GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations: Dee Dee Bridgewater

Two-time GRAMMY winner discusses five GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that reflect the evolution of her musical personality
  • Photo: John Shearer/
    Dee Dee Bridgewater
January 10, 2013 -- 4:21 pm PST
By Steve Hochman /

(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various GRAMMY winners who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)

Dee Dee Bridgewater's two GRAMMY Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance and Best Jazz Vocal Album only tell part of her musical story.

She's long embraced a wide range of music throughout her career, evidenced by various mixes of jazz — her album Eleanora Fagan (1915–1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater (a Best Jazz Vocal Album winner in 2010) honored the spirit of Billie Holiday with great creativity and imagination; R&B; theater — she's starred in key productions of "The Wiz" and "Sophisticated Ladies"; and, with her stunning GRAMMY-nominated album Red Earth — A Malian Journey, African roots. And in 2012, Bridgewater joined Al Jarreau and Hubert Laws to anchor the current 55th GRAMMY-nominated album companion to the recent children's book, JumpinJazz Kids — A Swinging Jungle Tale.

Despite her diversified résumé, you'd probably never expect to hear her speak these words.

"I love Lawrence Welk!" she says, scrolling through her mental file cabinets, examining the music that shaped her, the music that made her her. "I love polka music!"

Bridgewater's affinity for the genre is something she traces to her childhood in Flint, Mich., a town near Detroit perhaps more associated with the gritty soul and bouncing pop for which the region is world famous. But Bridgewater notes that it was in her childhood a vastly rich area, with a variety of strong communities interacting, including a large Polish population — her family regularly went to local Polish restaurants. Hence the polka presence in her life, and also an openness to other genres and styles of music.

It's those and other colorful memories that come to the fore when she looks through the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame roster, and is asked to select five recordings that would fully demonstrate the foundations and evolution of her musical personality.

Aretha Franklin
Atlantic (1967)
R&B (Single)
Inducted 1998

"I grew up in Flint, Mich., [and I] heard this on the radio. There was an R&B station, WAMM. I asked my father if he would get me the album [I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You] and he got it for me. [I] still remember that album's cover, white background and she had her hair short, wearing a sequined white dress. That was cool. I fell in love with her voice. [I] hadn't heard a voice like that — so powerful, 'gospelly,' soulful, even a little jazzy. Also, being from Flint, growing up with the beginning of Motown and R&B music was very big for me when I was a little girl. I started singing in talent shows and in my own group. [We] called ourselves the Iridescents. We were a trio, modeled ourselves after the Supremes, Martha And The Vandellas, [the] Marvelettes. And Aretha. I wanted to have a voice like that. That big, boomy voice. But I could never do the vocal trills that she would do. [I've] never been able to do that, [and] never understood that. Mine came out like plain notes. I was fascinated with that.

"And I remember my mother taking my sister and me to see Aretha perform live. We worked our way down front to the edge of the stage, an outdoor venue near Detroit. I was just mesmerized. I watched everything, the way she held her microphone, the way she was relating to the band and background singers. I wanted background singers! I wanted to be a singer with background singers! That was a dream. I doubt there are many singers who haven't been influenced by her."

"Hound Dog"
Elvis Presley
RCA Victor (1956)
Rock & Roll (Single)
Inducted 1988

"I used to love Elvis Presley, just about any song. But the one that really grabbed me was 'Hound Dog.' I'd never seen a white singer with so much soul! [I] was always fascinated when he would go on television shows, gyrate his hips and slick back his hair. I loved his bling outfits, the jumpsuits. I thought he was pretty rad. He was just always there."

"Over The Rainbow"
Judy Garland
Decca (1939)
Traditional Pop (Single)
Inducted 1981

"I remember when Judy Garland had her TV show. I loved watching her, though I never owned any Judy Garland records. I remember I first fell in love with her in The Wizard Of Oz, then she would do her TV show and I loved that she was always dressed in black and stood with her legs a little apart and would belt from her gut. So much emotion! 'Over the Rainbow,' she would end her shows with that.

"I always liked performers that are big [and] dramatic. [I] loved the drama. I was a musicals girl, loved the Ziegfeld Follies [and] would stay up late at night to watch all those dance numbers, the women coming down the stairs, surrounded by men lining the stairs. That was always a dream of mine to do that."

"Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" (Part 1)
James Brown
King (1965)
R&B (Single)
Inducted 1999

"I loved James Brown. No, you don't understand: I loved James Brown. The music [I listen to] in the theater before I do concerts is James Brown. It has nothing to do with me doing the Billie Holiday repertoire or whatever. But for now I can't get off James Brown. I loved that his music was so danceable, [it] made you want to get up and dance.

"I would crawl out the window of my house at 14 and steal my mother's Volkswagen Beetle to go see James Brown at the IMA Auditorium. And it was a stick-shift car! I was a bad girl.

"Oh yeah, I loved his stage show. I'd never seen such [a] production. How they would bring the cape, put it on him, he'd leave the stage — ‘Please, please, please’ — then break it down and freeze, [and] come back. Oh lord! And his dancing. Oh man!" 

Patsy Cline 
Decca (1962)
Country (Single)
Inducted 1992

"I loved the Grand Ole Opry. I was in love with Minnie Pearl and Johnny Cash and Gene Autry, Patsy Cline, [and] Loretta Lynn. I love country and western. I'm just a closet country and western girl. I go to country and western bars. I line dance. My mother used to square dance. [I] used to love her in her square dance outfit. I just wanted to grow up and be a cowgirl. I'm still a cowgirl, [I] have the boots and hats and clothes. I'm getting ready to do a blues project and thinking about putting in a little country and western. I was born in Memphis, Tenn., so maybe R&B is what I know but country and western [is also] from down there.

"I used to watch the Opry when it had a TV show. [I] was a huge fan, huge. And I didn't understand why black people couldn't sing country and western. It's blues for me. I proposed doing a country and western album to my label, back when I was on Elektra. They looked at me like I was crazy."

(Two-time GRAMMY winner Dee Dee Bridgewater has been lauded as one of the best jazz singers of her generation. Her most recent album is 2011's Midnight Sun, a collection of jazz standards.)

(Steve Hochman has been covering the music world since 1985. He can be heard regularly discussing new music releases on KPCC-FM's "Take Two" and the KQED-FM-produced show "The California Report," and he is also a regular contributor to the former station's arts blog "Without A Net." For 25 years he was a mainstay of the pop music team at the Los Angeles Times and his work has appeared in many other publications.)

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