Few entertainers have ever commanded such depth of artistry in every medium. Fewer still have been rewarded with Broadway’s coveted Tony Award (Best Featured Actress in a Musical - The Wiz), nominated for the London theater’s West End equivalent, the Laurence Oliver Award (Best Actress in a Musical - Lady Day), won two Grammy Awards (1998’s Best Jazz Vocal Performance and Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal for “Cottontail” - Slide Hampton, arranger - “Dear Ella “), and France’s 1998 top honor Victoire de la Musique (Best Jazz Vocal Album).
Dee Dee captured the hearts of audiences worldwide in The Wiz with her signature song, “If You Believe”. According to Nick Ashford of Ashford and Simpson, Dee Dee’s rendition “personified a generation and gave us all hope.”
As a sparkling ambassador for jazz, she bathed in its music before she could walk. Her mother played the greatest albums of Ella Fitzgerald, whose artistry provided an inspiration for Dee Dee throughout her career. Her father was a trumpeter who taught music - to Booker Little, Charles Lloyd and George Coleman, among others. It is the kind of background that leaves its mark on an adolescent, especially one who appeared solo and with a trio as soon as she was able. Dee Dee’s other vocation - that of globetrotter - reared its head when she toured the Soviet Union in 1969 with the University of Illinois Big Band. A year later, she followed her then husband, Cecil Bridgewater, to New York.
Dee Dee made her phenomenal New York debut in 1970 as the lead vocalist for the band led by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, one of the premier jazz orchestras of the time. These New York years marked an early career in concerts and on recordings with such giants as Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach and Roland Kirk, and rich experiences with Norman Connors, Stanley Clarke and Frank Foster’s “Loud Minority.”
Dee Dee doesn’t care much for labels, and in 1974 she jumped at the chance to act and sing on Broadway where her voice, beauty and stage presence won her great success and a Tony Award for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz. This began a long line of awards and accolades as well as opportunities to work in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Paris and in London where she garnered the coveted “Laurence Olivier” Award nomination as Best Actress for her tour de force portrayal of jazz legend Billie Holiday in Stephen Stahl’s Lady Day. Performing the lead in equally demanding acting/singing roles as Sophisticated Ladies, Cosmopolitan Greetings, Black Ballad, Carmen Jazz and the musical Cabaret (the first black actress to star as Sally Bowles), she secured her reputation as a consummate entertainer.
Taking over the reigns of JazzSet from the illustrious Branford Marsalis, Dee Dee continues to bring her message to listeners. NPR’s JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater is the jazz lover’s ears and eyes on the world of live music. It presents today’s best jazz artists in performance on stages around the world, taking listeners to Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as Marciac in the French countryside and across the North American continent from Montreal to Monterey.
Drawing on a deep font of talent and inspiration, Bridgewater’s 2007 project, Red Earth - A Malian Journey, is a journey both forward and back. Melding Malian voices, music and traditional instruments with American Jazz vernacular and penning many of the lyrics, Bridgewater has crafted one of her most important musical statements to date. She explains the album is “the culmination of my decision to find my African roots. It was an idea I first had when doing Horace Silver’s music, which is so syncopated and rhythmic.” The resulting Grammy-nominated album Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver solidified her resolve to further investigate African music. With the death of Ella Fitzgerald in 1996 and Dee Dee’s subsequent double Grammy Award-winning tribute Dear Ella, the project was put on hold. Her ensuing albums, Live at Yoshi’s, This is New, and J’ai Deux Amours, incorporated more global sounds and influences and yielded Grammy nominations for two of the albums.