A Conversation with Siedah Garrett

Siedah Garrett

(Photo property of ATLpics.net’s Prince Williams; courtesy of Siedah Garrett)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

It is a real honor and privilege to welcome two-time Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter Siedah Garrett to Jake’s Take.

Ms. Siedah Garrett has written songs for some of the most celebrated musicians of all-time such as Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind and Fire, Miles Davis, and her mentor: Quincy Jones.  She also had the opportunity to perform backing vocals on projects for Boz Scaggs, Donna Summer, Madonna, Patti Austin, Pete Cetera, Santana, and Weather Report.

Through Quincy Jones, she met one of the greatest recording artists of all-time: Michael Jackson. Ms. Garrett had the opportunity to work with the King of Pop on three different occasions. She co-wrote his iconic song, “Man in the Mirror,” with Glen Ballard, which peaked number one on three US Billboard charts, Canada, Italy, and Poland music charts.  Also, Ms. Garrett recorded “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” with Michael for his 1987 album: Bad.  Their duet peaked number one on ten different countries’ music charts including four US Billboard charts, and she performed the song with Michael live during the Dangerous World Tour.  For her final collaboration with the King of Pop, Siedah reunited with Glen Ballad, and together they wrote one of Michael’s greatest songs on the Dangerous album: “Keep the Faith.”

In addition to her work with Michael Jackson, Ms. Garrett toured with Madonna, Sergio Mendes, the Brand New Heavies, and Aloe Blacc.  Her work has been featured in several television shows and films such as Fuller House, Rio, Rio 2, and The Voice. Also, Siedah Garrett co-wrote with Henry Krieger, Dreamgirls’ “Love You I Do,” a track that was nominated for the 2007 Best Original Song Oscar and won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.

Outside of music, Siedah Garrett is an active philanthropist using her time and talents to make a positive difference in her community and around the world. She co-wrote theme songs such as Autism Awareness’ “It’s Time to Listen,” Race to Erase MS’ “Carry On,” and two songs for the Special Olympics World Games. She also earned the Good Samaritan Award from the Minority AIDS Foundation for her work with raising awareness regarding both HIV and AIDS.

In this edition of A Conversation, Siedah opened up on how Michael Jackson helped her grow as both a songwriter and performer and why was it important to reveal her Multiple Sclerosis diagnoses in her latest single: “Carry On.”

Jacob Elyachar: You have worked in the music industry as a songwriter, backing singer, and solo performer since the 1980s. In your humble opinion, how has the industry evolved over the years? Has it changed for the better? Altered for the worse? Why?

Siedah Garrett: The music industry has shifted a lot! What drives records deals today is artists who have following on social media. In the old days, record companies only wanted to participate in the artist’s recording process and touring. Now, the labels want to have a hand in touring, merchandising and other projects that involve their artists. This arrangement is called the 360 Deal. Record companies own 360 degrees of the artists’ career! The 360 Deal has changed the way the way artists record albums, that record labels structure deals and some deals that the labels offer.

JE: Many of my readers know your work through classic Michael Jackson tracks such as “Man in the Mirror,” “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” and “Keep the Faith.” How did Michael Jackson help you grow as both a songwriter and a performer?

SG: Being around Michael Jackson allowed me to watch him be himself on stage. I watched him when he toured and while he worked in the recording studio. He always had a way making everybody in his presence feel like he had as much to learn from you as you had to learn from him.

JE: Over the past few years, you participated in creating Oscar-nominated songs for films such as Dreamgirls and Rio. What are some of the similarities and differences in creating music for media over a general album?

SG: When you are writing music for a film’s soundtrack, songwriters have to be in a completely different mindset than writing a pop song for a recording artist. When I was writing for Dreamgirls, certain things had to be said in the song. Feelings that Jennifer Hudson could not tell to her love interest (Jamie Foxx), but had to be told within the scene nonetheless, so the music served as the vehicle that delivered that message. If I wrote “Love You I Do” for a pop artist, the song would be completely different musical track.  “Love You I Do” would have been a modern track, where I would have changed the beat and possibly the lyrics.

JE: Let’s talk about your latest single, “Carry On.” This song talks about not only your experience living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) but others living with this disease. What made you decide to reveal your diagnosis with this disease in song to the public?

SG: I got involved because of my relationship with the woman who created the Race to Erase MS Foundation. I asked her what I could do to help with her cause. She was just so passionate about this organization and how close the group was to finding a cure or something that was revolutionary in the science of studying this disease. “Carry On” is not just about people with MS, the song is also for people who are dealing with any issue such as ADD, sickle-cell anemia, heart disease, cancer, or any ailment! This song is a reminder that you need to keep pressing forward. It is not about dwelling on the past or “Woe, is me!” this song will help people press forward and eventually, you will find yourself and become happier in the process.  I chose to reveal my diagnosis at the Erase to MS Gala to come out as someone suffering from MS because I was tired of hiding it!  I grew tired of dancing around the subject, and I did not want people to see me as a sick person. I am still very healthful and able to move around. While the MS I have is affecting my body, it is not as severe as Richard Pryor, Teri Garr, or any MS sufferers who are physically challenged on a daily basis. I have recurring MS, and for the most part, I am pretty healthy.

JE: How can my readers contribute to the Erase MS Campaign?

SG: You can support the Erase MS Campaign can be accessed through the organization’s website. Every dime is much appreciated!

JE: If you had the chance to meet with aspiring singer-songwriters who want to work in the music industry, what advice would you share with them?

SG: I would tell them: “Do not even think about being in this business in any capacity, if you are sensitive or if you cannot take “No!” for an answer.” 90 percent of what the recording industry is involved hearing a lot of “No’s.” If you do not have thick skin, then you are going to have a hard time, and you are going to give up very quickly. Also, you need to pursue their chosen field by building relationships that will help you in both the present and the future. The music industry is not necessarily about what you know; it is about who you know.

For more information about Ms. Garrett’s work, visit her website!

You can connect with Ms. Garrett on social media by visiting her Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, & YouTube channels.

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Copyright 2015 Jacob Elyachar