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 The Bluff City. Bridgewater was born at Collins Chapel Hospital, located not far from where the album was recorded at Producer Willie Mitchell’s historic Royal Studios. Her father, a trumpet player affectionately known as “Matt the Platter Cat” was a DJ at WDIA, the top Memphis radio station. 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,” Bridgewater says. “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 the Fall of 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,” she says. “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.”
Bridgewater was determined to recapture the same magic and history of the Blues, R&B, and Soul classics in the recordings that were originally made in or associated with Memphis.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,” she continued. “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 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. The album is scheduled for release on Friday, September 15th, via Okeh/Sony Masterworks. Bridgewater will be performing it live on Saturday, September 16th, at the 60th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival.