Sweet Justice lead singer returns to stage after fire
A year had passed since the Richmond band Sweet Justice opened for their friends in the Led Zeppelin tribute band Zoso at The National. And considering the nightmare that followed their 2018 performance, their show at The National on Jan. 4 was something of a celebration.
“We were scheduled to do the NorVa with them [the following night], and we had a great show in Richmond,” recalled Beth Justice, lead singer for Sweet Justice, about their 2018 show. “Went to bed about 4:30 in the morning, and we woke up at 7:15. Luckily, my husband, [Sweet Justice bass player, Rod McMordie], went to the bathroom, and then I heard the alarms going off downstairs.”
An electrical fire quickly engulfed the Urbanna home that had been in Justice’s family for 200 years. While McMordie suffered from smoke inhalation, Justice suffered from internal burns when she inhaled flames that
blasted at her after opening a door to expose the source of the blaze. That injury was compounded when she slipped on icy steps outside and broke her ankle.
“I woke up a week later and my daughter was beside me. I was like, ‘Oh, no! The NorVa!” I didn’t know what day it was,” Justice recalled, initially thinking about how they were missing their planned next show with Zoso.
Justice and McMordie lost everything in the fire, including their vehicles and six animals, some of which died later due to the disaster’s impact on their health. When she woke up five days later from an induced coma, Justice was stunned not only to find that their community had rallied around them, but also at the extent of the response. Along with GoFundMe accounts and an Urbanna office filled with donated clothing, the outreach extended even further.
“We had bands in Richmond, like Double Down and Out On A Limb, probably like 30 bands in Richmond, that did fundraisers for us. It was amazing to us how much money was donated to help us,” Justice said. “It’s just kind of surreal to wake up and not have anything anymore. But we were just thrilled that I was alive. And the people that supported us … it was unbelievable what the community did.”
While Justice was in a unit for burn victims, an MRI uncovered a lung tumor that was taking over her airway. “I knew it was getting harder for me to sing, but I just thought I was getting old!” said Justice, laughing. “In July, they were able to remove the tumor just out of my airway. I still have it in my right lung, but I’m able to live with that because it’s benign.”
After singing professionally for 37 years and with Sweet Justice having been together in various incarnations since 2000, Justice knew she didn’t want to stop performing. “Since they’ve got the airway [tumor] out, I’m much better. I can sing higher than I could before. Now I have a new voice that I’m relearning how to use. It’s kind of interesting. It’s like I got a gift,” she added, laughing.
Although Sweet Justice is a cover band, the experiences of the past year would certainly provide plenty of writing inspiration for original material should that be a future direction.
“I would love to,” Justice said, “if I could find the right people to do it with. I would love to start writing about how I feel and what went on, and the miracle that we’re alive and of us being here today.”
Justice and her husband lived with Beth’s daughter for the first three months after the fire. They’re renting a house in Urbanna as they rebuild on the site of their former house.
In the meantime, Sweet Justice has enjoyed connecting with their audiences through the songs they cover. One that comes to mind for Justice seems particularly relevant these days: Tesla’s “Love Song.”
“The words are ‘Love will find a way,’ Justice noted, “and I think that best describes what life is like for us.”
It’s been a year since Beth Justice was injured in an electrical fire that destroyed her Urbanna home.
Sweet Justice has been together in various incarnations since 2000. After the house fire, the Urbanna community and area bands rallied to help the group.
Beth Justice and Rod McMordie are rebuilding on the site of the house that had been in her family for 200 years.