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queen esther, music


This Rock n' Roll BlackGrrl's High Life

A Cautionary Tale

Holy Blues and Solo Performance
queen esther, music
As an artist, the more hats I wear creatively, the more likely it is that I'll stay employed.  A few weeks ago, I auditioned for Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) and their On-Site Performance Program after some time away from the organization.  HAI is a city/state government funded organization that provides art/music to mental health and educational facilities, hospitals, hospices, etc. I initially worked with them when I first came to the city as a jazz/blues vocalist. That's when they were Hospital Audiences Inc.  I would hire my own collective and go into some pretty incredible situations. The gig I did on Riker's Island with a bassist and guitarist -- mostly Billie Holiday's body of work -- will stay with me forever.

This time around, I auditioned as as a solo performer -- just me and my Baby Taylor -- and at the beginning of the month, I found out that I've been accepted to their artist roster.

I'm expanding my repertoire as a performing songwriter to include country gospel and gospel blues -- also called holy blues -- because it's the sound that raised me. I know I'm veering towards it because I miss my people deeply, and I really miss the Lowcountry.   The upshot of it all is that the songs are so straightforward and uncomplicated, I'll be forced to get my guitar chops in order.  And it's inspired a lot of interesting songs that I hope to put into my next album.

During performances, there is an HAI monitor on the premises to assess your work for their files. My first gig  -- 60 minutes of holy blues in the rec room of an elder care/mental outpatient facility deep in the heart of Brooklyn -- happened last week. Here is what they wrote.


Audience Response: Stupendous. This group of residents and staff members overwhelmingly loved this. Tina, a staff person who stood in for Iola; our regular contact, who is currently out on medical leave, highly praised this performance and couldn't thank Queen Esther enough.

Additional Comments: This wasn't the overly produced, swelling, ramped-up, modern gospel that accompanies the ubiquitous Sunday morning, religious radio shows. It was a breathtaking recreation of raw-to-the-bone, plaintive and excruciatingly heartfelt, unadorned, old-time, rural gospel music; the spiritual equivalent of Robert Johnson's worldly, piercing, early delta blues. I personally felt transported to some unassuming, rustic, backwoods, Black American church of the 1930's. Queen Esther's relation to this music through her background, (born and raised in South Carolina), and innate, exquisite sensibility, was evident, as she spoke between songs, probing the audience's
knowledge of the music, while filling in a bit of the not-widely-known history of this vital and uniquely American art form. This was a beautiful, artistic and daring performance.

TONIGHT'S GIG: JC Hopkins Combo w/Queen Esther + Charles Turner -- and Hugh Masekela -- at Minton's!
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Join JC Hopkins Biggish Band for a very special evening featuring revered South African trumpeter HUGH MASEKELA on Wednesday, October 15th at 7pm. The band will be pared down this week to accommodate Masekela and includes vocalists Queen Esther and Charles Turner, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and Julian Pressley on reeds, King Solomon Hicks on guitar, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Shirazette Tinnin. Masekela joins the bandstand with his long-time brethren of over 50 years, incomparable pianist, LARRY WILLIS and one of the early pioneers of Cape Jazz and founder of SafroJazz, MORRIS GOLDBERG, plus his continuing inspiration for Sony recording artist who has called Masekela her mentor since childhood, SOMI.

Queen Esther's Black Americana Album "The Other Side": The Country Music People Review
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FYI: This review appears in the October 2014 issue of London, England's Country Music People. Thank you for reading this version.


QUEEN ESTHER/The Other Side (five stars)

Sunnyland / I’ve Come Undone Again / Jet Airliner / Oh Sun / Sadness Everlasting / Somebody Else’s Baby / Will You Or Won’t You / My Big Iron Skillet / The Other Sde / Love Is A Wrecking Ball / I Feel Like Going Home / I’ve Come Undone Again, version 2 / Jet Airliner [The Black Americana Version]

Producer: Queen Esther, EL Recordings 52:35

Secrets do have a way of leaking out, and one that desperately needs to be heard is Americana/country/ jazz singer, Queen Esther. The very talented songwriter has a superb old school soulful voice, which years ago would probably have taken her high into the charts. Queen Esther began her career in 2004 with Talkin’ Fishbowl Blues, a neat mix of blues and country, which ended with an interesting version of Tammy Wynette’s classic Stand By Your Man. In 2010 Queen Esther climbed on another horse, jazz, which resulted in another fine CD, What Is Love? Now we have Queen Esther’s most country album, The Other Side, which contains some stunning traditional country, a dash of country/blues and some well selected cover versions. Every song is sung with passion and fire, by this underrated female singer who should be a musical giant.

Opening delight, Sunnyland, begins as an acoustic country/blues song, but then becomes more upbeat as the electric guitar bursts in. Queen Esther’s wonderful vocal has hints of her gospel and church roots in the south of the USA. The country tracks start with the incredible heartbreaker, I’ve Come Undone Again, an original song. Queen Esther’s vocal and her songwriting skills on this track indicate strongly that this is where she should be. The CD’s best country song is touched with old school genius; Sadness Everlasting would have been perfect for George Jones.  Queen Esther’s knowing vocal, which has a touch of sadness, is perfection, with a superb steel guitar solo as well. For me, this track is one of the best traditional country songs of the decade so far. Not far behind it is another traditional gem, Somebody Else’s Baby, which would have been a good song for Connie Smith to tackle.

Queen Esther’s amazing CD includes several cover versions, all of them high quality songs. The Steve Miller Band’s 1977 hit, Jet Airliner, which was originally written in 1973 by Paul Pena, emerges as a blazing blues/rock song. Queen Esther attacks this foot-tapper with great gusto. The Queen also does a strong version of Wanda Jackson’s My Big Iron Skillet, which dates back to 1969. Heard in 2014 the song sounds almost like a feminist anthem, with Queen Esther sounding like she understands the dark drama of this underrated track.

Other highlights are the country/gospel of The Other Side, and the acoustic country/blues song Love Is A Wrecking Ball. The album winds down beautifully with a killer version of the old Charlie Rich song I Feel Like Going Home. It’s a brave singer, who tackles one of Charlie Rich’s most perfect songs, but the new version also hits the target, with Queen Esther’s passionate vocal set to move anyone who hears it. The simple piano backing track, with Queen Esther’s emotional vocal is a dream end to a disc which has no faults.

So the secret is out, Queen Esther is a major talent in several area’s, but her greatest talent is as a writer and singer of the more traditional country song. Hopefully this is the road she is planning to travel down for many years. The Other Side is a major work, by a vital, important artist who has been ignored for too long, hopefully now is Queen Esther time.  -- Paul Riley

TONIGHT'S GIG: JC Hopkins' Biggish Band featuring Queen Esther and Charles Turner at Minton's!
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Since May of this year, I've been in residency in Harlem every Wednesday at Minton's -- the place where be-bop was born -- with JC Hopkins' Biggish Band. Thanks to businessman Richard Parsons and noted chef/restauranteur Alexander Smalls, this legendary establishment has been revitalized and is now the epicenter of what many consider to be a resurgence of new jazz in the city.

It has been an absolute privilege to sing and perform in a space where so many revered musicians and vocalists have shined so brightly.  I am humbled to share the stage with so many gifted musicians that compel me to go further than I ever thought I would vocally.  All of that soloing from so many horns for so long has bent my ears in all the right ways.  There's no going back now.

I'll be at Minton's tonight with the band, along with vocalist Charles Turner, starting at 7pm. For more information, click here.

In the meantime, here's a slice of all of us, in action: J. Walter Hawkes the trombonist, accompanying me on ukulele with this timeless classic I Cover The Waterfront.

Everything Starts Right Now
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I got my new Black Americana album -- The Other Side -- this afternoon. I've been working on this music off and on and on and on for so long, it's kind of embarassing. Finishing it is the culmination of so much that when it finally got to my living room, I was so overwhelmed, I simply sat quietly and let this overwhelming sense of gratitude ooze its way out of my soul until all i could feel was pure joy. I didn't play guitar on this one (that's what's next!) but I did produce it and aside from three covers, I wrote the songs.  How this album came together is something of a blur. Pinching off of paychecks and tax returns. Calling in all kinds of favors. Bartering vocals for more studio time. Turning myself into a generic wedding singer. Whatever it took, within reason. And finally -- finally! -- it's finished.

All month long, it felt like Christmas Eve. And now here I sit, stuffing envelopes to send out a little of that "holiday" magic to the initial few -- the musicians who worked on it, my consiglieri Garry Veletri and long time loved ones in Texas and beyond.  It'll take a few weeks to get it up on CDBaby and all over the place digitally, which is why the official release date is May 1st.  The PR/radio push starts in April so there probably won't be any reviews in print until July or August, if I get any reviews at all.  But no matter. I finished it. Thank God Almighty, I finished it. The fact that it's done is so overwhelming, I'm not even remotely freaked out about anything else.

While I was woodshedding and spring cleaning waiting for the UPS guy today, I couldn't stop thinking about JefLee Johnson and this particular song -- because everything really does start right now.  It almost feels like he was telling me this as a statement of fact.

I've got a fantastic publicist and a radio promoter. I'm hyped, I'm ready. Let the games begin.

Oh - and if you'd like to hear what it sounds like, please click here.

INFOGRAPHIC: How the money flows back to songwriters and publishers
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For me, when it comes to this business of music, school is always in session. It's interesting to see how everyone in the music industry officially gets paid when the money starts flowing, especially songwriters that own their publishing.

FINALLY -- preview 5 songs from my next album!
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Here's a few songs from my next Black Americana album The Other Side -- available for pre-order by April 10th.  Yes, it'll be released in mid-May. (YAY!)

Making it online? How about making it, period?
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As I give serious thought and planning to my next release and how I intend to market it, I see blurbs like this that instinctively make me push pause and give my situation the once over.  Those once overs are a reflex at this point. That sounds paranoid but it's probably a good thing.

Interesting to note that according to this infographic, indie musicians make most of their income by touring and selling cds at shows.  I'll co-sign that. I think its strange that this doesn't mention songwriting contests like ISC or Unsigned Only that offer money, gear and press to unsigned artists -- or well-established, well-respected behemoths like the Independent Music Awards that have lots of categories (like best album art) and offer a megaton of exposure if you win.  Nothing gets your music heard -- by industry hotshots and fans alike -- like winning contests.

What's missing -- for me, anyway -- is the musician with his own studio that not only makes his own albums but writes, arranges and composes for theater/musical theater/cabaret/TV/film.  The position of producer is mentioned but what about music supervisor? There's music licensing to consider, if you own your publishing.  (If you don't own your publishing as a songwriter, you're giving it all away.) And what about musicians who are also teachers? I know a lot of musicians who teach (privately and in university) when they aren't gigging or doing session work and they make a great living at it. With insurance!

I'm not so sure that anyone that's actually paying attention to what's happening in the music industry right now is working towards actively submitting their music to a label. Macklemore sums it up best in this interview with Chris Hardwicke on the Nerdist podcast (if you haven't heard the whole thing, you really should):

Chris: I'm sure you've been approached a million times at this point, but you still don't want the infrastructure of a label?

Macklemore: Yeah, there's no reason to do it. With the power of the internet and with the real personal relationship that you can have via social media with your fans... I mean everyone talks about MTV and the music industry, and how MTV doesn't play videos any more -- YouTube has obviously completely replaced that. It doesn't matter that MTV doesn't play videos. It matters that we have YouTube and that has been our greatest resource in terms of connecting, having our identity, creating a brand, showing the world who we are via YouTube. That has been our label. Labels will go in and spend a million dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars and try to "brand" these artists and they have no idea how to do it. There's no authenticity. They're trying to follow a formula that's dead. And Ryan and I, out of anything, that we're good at making music, but we're great at branding. We're great at figuring out what our target audience is. How we're going to reach them and how we're going to do that in a way that's real and true to who we are as people. Because that's where the substance is. That's where the people actually feel the real connection.

And labels don't have that.

So you sign up for a label. There's not some magic button they're now going to push and it means that people are going to like who you are. Or that they're identify with your vision or your songs. It actually comes from sitting down, staring at a piece of paper for months or years on end, trying to figure out who you are as a person, and hoping that it comes through in the end. But a label's not going to do that for you.

Everybody has their idea of what it takes to "make it" in the entertainment industry.  If you're the kind of person that thinks making it means you have to be as rich and famous as Beyonce or Kanye to be successful in this business, you're not just missing the boat -- you're nowhere near the water.  When you understand this business of music on a basic level, you know that you can make a great living at it if your hustle is strong. Especially if you don't live in an expensive place like New York City.

And by the way -- if you want to understand this business of music, the book This Business of Music (considered the bible of the music industry) is a great place to start.

The Next NYC Gig: The Sweetheart Soiree, February 15th
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FYI: I'll be performing an evening of love songs (Lady Day's rare sides!) on the third floor of this elegant, well-appointed mansion with my trio for the evening -- Hilliard Greene (bass), Marvin Sewell (guitar) and Wayne Tucker (trumpet).

Return to romance at Michael Arenella's SWEETHEART SOIRÉE. To celebrate the Soirée's fifth flirtatious year, we have, in collaboration with ST-GERMAIN, chosen a most posh and exclusive rendezvous point - NORWOOD, a perfectly preserved, landmarked 1947 mansion. A strictly private club, enjoy a rare opportunity to experience this stylishly bohemian hideaway as our guest.
Whether with an amour, wedded to one you adore or hoping to meet the one you're looking for, this promises to be an evening of enchantment and delightful intrigue. Plenty of plush seating, artisanal French cocktails featuring St-Germain and wooden floors for dancers will assure a most chic and intimate affair.
A passionate programme of entertainment will be featured over four floors of this lavish Victorian manse:

*MICHAEL ARENELLA and His Sextet, your devoted host and beloved bandleader
*NICOLE RENAUD, the luminous accordionist and chanteuse
*Jazz royalty, QUEEN ESTHER and trio
*Tap-dance darlings THE MINSKY SISTERS

Enjoy a dance lesson for both singles and doubles at 9:30PM with the ever-dapper and undeniably adorable RODDY CARAVELLA.

A gorgeous gratis portrait in our St-Germain KISSING BOOTH.

Guests are welcomed with a complimentary ST-GERMAIN COCKTAIL.

Cupid-approved cocktails alongside fabulous wines will be available for purchase at three unique bars. Complimentary gourmet hors d'oevres and sweet treats will be featured throughout the evening.


...a thousand words (and then some!) from last night...
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Accompanied by her quintet The Hot Five, Queen Esther sings the timeless classic Stardust in the library of The Player's Club for The Salon's New Year's Eve Eve fete...

...and absorbing a solo from Patience Higgins. What a beautiful night. Happy New Year, everyone.

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