Contemporary Jazz Soul
Born to musician parents in Brooklyn, New York, Russell had music in her blood. Without any formal training, she began composing songs in high school. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue her music career in the late 1970s and was quickly signed to Horizon Records. After putting out records on A&M and Warner Bros, she took time off from the record labels to work on independent projects.
Composer of the Grammy-nominated Piano In The Dark, Russells songwriting prowess and ability to shift between musical genres and combine styles won her accolades in 2005 with the opening of the Tony Award-winning hit Broadway musical The Color Purple–a show for which she co-wrote the music and lyrics. She also co-wrote the song Justice of the Heart with Stevie Wonder for the Denzel Washington movie John Q.
Russell has collaborated with many artists including Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire, Joni Mitchell, Donna Summer and Sting.
As one of the recording industrys rare artists who has found success scaling the musical divides of rock, pop, R&B, jazz, classical and Latin, and fusing them into a distinct style, Brenda Russells music is bound by neither time nor trend as she continues to attract fans around the world.
Sound Observations with Brenda Russell
By David Moye
Songwriting is an art form based on inspiration. All an artist can do is make themselves aware of when the moment arrives and act on it.
Just ask Brenda Russell, the composer of standards like “Get Here,” “If Only For One Night,” and the Grammy-nominated “Piano In The Dark,.”
“I have to let it come to me any way, even when I’m washing dishes,” Russell said. “That’s how my first hit, ‘So Far, So Good,’ came to me. To me, songwriting is spiritual and I try to be open.”
It’s an approach that has worked for Russell, who in a three-decade career has been a multi-Grammy nominee and cowrote the songs for the hit Broadway musical, “The Color Purple.”
Now she is bringing many of the highlights of that career to Anthology on May 28 — most of them.
“This time, I doing songs that people are familiar with and some that are not so familiar but I like,” she said. “I am not doing anything from ‘The Color Purple,’ but hope to work some of them into the show at a later date.”
As she mentioned, Russell, considers songwriting a spiritual activity, but while she is a great, self-taught piano player, she admits not being able to read or write music.
In many ways, that’s been an advantage.
“I allow the songs to happen in my head, then I get out of the way,” she laughed. “I’ve tried many different ways of writing songs. One thing I do is collect song titles. That’s how I wrote ‘Piano In The Dark.’ My co-writers, Jeff Hull and Scott Cutler, came up with this beautiful music and wanted lyrics and a title. They were rushing me so I went to my song title collection and said, ‘Piano In The Dark.’
“They said, ‘We like it, but what does that mean?’ I said, ‘i’ll figure it out.’”
The song ended up as a top ten hit for her in 1988 and was nominated for a Grammy in the Song Of The Year category.
Not being to write a song down may be a hindrance at time, especially, she says, “when I’m trying to articulate something to the musicians,” but she sees the value in having to commit a song to memory.
“If I wake up and it’s not on my mind, I know it probably isn’t that good,” she said. “It’s like I once said, ‘If your boyfriend doesn’t last more than six months, you probably have a good song.”