A native Texan, I was born Janet Marie Pierce to father Curtis and mother Bobbie in East Texas. For as long as I remember, I've been in love with jazz music. As a teen, I recall a particular flea market binge with my mother where I uncovered my first 78-RPM collectible record. It was a Doris Day tune "Sentimental Journey" and I played that record on my 33 1/3 turntable over and over burning out more needles than my allowance could afford.
During the 70's, I enjoyed the funk movement, which took me away from my newly discovered big band, swing and jazz. I relocated to the East Coast's Atlanta, Georgia in the 1980's and resumed my love of jazz. There witnessed one of few final performances of the late great Sarah Vaughan. I had an opportunity to see her perform at Piedmont Park while living in Atlanta. This was a pivotal moment that ignited my quest to deliver jazz vocal performance.
I was fortunate to live in Midtown, the heart of Atlanta and significant area of the arts district. Musicians and creative artists of every appreciation dwelt near me. It was useful to live within walking distance and a quick taxi ride away from Atlanta's hottest jazz clubs. I struck up relationships with some talented intern and professional musicians, arrangers and composers. I frequented open-mic clubs and sang my way around town. The recession of the late 80's kicked in and I had to get a real day job with benefits. Those were the days! Both my performance and business skills needed some polishing. It was good timing -- I guess.
Back to the Drawing Board
Something had to change and it had to be me. While being a corporate puppet, I took some years off from singing to study dance and acting, as well as some great female vocalists and performers of the 1930's, 40's, 50's and early 60's. Some of these pioneers are Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone and the European sensation, Edith Piaf. I consumed the works of Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Cab Callaway, Benny Goodman, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the French equivalent to Frank Sinatra, Gilbert Bécaud ... the list goes on. It was and remains a necessary education.
People often assume that if you grew up singing in the southern church, it automatically qualifies you to deliver a passionate and heart warming song. I began my life in the 1960's with community exposure to the gospel music of the Rev. James Cleveland's charismatic and Mahalia Jackson's reverent styles. As a teen, church life took a drastic turn and I was ejected by parental right from a charismatic church environment to one without musical instruments. I had to learn to sing acappello and on key without support of instrumentation. That's fine if you like barbershop style singing.
Musical Roots Run Deep
My father raised his oldest three children, including myself, in the entertainment business. Father and mother had aspired to become professional singers, but life had specific plans for each. Mother performed at many venues and later elected to sing solely for the church. Father, became an AM disc jockey, when AM was king. Father was the first black cross-over radio personality in the Texas market and a spin-doctor for the popular soul acts of the 60's and early 70's. Insiders called him the man with the golden voice because he had millions of loyal listeners. He was the voice of the then Southern black people introducing some major black musical talent whose lyrics spoke to the heart of the black community. His talent extended beyond Texas to Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and for a time during the late 60's and early 70's, California's Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan markets.
Dad became a network television personality hosting and showcasing top acts on his show entitled "Operation Soul",which aired on area affiliate TV stations. My siblings and I had opportunities to meet some phenomenal people in the music industry. People like Bobby Blue Bland, Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Johnny Taylor, Ike and Tina Turner and some memorable one-hit wonders who all made it a point to focus on community. For lack of rehearsal space (translated: not welcomed here) during the height of the civil rights movement, some of these artists often practiced in our garage prior to scheduled performances. I had learned first-hand the skills of entertainment from the pros. Father never actively encouraged me because he knew singing and entertaining is in my blood.
An On-going Education
I'm embarking on an educational journey of working with a local 16-piece big band and a full orchestra. I continue my stewardship and music appreciation extending my understanding of classical, country, world beat, alternative rock ... and yes, hip hop. It continues to be a necessary education.