When I was growing up, people often had trouble pronouncing my family name. This always bothered me, and a few years ago, when I was at Hunter College and we were studying Ulysses, –the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, is playing around with anagrams. Anagrams are rearrangements of the letters in a word to make a new word, a code word for the original word. I looked online for anagrams of my name — Samantha Margulies — and discovered that the only ones that came up for my family name were Manslaughter, Slaughterman, and Satanism (not that there’s anything wrong with Satanism if that’s your religion). I saw that as a sign that I should indeed adopt a stage name. I was reading Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I recalled a discussion I had had with my dad (who, along with Hugo, is one of my major influences): I was trying to pronounce “Hugo” the way the French would, with a closed “U” that sounded close to an “E,” and my dad joked, “when Victor Hugo used to get too full of himself, his friends would call him Victor Ego.” I thought of how much I loved Hugo’s work, and considered being…Samantha Hugo…Samantha Ego…hah…Samantha…Echo…It came to mind superficially, but I instantly identified with the Ancient Greek nymph I had first read about long ago and her struggle with unrequited love and thwarted self-expression, and I knew it would stick.
Echo was an Oread, or mountain nymph, who sang beautifully and played instruments and was a charming and witty storyteller. One day, Hera, Queen of the Gods, came down to her mountain to seek revenge on a different nymph with whom her husband Zeus was having an affair. Hera became distracted by an enthralling story that Echo was telling, and as a result lost the chance to enact her revenge. Once she realized what had happened, Hera punished Echo for distracting her, she took away Echo’s voice so that she could only repeat the ends of other people’s sentences (sentences…sentences…) Later, Echo fell in love with a young man named Narcissus, but could not speak to him. He subsequently fell in love with his own reflection and killed himself, and turned into a daffodil. In some versions of the story, Echo cried until she turned to stone, in others, she cried until all that remained of her was her voice; in others, she was pursued by the unattractive and lecherous woodland demi-god Pan, who, when she rejected him, had her torn to pieces, which were returned by Gaia to become the echoes of the world, what we now know as echoes (by the way, it is from Pan’s lecherousness that the term “nymphomania” is derived).
I started singing when I was six years old, and spent many years from that age until my early twenties studying opera, but I felt that my creative identity had been buried by an eight-year mentorship (ages 6 to 14) with my first Bel Canto instructor, who was extremely controlling and neurotic and wouldn’t let me sing other types of music or even sing in front of anyone but her. A couple of years ago, I began studying pop and belting technique with Rosemary Loar, and I began re-uniting with the type of music and singing that I had originally connected with. My adoption of the stage name Echo relates to my struggle to find my creative identity again. Also, I am Echo because I am a nymph, just like she is, a nymph being a creature who is not quite of this world and extremely identified with the place that she inhabits—sometimes when a body of water would dry up, the nymph who inhabited that body of water would die. All my life, I have felt a deeply spiritual connection with places, as if places have souls. Most of my original songs involve the themes of rejection, unrequited love, and misunderstood or lost identity, but I also like to cover songs that deal with this, and ultimately, one of my major goals in music is to evoke a place or a world.