This month marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A decade later, New Orleans has regained its footing and found within its citizens a resilience that has defined a generation. For singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, this anniversary offers an opportunity to celebrate a city that held steady beyond anyone’s wildest expectations; that celebration comes to life on her new CD, Dee Dee’s Feathers, for which the singer teamed up with Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (Mayfield was the founding Artistic Director). Next Tuesday, August 25, Bridgewater will be sharing stories and music at the Grammy Museum.
According to Bridgewater the album was never meant to be a commercial endeavor, but rather a more personal project. “The idea was born out of a collaboration I’d had with Irvin and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and Irvin and his small groups,” she says. “We had done groundbreaking for the construction of the Jazz Market. That evening during dinner I said, ‘We need to do a record. I think it would be a great product we could sell at the market.’ That was on February 26, 2014. About four days later he calls and he’s got a list of songs. Then he called me three weeks later and we did it.” As for her goal with the album? “We’re trying to convey the love and the joy and the fun of the city,” she says. “I think we got it. The magic was there.”
Bridgewater, who grew up in Flint, Michigan, has loved New Orleans since her very first visit, a two-week jaunt performing in Broadway’s Sophisticated Ladies. “I love the whole idea of the French and the Creole and the architecture,” she says. “The people of the city know about the history. And I love the history of the families that keep families in homes there for generations and generations. The food I love. The joie de vivre. Their buoyancy I love. How the city has beat all the odds and come back after the devastation of Katrina.” Sophisticated Ladies is not the only Broadway show on her resume. She won a Tony Award for playing Glinda in the original production of The Wiz.
The singer particularly enjoyed recording “St. James Infirmary” for the album, a song steeped in NOLA tradition. “When Irvin played it for me, he explained the tradition of changing the song up, putting their own personal stamp on it,” she says. “That’s what we got to do. So he came up with those lyrics. What a talented man and entrepreneur. He can write lyrics on a dime.” She is also fond of the song “Hold Steady.” In the album’s making-of video, she reveals that the song makes her think of a post-Katrina New Orleans. So how does Bridgewater personally hold steady? “I think I hold steady through the power of prayer and conviction and trying to find the optimism in every situation,” she says. “I’ve been wounded and I’ve been in battles. I’m still here. I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter and I will get back up. Now that I’ve turned 65, not that the fight has gone out of me, but I pick and choose my battles. I’ve given life my best shot. I’m proud of what I’ve done and I’m comfortable in my own skin. I can look anyone in the face without any fear or any guilt. That’s why I feel so free on stage. I love what I’m doing. And God willing, I can do this until my last breath.”