, Fee’s past hasn’t totally escaped her. She’ll still get asked to sing the Golden Girls theme once in a while, and doesn’t dislike the request as much as she used to. Her kids were always a little embarrassed growing up. One of her sons called her from college to tell her he had walked into a party and was identified as “the guy whose mom sings the Golden Girls theme.”
As the kids grew up, Fee remembered them telling her often that life is not a musical.
“Well,” she said, “it is to me.”
Fee and her husband will probably always have a base in Oak Park, where they’ve made some of their best friends and watched neighbors grow up. They almost sold their house once to move to Chicago, but realized how tough it would be to leave.
“That’s what Oak Park fosters,” she said.