Larry LaRue

Tacoma guitarist-manicurist-mom will soon have new title: college student

Juli Morgan’s life includes two daughters, two music CDs, one ex-husband, seven guitars and one scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

She was among 7,200 who applied to attend the school – and one of 1,100 selected to start classes in September.

And she’s 41 years old.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I decided it was time for a change in my life. I always wanted a college degree, so I started looking at great music programs.

“The University of Washington was a great choice, and University of Utah was a possibility because my sisters live there. Then I thought, ‘What if I could get accepted at Berklee?’ ”

For those unfamiliar with the school, it’s regarded as the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world. It offers college-level courses in rock, flamenco, hip-hop, reggae, salsa and bluegrass.

Need more? As of 2013, Berklee alumni had won 229 Grammy awards.

So how did a Tacoma manicurist with 12- and 6-year-old daughters get accepted?

“She’s a great guitarist,” sister Wendy Gort said.

Since picking up the instrument at 16, Morgan has played in more than a dozen bands as a lead guitarist, knocking out rock, rhythm and blues, straight blues, even a little jazz.

She came to the Northwest for a music festival more than a dozen years ago, fell in love with bass guitarist Jeff Morgan and wound up in a trio with him. They were the opening act for Joe Satriani, Robin Trower and Ronnie James Dio.

The couple were married and had daughter Ava and, six years later, Annabelle.

In 2011, the Morgans separated and later divorced.

“I found new ways to make a career,” Juli Morgan said.

Music was always part of it.

“From the time I picked up that first guitar, I never stopped playing,” she said. “When I found out I was pregnant with Ava, I thought it was time to give up music. Thankfully, I realized I didn’t have to.”

Since the divorce, Morgan has recorded two CDs, including one in Nashville. Both are available on her website.

In 2012, when one of her guitar idols, Satriani, held a “Whooznxt Master Satriani Guitar Contest,” more than 2,000 musicians sent videos of themselves playing a Satriani song.

With her cover of “Always With Me, Always With You,” Morgan was among the 10 winners. That landed her a new guitar and a master class with Satriani.

“I just never stopped working or learning,” she said. “The guitar is my passion and has been since I started playing.

“When you first start, you don’t realize you’re not good -- you’re just trying to figure it all out. There’s so much to learn. I was studying players far beyond me. I was insecure for a long time.

“When I started asking around, guys didn’t want a girl in their band,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was unique.”

She now plays in two bands, The Rhythm Nation and Destiny, though soon she will have to leave them behind.

“There are 4,000 students at Berklee and you have an ensemble that you’re in. There’s 450 different bands on campus and 60 styles of music,” Juli said.

How does a manicurist pay for a college where tuition is $38,000? That’s a work in progress.

“I got a scholarship for $14,000 and two grants for $7,000 more and a loan for $9,500.”

That’s about $8,000 short – not counting living expenses. She’s taking both daughters, and New England is not inexpensive.

“I’m not afraid to work, so I’ll have at least one job there,” she said. “I’m looking into other loans, and I’m trying to raise money in the month or so before I leave.”

A farewell concert earlier this month and an ongoing raffle have raised nearly $6,000.

If the time comes to start the drive from Tacoma to Boston and she’s still short, she’s hitting the road, anyway.

“I’ll figure out a way,” she said. “Everything that fits in a Ford Taurus is going with us. I want to teach, and to teach I need a college degree. The girls are all for it. They’re proud of me. It’s too great an opportunity not to go.”