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Dee Dee Bridgewater: "At 7 years old, I thought I would be an internationally renowned singer... And that came true."
Dee Dee Bridgewater: "At 7 years old, I thought I would be an internationally renowned singer... And that came true."
Photo by Mark Higashino

Dee Dee Bridgewater on What She'll Bring to the South Beach Jazz Festival

"My father played trumpet, so we always listened to jazz. I don't think there was any choice in the matter," says Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Grammy- and Tony-winning jazz singer. Taking a break from entertaining her family and watching Martha Stewart on TV the morning of Christmas Eve, Bridgewater speaks with New Times by phone about her January 4 headlining set for the South Beach Jazz Festival. "I consider myself an entertainer that tries to bring the audience into the show and give them a good time."

Bridgewater was born in Memphis, Tennessee. She grew up in Flint, Michigan, but the city of her birth kept calling her back and continues to this day. "I'd sneak in at night and listen to Memphis radio." In remembrance of those nights, she released 2017's Memphis... Yes, I'm Ready, a collection of songs from the city made famous by Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes, and B.B. King. But the real musical hero she was chasing on the record was her father. "My dad taught music in Memphis high schools from 1949 to 1953. Going through these songs, I learned a lot about him."

The Memphis project was so exhilarating Bridgewater says she plans to cut a sequel that will take her back to the songs of her youth. "I've always been able to sing," she says of her early years. "It came natural. When I was older, I realized not everyone could do it. But at 7 years old, I thought I would be an internationally renowned singer. I would be in the Ziegfeld Follies and walk down a staircase singing and be surrounded and carried by beautiful men. And that came true."

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Bridgewater immersed herself in the jazz world in the early '70s. During that decade, she also found great success in musical theater. Her Tony Award came from playing Glinda the Good Witch in the Broadway production of The Wiz. She says it's no accident she's been able to keep her voice powerful after all these decades of performing. "I've been doing this 48 years. My voice is a well-oiled machine. I tell students in the master classes I teach: 'Sing properly from your diaphragm, and get plenty of rest. But even if you don't, the show must go on.'"

For her show at the South Beach Jazz Festival, Bridgewater's vocals will be backed by a trio of amazing musicians on piano, drums, and bass, performing songs from her various projects, she says. She'll also pay tribute to some of her jazz vocal inspirations, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Betty Carter. It will be a fun beginning to 2019, a year for which Bridgewater has big plans. But beyond revealing the follow-up album in homage to Memphis, she's mum about the specifics of what the year will hold. "Having done a lot of theater," she says, "I've learned the hard way not to talk about things until they're real."

Dee Dee Bridgewater. 8 p.m. Friday, January 4, at Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 800-211-1414. Tickets cost $40 to $60 via colonymb.org.

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