Interview recorded on January 26, 2012
Meet Bridgette Bryant... Again.
The veteran background vocalist has recorded and performed with some of the industry’s greats for the past two decades. In 2011, she independently released her first solo album, SOULMATE COLLECTION, after years of considering that effort. Now she speaks to SoulMusic.com about her musical journey toward that inevitable release. Prepare to be reintroduced to a voice that you, unknowingly, already know.
Jeff Forman: A warm hello to the SoulMusic.com community. I’m Jeff Forman, and today, psyched, because I’ve got on deck a singer and songwriter that you’ve no doubt heard many, many times, but you may not have been aware of that fact. She’s provided vocal support for a gang of folks, legendary figures such as Stevie Wonder, Phil Collins, Quincy Jones, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, and on and on and on, and she’s gracefully supported and sung alongside those folks and others. She’s known industry-wide as one of its premier background singers, and in 2011 she stepped out with the release of her debut full-length album, SOULMATE COLLECTION. I’m honoured to welcome, for the very first time to SoulMusic.com, Miss Bridgette Bryant. Hello, Bridgette, and welcome.
Bridgette Bryant: Hello, and thank you for the warm welcome.
JF: You are welcome. That roll call is pretty impressive—I’m kind of out of breath. And I left out a gang of folks.
BB: Well, life has been wonderful … life is wonderful and I have been truly blessed.
JF: First and foremost, I gotta thank our friend and brother, singer/songwriter/producer Gary Taylor for suggesting that we speak to you. He was like, “Yo, Jeff, you gotta talk to Bridgette.” And he’s mentioned you to me for a number of years, and I was like, “Bet, let’s do it. Let’s definitely do it.”
BB: I so thank him for so many reasons. He’s extremely supportive, and is just that, a brother—he really is; he’s a brother, and has had my back for so long--always encouraging, always a wonderful uncle to his nephews, and just a great friend and beautiful artist in his own right—everyone knows that.
JF: Absolutely. But before we jump into talking about the album, about SOULMATE COLLECTION, since this is your inaugural visit to SoulMusic.com, let’s take it from the top. How and when did Bridgette Bryant find her way to music and singing? Or did it find you?
BB: Both, actually. Music has always been a part of my family. My mother’s a singer, my father is a musician, my grandmother was a singer; we all grew up in the church, so music was always around. But I just became so interested at a young age—three, four years old. Actually, I think I was three years old when I was at a family reunion—my grandmother’s barbecue-- that’s what it was, and I was listening to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” and I just knew then I wanted to sing, and I wanted to sing with Stevie Wonder one day when I got big.
JF: So it was that specific?
BB: It really was. There was never any doubt in my mind. I prayed at four—I remember these moments—and asked God to please, please, please, please let me sing. I’ve always loved music … always. I was in little choirs at church, but the first real, real, real professional secular gig was Stevie Wonder’s gig …
JF: The first pro gig?
JF: Whoa, okay … you gotta explain how that happened.
BB: It was a miracle—right place, right time. He had a publishing house called Writers Quarters West at one time, almost like a West Coast Motown, where everybody wrote, recorded, put music together for different people, or for each other. And I was working there, just being there all the time—this was my last year of high school, right out of high school—and I kept saying, “I want to meet Stevie Wonder; I want to meet Stevie Wonder.” And he wasn’t there; he had somebody running it for him, but that person knew how to get in touch with him, and knew from Day One that that’s what I was there for specifically.
And so one evening, in the middle of the night—literally, like about one o’clock—I said, “When are you going to take me to meet Stevie Wonder?” And he said, “You want to meet Stevie Wonder? You want to meet Stevie Wonder?” He said, “Okay, come on.” That’s how it happened—that’s when I met Stevie for the very first time.
JF: So was there an audition process? Because he’s known for having had some of the best to back him up vocally: Minnie Riperton, Àngela Winbush, Deniece Williams … I could go on and on.
BB: That’s right. There was an audition that night. He called his singers out of bed—and I know they were upset because it really was one-thirty in the morning—But they came down there all glamorous, and I remember thinking, “Oh my God, if I’d known that I was going to meet Stevie Wonder tonight I would have dressed up.” I looked terrible, I had been out all day long … it was a mess—it was a mess. And I saw these beautiful women walking in the door and I said, “Oh, my God, this is a dream.” So he said, “Okay, you want to sing for me?” and I said, “Absolutely,” and I did “Inseparable” for Stevie Wonder that night.
JF: Natalie Cole’s “Inseparable”?
BB: “Inseparable,” exactly—Natalie Cole’s “Inseparable.” And he liked what he heard, and asked me would I like to go on tour with him. And that was my very first experience with Stevie Wonder.
JF: Wow. So the bar was set high immediately.
BB: Immediately, immediately, immediately. And I learned then: you make a request, you better be ready.
JF: Be careful what you wish for.
BB: Because it will show up, if you don’t know how fast. But I’m grateful. I was happy then. I was geeked out of my little mind. And that was my first.
JF: So you went out on the road with Stevie and crew and got your first taste of the professional music biz, I guess?
BB: I did, yes. I did. And actually, it wasn’t that first time—I came back a year later. Things just didn’t work out that first time, but I went back to Writers Quarters. I stayed in touch, and then that next year I came back and did the same thing and it was on after that. I left that time. Instant passports and visas and all of that. I was very young and not legal yet. My mother was scared to death, but her faith was bigger than her fear and she said, “Okay, go. Go.” And I went.
JF: That is great; that is great. So what did the Stevie hookup lead to after that? Who was next for you?
BB: Phil Collins.
JF: Phil Collins, okay.
BB: Phil Collins was next, and that was another wonderful experience. I’d seen extremely large audiences with Stevie, of course, but I’d never seen anything like I experienced with Phil Collins when we recorded “Separate Lives.” There’s a live recording of that song that I had the honour to do with him on the Serious tour, and that was back in 1990--Hundreds of thousands of people. I’d never seen anything like it before in my life.
JF: There’s a great YouTube clip of you singing with Phil Collins, singing that song.
BB: Yes. Yes, thank you. And that is that time.
JF: And how long did the affiliation with Phil last?
BB: I toured with Phil for a little over a year, and then I started expanding my family. I decided I wanted to marry and to start having children, and that’s what I did, and stayed off the road for a while.
JF: Any preference for you in terms of the recording studio versus performing live onstage?
BB: Oh, no, it’s all great, really. It’s an avenue for creativity either way, either place. You free yourself up onstage and there you are. You have to create. You don’t know what’s coming next when you just show up and allow it to happen. And in the studio it’s the same way, especially if I’m arranging something or putting a lead (vocal) on something; I show up and I’m on the ride: I see where it’s going to go, where it’s going to take me. So it’s fun.
JF: I just ask because some singers--they’ll record and they enjoy recording, but some live for the stage. And then there are others who don’t care to perform live much at all, but love the intimacy of the studio.
BB: Okay, I see which way you’re going. I have to say I love them both, though. I’m a little more shy than I wish to be; I really am, so craving the spotlight wasn’t always something that I did. Actually, working with Stevie Wonder helped me to get over that.
I was so very afraid to go out in front of people and sing … or just be out in front of that many people and do anything. But he forced us. He said, “You’ve gotta do it.” We couldn’t say “no.” So he caused us to move through the fear. “You’re afraid? That’s okay, be afraid. But don’t let that stop you.” So I don’t really like … [frantically] “Oh my God, I gotta get onstage, I gotta get onstage”—I don’t have that big, big, big yearning, but once I’m there, I love where I am. Does that make sense?
JF: Oh, absolutely. It’s just I have a bunch of singer friends, and some, like I said, they live to be onstage—just live for that moment. And others just really love the craft of singing, so they prefer to do it in the studio.
BB: They both have their plusses, for sure.
JF: So, given that, as you just mentioned, you tend to be a little shy—and this is a segue into talking about the album.
BB: All right, all right [laughs].
JF: What made you decide to step out, as I said earlier, and record your own solo album? I think this was your first, right? Your first solo project?
BB: It’s my first of this nature. I did one a long time ago, but I considered it more of a family project because it had music for children. If you want to count that, that’s one; but of this nature, for me, like this, yes, this is the début.
JF: And just so folks know, SOULMATE COLLECTION is not a children’s album.
BB: It is not.
JF: This is grown folks’ stuff here.
BB: It might get you some children, but it’s not a children’s project [laughs].
JF: This is grown folks’ stuff here, y’all.
BB: Grown folks’ music--that’s right.
JF: Tasteful, but grown.
BB: Thank you very much.
JF: So let’s talk about this project, this album. So why the title, first of all: SOULMATE COLLECTION?
BB: SOULMATE COLLECTION is a collection of my life’s experiences, number one. It’s all true stuff. Every song I had something to do with, with the exception of the two that I did not write: “Rolling River God” by Nicole Nordeman, and “Key To My Heart,” of course, written by Verdine White and Robert Wright, and performed by The Emotions. I didn’t write those, but they seriously impacted my life.
But everything else on there has been an experience that I’ve had within various relationships, and I believe those people, those instances that I’ve written about were soulmate connections—connections, and this is a collection of those experiences--so entitled SOULMATE COLLECTION.
JF: Gotcha, okay. All right. There are a few songs in particular I want to point out and talk about, especially “Rolling River God,” but we’re going to get to that a little bit later. I love and hate asking this question because I tend to get the same response from most artists: what are your favourites on the album?
BB: It depends on where I am. It depends on where I am in that moment in life. Goodness ... they all mean something so special to me for different reasons.
JF: Of course, of course—they’re all your children, all your babies.
BB: Yeah, they’re all my babies. It’s hard to have favourites when you’ve got kids, right?--without one of them getting jealous. My goodness, that’s a great question, and I just don’t know. I love “Key To My Heart” because I just love “Key To My Heart,” you know?
JF: You and I were talking about that earlier--the Emotions’ song.
BB: Oh, my goodness, I love that. I love “Touch Me Again”… I love them all, I really do. I’m so happy with the way everything turned out, and the honesty of it. I love them all for different reasons, so I’m going to let everybody else tell me what their favourite is—that’s what really matters.
JF: So let’s talk a little bit about your collaborators on the project. I think there are a couple of primary people you worked with, key people. Who are they--how did they contribute, and what do they mean to this record?
BB: Do you mean collaborative efforts like the people that I wrote with?
JF: Yeah, yeah—wrote, produced.
BB: Okay, let’s start with my producer, Tracy Carter. Oh, my goodness, he is such a talented man. I call him the chameleon, because I don’t care what direction I wanted to go, what I wanted to talk about, how I was feeling; he could change right there with me, right on the spot, really. Young guy, and a brilliant musician--old soul, like they say—old, old soul, and very sensitive. He is a dear friend of mine, and actually approached me about doing the project.
JF: Oh, okay.
BB: I’d been waiting for years for the right feeling. You asked me before: Why now? What made me do it? For a long time, I didn’t know what I had to say. I didn’t know what I had to say, and if what I had to say was relevant or good enough. And then I just kept living. And I said, “My goodness, there’s a blessing that’s happening inside of me that wants to come out, and I’m feeling like now it’s time.”
So when I made the “Yes” decision, things just started happening for me. And I’d run into Tracy after a long time of not having seen him, and he said, right at that same time, “Did you do your project yet?” I said “No.” He said, “Let me do it.” And that “Yes” that I’d been waiting on, that good feeling of who I needed to work with happened right in that instant, and I knew that it was Tracy. So I happily said “Okay, let’s do it.” So Tracy and I had written a song together on there, “Never Thought I”-- actually that’s the name of it, and that was years before he approached me.
JF: That’s actually one of my favourites.
BB: Oh, really?
JF: Yeah, yeah.
BB: Okay, that’s good. I’ll be sure and pass that on. But we wrote that at least nine years ago, so it had been many years since I’d seen him. He’s one that I collaborated with, and actually one of the most important people in my life, honestly. The next person is Daryl Grone; you’ll see his name on about four or five songs. He is a guitar player extraordinaire, and just a really nice guy. We’d met each other years before also. And I don’t even remember how we got back in touch, but when we did, we decided that we would do some collaborating together, something that we’d said we always wanted to do. And then when we got together it was magical, and many of these songs came out in that short period of time.
JF: Now, do he and Tracy know each other?
JF: Okay, I didn’t know if it was a collective kind of thing.
BB: No, they don’t know each other. Maybe they’ve bumped into each other at jam sessions or whatever. Daryl didn’t do any production on the project.
JF: Oh, okay. Gotcha.
BB: We wrote together and then that was that, right? And let’s see, who else did you want to know about?
JF: Whoever you think was important to your musical …
BB: Everybody was important on this, I tell you. It wouldn’t be the experience that people are feeling, that you feel and that you hear without the collaborative effort of every single person involved.
BB: Jubu Smith … everybody needs to know about Jubu Smith--oh, my goodness. Jubu’s the guitar player on “Soft Place.” He plays guitar on everything, but he opens up “Soft Place” and he sets the mood. Whatever he does, he sets the mood. He’s an awesome, awesome musician and an awesome person with a group of his own, actually, and everybody needs to know about that music, Legally Blynd. But yeah, he’s great. Let’s see … Sekou Bunch, bass player, Andrew Gouche, bass player …
JF: They’re kind of legendary.
BB: Kind of? kind of? [laughs] Oh, my goodness. Ricky Lawson.
JF: Another one.
BB: Another legend. These are all people that I’ve had the privilege of working with before SOULMATE COLLECTION, and establishing friendships with for many, many years, and when I said, “Okay, I want to do this,” they said, “Yes. Okay, when? When do you want me, when do you need me, and I’ll come and do it.” I’m telling you, it was just such a … I don’t even want to call it a labour of love, because labour suggests hard work. It really wasn’t. It was just an act of love and kindness on everybody’s part, and open and endless giving. I love them all so much.
JF: You got top-shelf players on this project, no doubt.
BB: Thank you, I do.
JF: No doubt. One song we have to discuss, as I mentioned earlier, is “Rolling River God.” Now, when I mentioned to one of the principals of SoulMusic.com, Michael Lewis, that I was going to be speaking with you, he got hyped.
He doesn’t live in L.A. now, but he used to live in L.A. a few years ago, and used to attend Agape International Spiritual Center. And he mentioned to me--he said you would periodically sing that song at church and just slay it, and just slay everybody with your rendition of that song.
BB: Oh, that’s so nice.
JF: So he was hyped that we were going to be talking to you. Tell us about that song, what it means to you, how it came to you, how you discovered it, because that seems to have really resonated with a lot of folks out there.
BB: Maybe that’s my favourite song.
JF: Ah, I got it out of you—I got it.
BB: Maybe that is my favourite song, and I’ll tell you why. It’s about life and it’s about getting better every day—wanting to. It’s about recognizing that it’s a process. And the writer of the song, Nicole Nordeman--she’s such an extraordinary writer.
My interpretation is that she likens herself unto a stone, and life being the water and the river that she’s in, and every time the water washes over her—every time God washes over her—she becomes a little smoother and a little smoother and a little smoother still. And she’s just hoping at the end of her days when it’s all over, she’s ending up a lot better—a lot smoother, if you will—than when she started.
And that’s life, isn’t it? Every day you want to be a little bit better than you were the day before. I first heard that song with Sheila E—I used to work with Sheila—and we were doing a private function one evening, and she broke that song out and broke everybody down, you hear? You hear me? When I heard it, I was a mess; I was just a mess. And I knew, because I was touched so deeply, that I needed to make that a part of my life, and I did. And Agape was the first place that I sang that song.
JF: Really? Wow, okay.
BB: Yes, it was.
JF: Again, there is an amazing YouTube video of you performing that. It really is pretty incredible how you just manage to captivate everybody with your take on it.
BB: Thank you so much. Thank you. That song--it takes me there, so I’m glad everybody’s feeling what I’m feeling. I’m on the ride, I tell you.
JF: So let me ask you: we talked about your first professional alliances, in terms of Stevie and Phil Collins, Sheila E, et cetera. Who are your musical influences, though? Who did you grow up listening to? Who are your musical heroes, heroines?
BB: So many … so many people. As I said before, with music being in my household and my parents being musicians, there was always someone playing. There was Barbra Streisand, who I adored—I loved Barbra Streisand’s music when I was little. I just thought she was a bell.
JF: And she is.
BB: I loved Gladys Knight, I loved Aretha Franklin, I loved Ella Fitzgerald. I loved listening to Quincy Jones, all of his music and all of those wonderful singers, especially on his BODY HEAT album. That’s when I started listening to Quincy Jones: I was a little girl sneaking in the office in the house; I wasn’t supposed to be playing the stereo. And at home with my grandparents, they couldn’t hear that well so I’d turn it on real low, and get as close as I could to the stereo and just listen to “Body Heat” and [sings]: “If you’re foolin’…” you know that song? “If I Ever Lose This Heaven.”
JF: Patti Austin’s on that, right?
BB: That’s right, that’s right, that’s right. I loved Patti Austin, I loved … all these people I’m saying “loved,” but “love” is more like it. I love Stevie—of course, I love Stevie. I love Chaka Khan. I just love wonderful, wonderful music and people who do it as only they can do it. And all of that influenced me. I loved The Emotions—God knows I loved The Emotions. Yeah, so it was like that.
JF: So those who know me know that singers are my favourite musicians, and in particular, the female voice, to me, is just the most incredible instrument.
JF: There are male singers that I absolutely adore: Stevie, Donny, Luther …
BB: Oh, yes.
JF: There’s a gang of great male singers, but there’s something about the female voice. I don’t know if it’s that primal mother thing; I don’t know what it is, but to me, no greater instrument than that. And you just rattled off some of my favourites: Ella, Chaka, Gladys. To me, Gladys is maybe the most underrated great of our time. I know Aretha’s the Queen of Soul, but Gladys should be co-crowned.
BB: I just believe that with you. She is so phenomenal. She has such heart and warmth and depth. There’s nothing that she sings that you don’t feel.
JF: And you don’t believe, yep.
BB: That’s true. She is the truth, for real—really. Well, we recognize, don’t we?
JF: And I can hear in your music and just through your persona, there’s a connection to something bigger, more spiritual maybe, if you will. Am I detecting that correctly? You seem to be in a calm, peaceful place.
BB: I try. That’s my goal.
JF: Is that related to your affiliation with Agape and what that congregation brings to you, and that communion?
BB: I love Agape; I will start by saying that. Dr. Michael Beckwith and Rickie Byars-Beckwith, they’ve been wonderful. They’ve been family to me.
JF: Just tell the folks what Agape is.
BB: International Spiritual Center, nondenominational, where anybody believing … whatever religious background you have, you can just go there and hear some truth about who you are and how you feel, and how you’re meant to feel while you’re experiencing life. I went to them at a very … I don’t want to say it was a bad time, but for me, at that time, it was a very trying time in my life, and they came to the rescue, really, for me and my family.
I’d experienced a fire where we lost everything, and some other very personal losses, and they really did just embrace my entire family. And I never forgot them for that. That is agape love. That’s godly love when somebody can not just tell you, “Hey, I love you and I hope you feel better,” but they actually say, “I love you, I hope you feel better, and here—here’s something to help you feel better.” They gave of themselves; they gave of their time, they gave of their hearts, and I’ve never forgotten them for that.
So that’s my beginning with Agape. And they gave me a place to come and sing, and sing about things that weren’t necessarily out of a hymnbook, out of what I grew up singing from, but other messages, things that were relevant. It’s a place to be free and express love, and have it expressed to you, as well, so I love them for that.
JF: It’s a very musical experience, where music seems to—having been a couple of times—be an integral part of the service.
BB: Yes. Music crosses boundaries. That’s one of the most memorable experiences I had working with Stevie. I remember the first time, it was impressed upon me, just by watching—I think I was in Indonesia—and the people--they didn’t speak English over there, but they could turn around and sing, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” And I said, “Wow, if I walked up to any of these people and wanted to have a conversation, I couldn’t, but they can sing ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’.” And that was when it was really impressed upon me just the power that music has. So yes, music is a very integral part of Agape’s service, because you can reach everybody in a song.
JF: Right. Another singer friend of mine, Niki Harris, used to sing there pretty frequently, as well.
BB: What’s the name?
JF: Niki, Niki Harris.
BB: Oh, Niki Harris, yes! That’s my sister, yeah.
JF: Love Niki, love Niki. What up, Niki? I haven’t talked to her in forever, but another terrific, terrific talent.
BB: She’s an awesome talent, an awesome person.
JF: A lot of folks would know her from having sung with Madonna for a bunch of years.
BB: That’s right, that’s right, but she is an awesome artist in her own right. She’s out in the world singing somewhere; last time I spoke to her she was on her way to Russia, doin’ her thing.
BB: So yeah, Niki’s got it goin’ on.
JF: I gotta track her down. I would love to talk to Niki for the site, that would be great.
BB: If you have trouble reaching her, I can help you.
JF: Great. Bridgette, thank you. I don’t want to take up too much of your time today, I’m just glad that we finally had a chance to link with you. Before we go, tell everybody how they can pick up SOULMATE COLLECTION.
BB: All right, and I want to say thank you, too. Thank you.
JF: You are welcome--more than welcome--my pleasure.
BB: Thank you so very much for allowing me this opportunity, and I want to thank Gary for being such a wonderful, wonderful man.
BB: In the house! Okay, you can find me on my website, www.bridgettebryant.com: B-r-i-d-g-e-t-t-e B-r-y-a-n-t dot com; you can find me on Facebook, you can find me on iTunes, amazon.com, and CDBaby. And that’s where you can find me.
JF: Great. And you’re pretty active on Facebook, right? Folks can connect directly with you?
BB: Yes, every day—every day. Every morning, every evening. Sometimes in the afternoon.
JF: How are you finding that experience, connecting with your people directly through Facebook?
BB: You know what? Technology is a beautiful thing, and people that you wouldn’t have an opportunity to speak with or meet with are buttons away … just a few buttons, a few yellow happy faces away. I spoke to somebody in South Africa the other night who said, “Oh, thank you for the music. I just received a copy, and I’m so inspired.” What a blessing is that, right? So I have nothing but wonderful things to say about this technology we have, and I’m happy to learn more and more about it; every day I do.
JF: Now I heard no mention of Twitter, so …
BB: Okay, I’m on Twitter, but I don’t tweet or twit or whatever it’s called [laughs].
JF: And it’s okay if you don’t, it’s okay if you don’t. It’s funny, there are the Twitter lovers, and then there are the Twitter non-lovers.
BB: I can’t say that I love it or don’t love it yet. I haven’t really gotten with Twitter yet. I’m trying—I’m trying. I will.
JF: Well, for an artist like yourself, you probably appreciate the more long-form aspect of Facebook versus the quick hit of Twitter.
BB: That’s right, I have things to say! You only have fifteen characters on Twitter, then you’re done.
JF: Yeah, I know.
BB: Oh man, I’m going to start … what do you call it? twitting? tweeting?
JF: Well, technically it’s called tweeting.
BB: Tweeting. I’m going to tweet today. Thank you, Jeff. Are you on Twitter?
JF: Uh …
BB: “Uh …” [laughs].
JF: Reluctantly, yes, but I’m not a big Twitterhead at all.
BB: I’m going to follow you—today I’m going to follow you on Twitter.
JF: Feel free. You’ll be one of my five followers [laughs]
BB: Oh, I have three more than you! [laughs]
JF: Thanks again, so much, Bridgette. What a pleasure to talk to you. Our doors are open to you anytime; please know that. Hopefully this is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between SoulMusic.com and Miss Bridgette Bryant.
BB: Oh, thank you so much, and everybody at SoulMusic.com.
JF: Everybody, go hit up Bridgette on Facebook, go pick up the album, SOULMATE COLLECTION. It is beautiful, ethereal, intimate, adult music.
BB: Yay! Thank you so much.
JF: Talk soon, Bridgette. Again, for SoulMusic.com, I’m Jeff Forman and we’ve been talking to Bridgette Bryant. Thanks again, Bridgette.
BB: Thank you.
JF: Talk soon. Later, everybody.
About the Writer
Jeff Forman, a music industry vet, heads Mylestone, his artist advocacy firm in New York City.