Dionne Farris Spreads Her Wings
By Adrianne Murchison, Staff Editor
*** Dionne Farris performs this Friday, September 20th at The Velvet Note ***
There’s something about Dionne. In a day and age whenmost artists appeal to certain demographics, Dionne Farriscan rest assured that her music attracts fans of nearly every ilk, from jazz to hip hop to pop and rock.
Along with her natural born vocal gifts, the key to Dionne’sartistry might be her very Zen approach to music.
“Creating and creativity is the catalyst for the jewel that comes from [within],” Dionne says. “You can’t do this for the money or fame. You have to do it for the creativity. We are creators, here to create. If you start from that space, everything you desire will come.”
The former Grammy nominee performs at The Velvet Note on September 20th with a quartet that includes Russell Gunn on trumpet, Nick Rosen on piano, Sean Michael Ray onbass and Lil John Robert’s on drums.
Dionne’s creativity has extended far and wide since the release of her debut album, “Wild Seed-Wild Flower” on Columbia Records in 1994. That release featured a Top 40 Single in “I Know.” Another tune “Stop to Think,” is a cautionary tale on drug life that sampled Lenny Kravitz’s “Freedom Train.’
One of Dionne’s collaborations with Russell Gunn (who also serves as her manager) is “Dionne Get Your Gunn,” an album recorded live at Atlanta’s former Churchill Grounds.
“He took my songs and reimagined them from a jazz perspective,” Dionne says. “Like the song, ‘I Know,’ he changed it and it still has the same energy.”
Dionne describes her melodic runs as “the vocal instrument” on the jazz trumpeter’s just released album “Pyramids.”
“It’s the expansion of the ability to use the voice,” she explains. “It’s Russell’s magnum opus inspired by his trip to Egypt. He came back with all of this great information and music inside of him and put that together.”
Dionne, who is a native of New Jersey and named after Dionne Warwick, has placed her imprint on the film and theater world. Her song “Hopeless,” was made popular in the 1997 film “Love Jones,” a classic etched in African American culture. The passionate “So Blind” from Dionne’s 2007 album “for truth, if not love” inspired playwright Shenise McRoberts to give her production the same moniker, and cast Dionne.
“I played a preacher’s wife in distress,” Dionne recalls.
The singer also left lasting impressions with the late Tupac Shakur and Prince. The former said her music helped him through difficult times. And the latter, well, shortly after they met he wrote a song about her.
The playful tune by an adoring Prince, then known as “The Artist,” is simply titled, “Dionne.” The song is featured on his acoustic album, “The Truth,” and included in the Crystal Ball box set that was made available in 2018.
The song is also a front-page highlight on Dionne’s website, dionnefarris.com.
Prince and Dionne met through their mutual agent in 1995 following her set at The Roxy in Los Angeles.
“My booking agent came up and said The Artist is downstairs and he would like to meet you,” Dionne says. “I was like ‘Are you kidding me!?’”
Over the years, she has developed an increased understanding of the late music genius.
“Like everyone else, I was inspired by Prince growing up. He was the catalyst to why I was able to do a project like “Wild-Seed, Wild Flower,” she says. “When you have someone like Prince write a song about you and for you, and sing your name; he really kind of opens your third eye. He communicated the way he felt that he wanted to communicate with me – through music.”
For Dionne, the power of creativity and connection is undeniable; and that’s the essence of what she continues to feel towards Prince, although ultimately they did not have an opportunity to work together.
“It’s uncanny. If [that experience has] never happened to you, you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “And no one on this planet can say whether [the connection is] true or not;because I know that it is.”
While Prince had The Revolution, in many ways Dionne is in the midst of an evolution that speaks to the diversity of her entire music catalog.
In the past, music executives would steer the songstressinto a certain lane and categorize her in a particular way, she says. But that’s contrary to the very nature of a person who experiences inspiration in a variety of different ways, and resulted in Dionne leaving Columbia Records to start her own music label.
“You can’t create what you want and market it in a structure that is traditional,” she says. “Music is for healing but you have to be careful of the agenda that it’s being used for; if you even know.”
So while, Dionne decided years ago that she would notcompromise her creativity, she continues to stand alongside more well-known peers.
“I’m in the same space as everyone else,” she remarks. “I’m out here too. I may not have as many things as everyone else, but I’m doing the same thing. We all get to the same place but from different directions. It gives me the opportunity to come up with my own strokes in my own painting.”
And Dionne has come to a new awareness in her music.
“I don’t want to be in the world to say nothing. I like to speak to people,” she says. “That’s my approach to writing. I initially felt that I was speaking to myself. Now, I feel that I’m not alone in my expression. I let the gift be given. I let it resonate with who it will resonate with. I’ve been in a cocoon long enough. It’s time to be the butterfly.