Jazz Singer Catherine Russell Honors Harlem in Latest Album
Jazz vocalist Catherine Russell talks about working with music greats like David Bowie and Jackson Browne, going solo with songs that tell a story, and why her latest album is a tribute to Harlem.
"I've become so damn refined. That at night, I hate to go down to that flat with 50,000,000 Frenchmen tagging behind, with Harlem, Harlem on my mind! We are honored to be joined by Catherine Russell and talk about her new CD album called Harlem On My Mind. She's been performing, singing, for a few years? [laughter] And she's just awfully talented. How you doing? I'm good. How are you? I'm doing great. [laughter] You fell in love with music when? Oh my goodness... Yeah, seriously. From the... seriously? From the first time I remember, maybe in the late 50's, probably 1959, the first thing I remember, we had a radio in the kitchen, and I was... Playing what? ...listening... Playing the Make Believe Ballroom, WNEW AM, William B. Williams, and so the first thing I was hearing was Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, all of the Mills Brothers, all the music that they were playing, Bobby Darin, everything that was popular at that time. Parents big on music? Yes. All kinds of music. All kinds? Eclectic? Eclectic, from opera, my mother was a big opera aficionado, to all periods of classical music, to Great American Songbook, what we know now as the Great American Songbook, to blues, to... my dad was from Panama, so I heard a lot of calypso, you know. When did you know you could sing? You know, it's interesting because I knew I had a musical ear first, so I used to harmonize to the Star Spangled Banner in class, you know, when you'd sing, you know, "My country, tis..." and I just... harmonizing to it. So, I didn't know I was a singer, but I knew that I could hear a harmony. So... First gig? Well, my first... I was a dancer first. Yeah? I was a professional dancer with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. So my first gig was probably at the New York World's Fair in 1964. We performed, I think in the New York State Pavilion. So... First singing gig? First singing gig was... I feel like James Lipton right now. Sorry. [laughter] Yeah! [laughter] We had him as a guest! James...! [laughter] I think he plugs me. Yeah! You got some blue cards right here? Yeah! [laughter] I'm sorry! I love him. [laughter] Yeah I... okay. What's not to love? He's great like that! He turned around and interviewed me. I got freaked out. But... Yeah! [laughter] Never mind, I differ. [laughter] That's funny! Okay, first singing gig? Was probably, I used to make children's educational recordings for Holt Rinehart and Winston. In those days they made the, you know, Little Red Caboose, and all these things. So that was my first, when I was like nine..."