With a voice that caresses like melted caramel and lyrics that touch the deepest recesses of your emotions, singer/songwriter Brenda Russell proves that a glowing talent only deepens with time. Author of such gems as “Piano In The Dark,” “If Only For One Night,” and the much-loved anthem “Get Here,” Brenda returned to the marketplace in 2000 with the release of Paris Rain on Hidden Beach Recordings-her first studio album in seven years. The exquisitely crafted album displayed her song craft and richly nuanced voice in an elegant journey of mood, melody and memory that satisfied longtime fans and enchanted new listeners.
Along with composing songs for her upcoming record, Brenda has continued to exercise her considerable gifts in a variety of projects. She is currently co-writing (with Allee Willis and Stephen Bray) the music for a Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker slated to hit the stage in 2005. She also co-wrote the song “Justice of the Heart” with Stevie Wonder for the Denzel Washington movie John Q—a song which Wonder performed. And her co-composition with Brazilian artist Ivan Lins, titled “She Walks This Earth,” was recorded by international superstar Sting for the all-star tribute album Love Affair: The Music Of Ivan Lins. Sting’s inspired performance of the uniquely beautiful song earned him a Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance.
Her recording with Koz and the other tour artists of A Smooth Jazz Christmas CD was nominated for a 2002 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. That CD included a new version of her classic “Get Here” which received yet another re-working last fall by American Idol’s Justin Guarini, who performed it in the 2002 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and on Oprah as well as recording it for the American Idol: Greatest Moments compilation CD on RCA Records.
Fellow artists who appreciate Brenda’s music call on her formidable talent for penning music and lyrics again and again. Singer Will Downing benefited from Brenda’s songwriting with one of her co-compositions, “Don’t You Talk To Me Like That” (co-written with Vinx and Mark Cawley)-a Top 20 Urban AC hit from his 2002 Verve Records album Sensual Journey. Solomon Burke’s critically acclaimed and Grammy-winning 2002 comeback album Don’t Give Up on Me (Fat Possum) features “None of Us Are Free,” co-written by Brenda, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The three are among an all-star lineup of songwriters on Burke’s recording including Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, and Brian Wilson.
And just to keep things fun, Brenda wrote incidental music for the animated series “Fat Girl” on the Oxygen Network, as well as an animated internet short series titled “Driving While Black” for urbanentertainment.com. She also composed the theme music for the syndicated “The Ananda Lewis Show;” a daytime talk show hosted by the former MTV VJ.
Born to musical parents in Brooklyn, New York, Brenda grew up there and in the Canadian town of Hamilton, Ontario. She encountered her first piano while singing as a teenager in the Canadian company of the rock musical “Hair” in Toronto
Without a formal musical education, Brenda says she worried that she would never be able to write a song. “Then I had this revelation that: ‘You’re not doing this, you are just a channel for this, something opened up and it came through you.’ Once I realized that I was sort of fearless about songwriting after that. Because if that’s the way it is, I can do anything, and that’s the premise I’ve based my whole writing career on.”
In the late 1970s, now living in Los Angeles, Brenda and her manager began circulating a demo of her songs. She was signed to Tommy LiPuma’s Horizon Records, and her first single, “So Good, So Right” was released in 1979. Brenda transferred to A&M Records, where she formed a bond with label founder Herb Alpert and released Brenda Russell and Love Life. Her contract was picked up by Warner Bros. for the 1983 album Two Eyes before moving to Sweden, where she wrote tunes for her A&M return, Get Here. That 1988 album contained the Grammy-nominated “Piano In The Dark,” the gorgeous “Le Restaurant,” and the title cut, which was a hit for Oleta Adams a few years later.
After a 1992 Greatest Hits package and her 1993 set Soul Talkin'(EMI Records), Brenda took time off to regroup and travel. Continuing to write, produce, and collaborate with other artists, Brenda honed her craft and contributed tunes to other projects, including albums by Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Patti LaBelle, the score to How Stella Got Her Groove Back, as well as writing and performing two songs in director Barry Levinson’s film Liberty Heights.
As one of few artists who have successfully been able to incorporate a wide range of musical influences–rock, pop, R&B, jazz, classical, Latin–into a distinct style that defies categorization while attracting fans around the world, Brenda Russell’s music endures through time and trends. As evidence, her self-titled debut was re-released on CD by Universal Records in 2000, and the label, which now owns her A&M catalog, released Brenda Russell: Ultimate Collection in 2001. And later music writer David Nathan’s Ambassador Soul Classics label reissued Two Eyes.
“I never write songs that are without hope,” the accomplished artist explains. “People have to be inspired to another level. Like: My heart can go on! I may feel like I’m going to die, but I won’t because something good could be around the corner. I take responsibility on myself to inspire people and even make them cry. Yes, I’ll make you cry but I won’t leave you hopeless.”
Currently Brenda is working on her new album, which shall be released this year. Stephan Oberhoff shows his wizardry on this album again.
Brenda Russell published with permission of Bettie Grace Miner.