Women’s History Month: Dee Dee and Billie

Dee Bridgewater “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee” Album Cover (Emarcy Records, Universal Music Group, DDB Productions, Inc.)

Jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater will perform as Billie Holiday in a new musical, “Lady Day,” opening in September at New York’s Little Shubert Theater.  Billie Holiday was also known as Lady Day.  Dee Dee performed as Billie Holiday in Paris and London in the 1980s to professional acclaim.  In 2010, Dee Dee won the Grammy Award for best jazz vocal for “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee.”  Eleanora Fagan was Billie Holiday’s birth name.  The musical tells Billie’s story, focusing on preparations for her final concerts.  (See our previous blog on Billie Holiday.)

Dee Dee was born Denise Eileen Garrett on May 27, 1950 in Memphis and was raised in Flint, MI.  Her mother played the albums of Ella Fitzgerald, whose artistry inspired Dee Dee throughout her career.  Her father was a jazz trumpeter who also taught music.

At age 16 Dee Dee was part of a rock and rhythm and blues trio that performed in clubs in Michigan.  She attended Michigan State University and then the University of Illinois.  In 1969, as a member of the University of Illinois jazz band, she toured the Soviet Union.  The next year she met trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater.  They were married and moved to New York City.  Dee Dee joined the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra as lead vocalist, and this was the beginning of her jazz career.  She sang with many great jazz musicians such as Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Dee Dee won a Tony Award in 1975 as best featured actress in Broadway’s “The Wiz” for her acting and singing role as Glinda the good witch.  In 1998 Dee Dee won two Grammy Awards — best jazz vocal for “Dear Ella” and best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocal for “Cotton Tail “from “Dear Ella.”

In 1999 Dee Dee was named Ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and joined the battle against world hunger.

She is host of National Public Radio’s syndicated radio show JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Berklee City Music sincerely thanks Dee Dee Bridgewater for her contribution to jazz.

Visit Dee Dee Bridgewater’s website: www.deedeebridgewater.com

Check out “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Bille with Love from Dee Dee” on our “Women in Music” playlist.

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