The Chronicle Interviews Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater (center – wearing the black hat) and her band performing for the gala May 25, 2017, Spoleto Festival USA opening concert. Photo: Mikah W. D’Kamera

Dee Dee Bridgewater

By Hakim Abdul-Ali

I’ve had many pleasurable moments in my more than twenty-five years of covering Spoleto Festival USA for the Black Press of South Carolina. And one of the delights for me is when I interview musical royalty.

Last week I interviewed such a member of that elite echelon of performers and her name was Dee Dee Bridgewater. The interview took place at the fabulous Belmond Charleston Place Hotel in scenic downtown Charleston on Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Dee Dee Bridgewater is one such heralded queen of jazz if there ever was one. She’s a three time Grammy Award winner and an accomplished songwriter, who’s also an accomplished actress, having won a Tony Award for her celebrated theatrical performance in “The Wiz.”

This native of Memphis, Tennessee, who grew up in Flint, Michigan, and now calls New Orleans, Louisiana, home was recently named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honoree. She was the esteemed voice of the popular National Public Radio’s syndicated radio show, “Jazz Set with Dee Dee Bridgewater.”

I’ve have had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Ms. Bridgewater more than ten years ago (2004) when she headlined the Spoleto Festival USA’s jazz venue back then. I became a respected lover of this lady’s articulate ability in describing the essence of what her music journey meant to her.

In our most recent interview she related to me that she’s always sung, something she always loved to do, going back to her teenage years in Flint. It came natural for her because it was something she always loved to do.

This reflective lady of jazz told me of her deep desire to discover her Memphis roots which led her to discover where she was born in a place called Collins’ Chapel. She also became very active in pursing her African roots which led to her embracing and further discovering who she was in a very personal context.

Her intense desire to discover her own early history directed her in wanting to do and record a CD of respect to her birthplace of Memphis with what she described as “blues and soul” music. The CD will be out later this year in September and will feature prominently based Memphis musicians and backup singers.

It’s to be noted that when I interviewed Ms. Bridgewater she was in the process of recovering from a terrible accident where she injured her leg in a fall while beginning a performance in Indonesia, which has still left her slightly hobbled after a major operation and a recovery period on her right leg.

The thing that I love, respectfully speaking, about Dee Dee Bridgewater is that she’s very much a down-to-earth sister in a very unassuming manner. She’s warm and engaging, and you get smooth vibrations right away as she’s very upfront with her answers to any questions that you ask of her.

Dee Dee Bridgewater and her camp requested that no advance photos be taken during the interview process, a position I accepted with no problem. When the interview was over I asked her if I could take a picture of the real star of the interview, her little dog “Daisy,” and Ms. Bridgewater said yes. She went about picking up the poodle and allowed me to take an unpublished photo of both her and her dog for my grands, one of whom wants to be a veterinarian. They love animals.

That little gesture said a whole lot about the caring soul and mother of three herself named Dee Dee Bridgewater. She apparently thought enough of my grands and my innocent request to do what she did without a thought to the negative.

So far as I was, and am, concerned Dee Dee Bridgewater, as a performer and a human being, is nothing short of the epitome of class. She is royalty.

-The Dee Dee Bridgewater Concert Review-

I covered the special concert on May 25, 2017, at the Cistern, located on the College of Charleston’s historic campus. The concert was nothing short of phenomenal. It was sensational.

Dee Dee Bridgewater is one of those performers who brings something extra whenever she performs. Her vocal range and tonality are unparalleled and on that night she showed why she is of the highest musical aristocracy.

The vigorous show was (obviously) arranged around her upcoming September 2017 release called “Memphis” and it was done with superlative distinction. What else would you expect from this lady who turned 67 two days after this concert?

Dee Dee paid tribute to her beloved Memphis connections by doing thirteen covers of old Memphis classics in a flowing blues and soul format. Don’t forget that she’s a jazz singer, but, man, did she pull it off, and she couldn’t have don’t it without the aid of her band.

The scintillating band consisted of bassist Barry Campbell, trumpeter Marc Franklin, guitarist Charlton Johnson, saxophonist Arthur Edmaiston, pianist and organist Farindell “Dell” Smith and drummer James Sexton, who served as Dee Dee’s musical director. The band also included background vocalists Shontelle Norman and Sharisse Norman.

The band started the concert off with an instrumental tune called “Burnt Biscuit” followed by Ms. Bridgewater performing Bobby Blue Bland’s “I’m Going Down,” Gladys Knight’s “Giving Up is Hard to Do,” Al Green’s “I Can’t Get Next to You,” Barbara Mason’s “Yes, I’m Ready” and the powerfully thought provoking piece by Roebuck “Pops” Staples entitled “Why.”

If that wasn’t enough to satisfy one’s hunger for more of the Memphis flavor, Dee Dee continued by singing Carla Thomas’ “Baby” followed by the band doing a number on a tune called “Chicken Pox.” Ms. Bridgewater then tore into Elvis Priestley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and B. B. King’s “the Thrill is Gone.”

The show concluded with Dee Dee Bridgewater and guitarist Carlton Johnson wreaking sheer havoc on the audience’s minds and ears with their cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” a masterpiece of musical brilliance that had everyone flashing and waving their cellphones’ flashlights to Mr. Johnson’s cold blooded rendition of the late purple one’s iconic signature show tune. What a sight!

This special concert satisfied all who were there in so many ways because it showed how much real music means to great performers. They go hand-in-hand. Dee Bridgewater, even though handicapped by the leg injury, demonstrated why she is unequaled.

Her performance was one of a kind, and you won’t see those kinds to often. It was a triumphant evening of grand listening and enjoyment. She gave another concert on the next evening, the official opening of this year’s festival.

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