When Anita E. Berry set out to produce the very first sailing of The Jazz Cruise, she knew that she needed some star power to make it work. Without hesitation, she sought out Dee Dee Bridgewater to be that person. Dee Dee agreed and did she deliver! Fortunately for us at Entertainment Cruise Productions, she has brought the magic to each and every cruise on which she has sailed.
Of course she has. Dee Dee is a jazz icon. A 2 time Grammy Award winner, she is the only person ever to combine that honor with a Tony Award and being inducted as an NEA Jazz Master, the hall of fame of jazz. Beyond her musical recognition, Dee Dee is an Ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and supports several education programs for children.
When not on the bandstand, Dee Dee can be found on another stage. Her turn as Glinda in “The Wiz” earned her the Tony and, recently, she had the lead role of Billie Holiday in “Lady Day.” Just as is the case with her singing credits, there are too many roles to mention in this limited space. She is a star.
Recently, Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, had an opportunity to chat with Dee Dee.
Lazaroff: Though we have written, it has been more than a year since I have seen you in person. How are you doing amidst the pandemic?
Bridgewater: I’m doing okay Michael … as with most people there are good days and bad. I’ve had some lovely moments doing videos for various non-profits I support, and other small projects for people who have reached out. Like many, I took the opportunity to do work on my home, my yard. And I’m blessed to live in a lovely gated community, so I began bike riding, which soothes my mind and spirits, and makes my furry companion happy (riding in my basket).
Lazaroff: You are a jazz icon with Grammy Awards and recognition as an NEA Jazz Master, as well as a brilliant musical theater performer, earning a Tony Award for “The Wiz.” Is there any medium or genre that you would like to conquer next?
Bridgewater: Well I’ve dreamt of doing more television and maybe a movie. However, I haven’t really pursued as every time I’ve been offered a role I wasn’t available due to concert work. I’m actually open to the eventuality should the opportunity present itself. We’ll see.
Lazaroff: This interview is part of our History of Entertainment Cruise Productions series. You were the #1 headliner of the very first full ship charter we ever produced. You could say that you started it all for us.
Bridgewater: How funny Michael but I had no idea I was the headliner. It was a wonderful opportunity as far as I was concerned, and Anita was kind enough to extend the offer. I do remember that I came from France with my French & Dutch musicians. I remember that Frank Foster was there with his big band, and I remember the Clayton Brothers (RIPower Jeff Clayton) and sitting in with them. I remember your mother trying to keep me calm during some rough weather.
Lazaroff: One of the true blessings of producing The Jazz Cruise is being able to see how stars like you craft your shows and create new avenues and vehicles for your talents. What goes into the decision to do a new show, like “Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready”?
Bridgewater: This project was born out of fact that my mother was beginning her transition (she had vascular dementia which we fought together 10 years before her passing 3/1/17). I knew that her passing was going to be a difficult period and knew I would need music to uplift me, heal my soul, not require mental acrobatics as my mind would be numb. I wanted music that would make me dance. As I was born in Memphis, and had been mulling over a more blues-oriented project. After a visit there where I heard “Baby” in the airport, I decided to do the music from Memphis that I listened to in my teen years on WDIA radio, hence the album.
Lazaroff: As a vocalist, you must have performed with countless accompanists, particularly on the piano.
Bridgewater: Carmen Staaf, Bill Charlap (who I’m currently working with on a duo project), Edsel Gomez, Michael King, and a young pianist named Sequoia Snyder.
Lazaroff: We just announced that you will be inducted into The Jazz Cruise Hall of Fame during The Jazz Cruise ’22. Though this honor pales in comparison to your other honors, the list of prior winners is significant. We hope that you are excited for the honor and will enjoy your induction along with Paquito D’Rivera, a fellow NEA Jazz Master.
Bridgewater: Michael, it is always a blessing to be honored for my artistry, my work, my career. To be inducted into The Jazz Cruise Hall of Fame beside Paquito D’Rivera during The Jazz Cruise ’22 is in itself an honor as I have a great deal of respect for Paquito.
Lazaroff: Your fashion sense has always been part of your allure and persona. What is your motivation and inspiration for your look?
Bridgewater: Both my parents were “fashionistas,” loved dressing and being ahead of the curve so to speak, and my mother was a shopaholic. Almost every weekend she took my sister Rhonda and me on shopping trips. After moving to France is when I developed my true style sense, being dressed by the likes of Issey Miyake, Paco Rabanne, Giorgio Armani, YSL. I was invited to Paris Fashion Week on several occasions. All of this informed me on how to be free with my style, be daring. And the icing on the cake was when my sister gifted me with a table book on Iris Apfel!!! Her fashion sense liberated me. Now I just listen to my spirit and shop in my closet!
Lazaroff: You are always working on a new project or two. What is the next “big thing” for Dee Dee Bridgewater?
Bridgewater: In 2019 I created a mentoring program for women in jazz called The Woodshed Network, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and in partnership with 651 Arts in Brooklyn. My daunager (daughter/manager) Tulani Bridgewater-Kowalski created the programming. It is a program aimed at giving women in jazz career development insight through mentorship by women, leaders in their fields. We just completed our second year virtually March 1-12, 2021 as 2020 was hindered by the pandemic. So far 20 women have come through the program. I have a couple of recording projects that I’m working on, but won’t speak about until they are near completion.