April 2, 2018 | Suraya Mohamed — “This is me coming back full circle in my life,” Dee Dee Bridgewater told NPR right before this Tiny Desk performance. Ever since her teenage years, she’s wanted to make her latest album, Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready. Now, a gorgeous 67 years young, Bridgewater is connecting openly with her roots, her birthplace and the town she’s loved all her life.
When she was just three years old, her family moved from Memphis, Tennessee, to Flint, Michigan. Years later, Bridgewater could still hear the soul sounds of Memphis on WDIA, the first radio station in America programmed entirely by African-Americans for African-Americans. She recalled, “I could catch it when I was in Flint as a teenager and I would listen to it after 11:00 at night, because that was the only time I could get it — when all the other stations were off the air. I know it was real, ’cause I went through it and these were all songs I heard on WDIA.”
Bridgewater brought three of these songs to the Tiny Desk: First, is the celebrated blues hit, “Hound Dog,” first recorded by not by Elvis Presley but by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1952. What makes this presentation special is not only Bridgewater’s sultry and soulful interpretation, but her adorable Daisy, perhaps the cutest “Hound Dog” to ever bless this song.
The first lines of the next tune will quite actually send chills down your spine. Bridgewater and backup singers Sharisse Norman and Shontelle Norman-Beatty’s close harmonic voicings add a spiritual dimension to the already hallowed song. “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?” was written by Roebuck “Pops” Staples in response to the harassment of the Little Rock Nine, brave students who decided they had the right to attend an all-white Arkansas high school in 1957.
Last here is “B.A.B.Y.” Bridgewater recorded this song and the entire album in Memphis’ historic Royal Studios and told NPR this story, “I stepped outside of the studio right after they started mixing ‘B.A.B.Y.’ and I said a prayer. I said, ‘God I need a sign, that I’m moving in the right direction because I am completely stepping completely away from jazz music.'” Before Bridgewater could get back into the studio to record the next track she got a surprise visit from Carla Thomas, the Memphis soul queen herself and daughter of Rufus Thomas, influential entertainer, singer-songwriter and former WDIA radio DJ. It was a true return to her Memphis roots, a memorable and beautiful moment for Bridgewater.
“Hound Dog” (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller)
“Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?” (Roebuck “Pops” Staples)
Producers: Suraya Mohamed, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Bronson Arcuri, Morgan Noelle Smith, Tsering Bista, CJ Riculan; Production Assistant: Jenna Li; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR
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