The singer, who puts her own spin to Billie Holiday tunes, is constantly trying to evolve.
Veteran jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater does not care much about the awards she has won – three Grammys and a Tony.
“I don’t look at them highly at all, my goal is not to have awards. The awards are like a reward for something that other people believe was well done,” she says in a telephone interview from New York.
The accolades are for things that she did in the past and the 63-year-old entertainer says she would rather look towards the future.
“I don’t look at them for any kind of inspiration. I look at them and go, ‘Wow, that happened’, but I’m constantly trying to evolve and do new things and challenging things and stepping into unknown worlds.”
Bridgewater’s 2010 ode to Billie Holiday, Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater, also won a Grammy, for Jazz Vocal Album. Last year, she played Holiday in the off-Broadway run of musical biography Lady Day, reprising the role that she first took on in Europe in the 1990s.
“It was a very interesting experience to revisit Billie in the theatrical production,” she says of the icon who led a tumultuous life.
“She’s a difficult woman to put on every evening. I had to go through different facets of her life because in this production I had what we call regressions, where I had to be Billie as a young girl and then Billie as a young adult and then Billie in the last year of her life.
“It was a lot to deal with every evening emotionally, as well as singing all the 24 songs in the show.”
Bridgewater has a high regard for Holiday’s “fierce independence” and “amazing resilience” and admits to seeing a little bit of the late jazz doyenne in herself.
“I’d like to consider myself independent, marching to the beat of my own drum, not following trends but trying to be more of a trendsetter in terms of vocal stylings.”
Born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Michigan, she started singing in her teens and toured the Soviet Union with the University of Illinois Big Band in 1969.
In the early 1970s, together with her former husband, jazz trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, she was part of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and later sang with jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Sonny Rollins.
In 1974, she released her debut album, Afro Blue, and played Glinda the Good Witch in Broadway musical, The Wiz, a role for which she won a Best Featured Actress Tony in a musical the following year.
Most of her albums from the late 1980s onwards have attracted Grammy attention, including Keeping Tradition (1994), nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, and J’ai Deux Amours (2005) for Jazz Vocal Album.
Bridgewater, who has three children from three marriages and two grandchildren, also nurtures younger talents through her production company DDB Productions and record label DDB Records, both run by her eldest daughter, Tulani, 41.
Next month, the singer will start work on her next album, a “blues project”, by doing research in her birth city, Memphis, as well as in Mississippi, where she has family.
Close to five decades after she made her professional debut, she remains as enthusiastic as ever in front of an audience.
“I don’t know, I think it’s my love for music, my love for what I’m doing,” says Bridgewater, who is also a United Nations ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
“This is my passion, performing, and every time I go on stage, I feel renewed, it’s like a renaissance.” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network