Every picture tells a story; every journey begins differently. The story of Dee Dee Bridgewater's stunning new album, Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready, begins in that city, where she was born at Collins Chapel Hospital, located not far from where the album was recorded at Producer Willie Mitchell's historic Royal Studios. Dee Dee's father, a trumpet player affectionately known as "Matt the Platter Cat" was a DJ at WDIA, the top Memphis radio station, and even when the family moved to neighboring Flint, Michigan, the young Dee Dee continued to listen to the great sounds of the Memphis music scene by tuning-in late night from across state lines. And oh what a music scene it was!
"Even as a young girl the music moved me, inspired me, made me dance with joy and cry with emotion. My life journey may have started in Mali, West Africa, as a descendent of the Peul tribe and the Fulani of Nigeria (explored on her 2007 recording, "Red Earth" recorded in Mali) but it certainly was nurtured by my childhood in the South and all of the amazing music that I was being exposed to."
To Memphis and her roots, the 2017 NEA Jazz Master, three-time Grammy and Tony award winner, NPR host and UN Ambassador for the Food And Agriculture Organization knew that she would have to come back home to do it right. The album was co-produced by Memphis native and Grammy-winning musician Kirk Whalum, and Willie Mitchell's grandson - Grammy-winning Engineer Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell. It was recorded at Royal Studios in Fall 2016 after multiple visits by Bridgewater to Memphis over a period of several years, during which time she absorbed as much of the music, culture, heart and soul of the city as she could possibly consume.
"Working in Memphis at Royal Studios is like magic," says Bridgewater. "There's so much history that has been recorded in those walls. I just felt I could take this journey in that city with Kirk and Boo. They are my two kingpins and the two helped me realize this project and bring it to fruition."
Dee Dee was determined to recapture the same magic and history of the Blues, R&B and Soul classics in the recordings that were originally made in or associated with Memphis. "I wanted people to be able to recall the original versions, but I also wanted them to have a more modern feeling while respecting those originals. I'm doing B.B. King's 'Thrill Is Gone,' Bobby Blue Bland's 'Going Down Slow', Otis Redding's 'Try A Little Tenderness,' Al Green's 'Can't Get Next To You,' Ann Peebles' 'I Can't Stand The Rain' and The Staple Singers' 'Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)' - it just doesn't get any better than this in terms of material. The opportunity to make them my own was an opportunity and a challenge I felt honored to take on."
In reality, Bridgewater even prayed her project was on the right path. She said her prayers were answered when, out of the blue, Memphis' own Stax Records singing legend Carla Thomas dropped by Royal Studios just after Dee Dee had finished mixing Thomas' hit, "B.A.B.Y."
"Being able to play 'B.A.B.Y.' for Carla and listening to her share stories about my father playing with her father, Rufus Thomas, and talking about life in Memphis in general was the final affirmation that I needed for the project…the icing on the cake."
The result of this recording is an album that sounds like Memphis and feels like Memphis but also, sounds and feels as only a Dee Dee Bridgewater album can, imbibed with her own fierce passion, originality and incredibly dynamic take on the tracks.
"I want to honor Memphis, which we call Soulsville, because it has brought joy to so many people around the world," says Bridgewater. "It has always been a part of me. The more I come back, the more at home I feel. I will eventually move back here. Much of my heart and soul are here."
The release of Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready will be accompanied by tour dates worldwide - visit www.deedeebridgewater.com for information. Watch Dee Dee talk about the making of the project here: Grammy, Tony Award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater returns home to Memphis to record new album.
Yes, I'm Ready
I Can't Get Next To You
Going Down Slow
Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)
Thrill Is Gone
The Sweeter He Is
Can't Stand The Rain
Don't Be Cruel
Try A Little Tenderness
(Take My Hand) Precious Lord
Over the course of a multifaceted career spanning four decades, Grammy and Tony Award-winning Jazz giant Dee Dee Bridgewater has ascended to the upper echelon of vocalists, putting her unique spin on standards, as well as taking intrepid leaps of faith in re-envisioning jazz classics. Ever the fearless voyager, explorer, pioneer and keeper of tradition, the three-time Grammy-winner most recently won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee.
Bridgewater's career has always bridged musical genres. She earned her first professional experience as a member of the legendary Thad Jones/Mel Louis Big Band, and throughout the 70's she performed with such jazz notables as Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Dizzy Gillespie. After a foray into the pop world during the 1980s, she relocated to Paris and began to turn her attention back to Jazz. Bridgewater began self-producing with her 1993 album Keeping Tradition (Polydor/Verve) and created DDB records in 2006 when she signed with the Universal Music Group as a producer (Bridgewater produces all of her own CDs). Releasing a series of critically-acclaimed CD's, all but one, including her wildly successful double Grammy Award-winning tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Dear Ella - have received Grammy nominations. Artist Theo Croker is signed to DDB Records and Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra also recorded a project with Dee Dee released by her label in 2014.
Bridgewater also pursued a parallel career in musical theater, winning a Tony Award for her role as "Glinda" in The Wiz in 1975. Having recently completed a run as the lead role of Billie Holiday in the off-Broadway production of Lady Day, her other theatrical credits include Sophisticated Ladies, Black Ballad, Carmen, Cabaret and the Off-Broadway and West End Productions of Lady Day, for which Bridgewater received the British Laurence Olivier Nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
As a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Bridgewater continues to appeal for international solidarity to finance global grassroots projects in the fight against world hunger. She is currently on tour worldwide in support of Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready" and in April of this year was the recipient of an NEA Jazz Masters Fellows Award with honors bestowed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.