Siedah Garrett Keeps On Loving Michael Jackson
Being the only woman not a family member to ever record a duet with Michael Jackson (Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin all turned down such opportunity) may be the most notable distinction of the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Siedah Garrett.
She did so with her 1987 #1 Billboard hit "I Just Can’t Stop Loving You," but it certainly is not the only one. Since being discovered by the legendary producer/band leader Quincy Jones in 1983, Garrett has also managed to become the only Black female in Academy Award history to be nominated twice for Original Song written for a Motion Picture for "Real In Rio" - 2011 film "Rio" and "Love You, I Do," from the 2006 film "Dreamgirls." (For the latter Garrett won a Grammy Award.)
She is also the only female to write a #1 song recorded by Michael Jackson with "Man In The Mirror." Many have felt that Siedah’s successful association with the King of Pop on two single hits on MJ’s record-breaking "Bad" album in 1985 may have been too much for any artist to come out of Jackson’s shadow and launch a solo career. Too much expectation may have been there for Garrett to transition into stardom, even on her own highly rated merits.
Though Garrett has had other hits on a duet with Dennis Edwards (Temptations) in 1984 with "Don’t Look Any Further" and success with The Brand New Heavies (briefly replacing N’dea Davenport) on their 1997 "Shelter" album, over her almost 30 years in the recording industry, Garrett has only released two solo albums to date, "Kiss of Life" in 1988 and "Siedah" in 2003, both mild successes.
But that statistic will soon change with the upcoming October release of Siedah’s third solo project "The Answer’s Always Love" leading with its first single "Keep On Loving You," a tribute to Jackson, in mid-September. Garrett has explained that "Keep On Loving You" is her way to publicly and musically pay homage and respect to and show love for Michael.
The single’s release comes just prior to a number of Michael Jackson-related projects: on September 18th comes the release of Michael Jackson’s "Bad 25," which celebrates the original groundbreaking album’s silver anniversary; then later in the fall comes the corresponding Jackson behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of "Bad" directed by Spike Lee.
Garrett has recently had opportunity to share her personal and professional experiences with Jackson at two breakfast events held in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. In New York, Siedah met with members of Michael’s Official Fan Club, and in Los Angeles she held her own MJ breakfast at Westlake Recording Studio where their duet was recorded with the audience of their mutual fans. The latter event also gave fans an opportunity to first hear the final edit of "Keep On Loving You" prior to its release.
In speaking with Siedah one afternoon, she shared much about her relationship with Michael Jackson, her development into an award-winning songwriter, her missed opportunity on MJ’s Bad Tour, and her excitement over her upcoming single and album releases.
Melody is Key
BeBe: I’ve seen so many artists come and go in my time, and so many singers have not done so well in protecting their instrument (voice). You seem to have not missed a step. You sound just as fresh as you did 25 years ago. Is there some type of regiment you go through to make sure you don’t lose that God-given talent?
Siedah Garrett: Well, I don’t smoke crack, so that probably helps (laughs)! You know, I’ve had some issues with my voice in the earlier part of my career. I had nodes (on the vocal chords) like Adele had, and I had them surgically removed. At that point, I learned how to take care of my voice. I was going to (sports) games and screaming for my team, just abusing my voice in so many ways.
I didn’t even know I was doing these things until my doctor told me, so now I just don’t do them anymore. I try not to yell for anything. And when I have a sore throat or cold, I don’t sing ’cause that irritates, aggravates and swells up the (vocal) chords. It’s about knowing what to do. When you know better, you do better.
BeBe: With this year’s 25 year celebration of the release of Michael Jackson’s "Bad" album, a lot of things have come to the surface for you. First, the #1 Billboard Hot 100 duet you and Michael recorded together, "I Just Can’t Stop Loving You," on the Bad album in 1987 was reissued in June of 2012, and it debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts.
Siedah Garrett: Yeah, isn’t that so overwhelming?
BeBe: That is amazing! What it speaks to and what many songwriters have consistently said is a song with a good lyric and music never goes out of style.
Siedah Garrett: That’s true! I think I can expound on that. I think melody is key. Here is the proof to that. Etta James sang the lyric ’sometimes I get a good feeling’ decades ago in its original form (in the 1962 release of ’Something’s Got A Hold On Me’). Five decades later, it is a hit again (Flo Rida’s #1 ’Good Feeling’). Same vocals from Etta (sampled on the new track), same lyric, same melody (but) different beat. The beat is what determines the time that we’re living in. Melody is key and lives on forever. Melody lives in the human heart, I believe.
BeBe: That is so true. So much so that it may have led to the entertainment world receiving criticism not only with music, but film and television, too. In recent years there have been so many samplings of songs done, covers of songs done, and remakes of hit movies that speaks to what you have just said. There isn’t a lot of ’new’ out there.
Siedah Garrett: People are just lazy! They don’t want to invent anything. They just want to expand on what already is. But, that just makes something new an innovative that much more impressive. People seem to want to concentrate on what we already know to be true instead of thinking of a new concept. ’We’ll just rehash what we already know.’ It’s safe for the record and film companies, but it’s not very refreshing for the consumer.
BeBe: Now, what about somebody such as yourself who is always thinking, creating and writing new stuff? With music companies only wanting to spend money on tried and true things, where does that leave the songwriter? You are a prolific songwriter who has written hits for other artists and original songs for movie soundtracks that have been nominated for the Academy Awards.....
Siedah Garrett: (quick to interrupt) Say that again! I love hearing that. You know I’m the only African American female to have been nominated twice for an Original Song for a major motion picture film?
Siedah Garrett: (playfully with loving excitement) That’s right! Look it up, bitch! (roar of laughter following) But, getting back to what you were saying, I think the music listening and film watching public will soon tire of the industry going to what is tried and true.
A Different Game Now
BeBe: Hopefully, because the practice puts you and others like you in a difficult position when it comes to getting your ’new’ music out there.
Siedah Garrett: It is definitely a different game now. Back in the day, like my grandmother used to say, we didn’t have to release our music independently. We had record labels that really believed in us and promoted our agenda and our creative energy. That’s not the case anymore.
BeBe: Since the beginning of this year with all the hype for the upcoming release of Michael’s ’Bad 25’ album, you have been on a specific journey to release a new collection of songs on a new CD entitled ’The Answer’s Always Love’ with the lead single being a tribute to Michael Jackson, ’Keep On Loving You,’ correct?
Siedah Garrett: Correct. ’Keep On Loving You’ is my answer to our duet ’I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.’ It speaks of my feelings when Michael and I first met, and when I started to get to know him as a person instead of just the artist I’ve known and loved my whole childhood. It’s really kind of personal, my personal story of my introduction to him and his influence on my life, even today.
There is not a day that I don’t have some of his music in my ear. If I’m in the car, he’s on the radio. If I go to the grocery store, he’s on the intercom. If I go to a department store, he’s on the Muzak in the elevator. He’s everywhere! Every day I am reminded of my association with Michael in some way through his music. His music permeates my life, and I didn’t even pay that much attention to it until he was gone.
Giving Back to MJ
BeBe: I think many share in that commentary. We get that way sometimes. It is not complacency, we just get so attuned with people being there.
Siedah Garrett: I thought he’d always be there. I didn’t know I didn’t have any time left to be with him. Thinking about it after the fact really makes me kind of sad.
BeBe: When did it come to you to write ’Keep On Loving You’?
Siedah Garrett: I’d been thinking about it for awhile when I met this new producer/songwriter whom I was writing with, and I told him the story of how I would like to give Michael, offer Michael, something because of so much he’s given me. That song, ’I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,’ introduced me to the world. Gosh! (a sigh of wonderment) I just wanted to answer that. I’m going to love him no matter what was going on in his personal life. No matter what I do in my life, I’m going to keep on loving Michael.
BeBe: You brought up your introduction to the world through the association with Michael Jackson on the duet, but you also spent some time with another great, the one and only Q, Mr. Quincy Jones.
Siedah Garrett: Quincy discovered me. I went on a cattle call (audition) for a group he was putting together. I guess he was looking for a new Manhattan Transfer, or a new Fifth Dimension or a Take 6, which hadn’t come along yet. Over 800 people showed up that afternoon. I didn’t meet him that day but did after subsequent auditions. It was 9 months of auditions. Finally four of us, me and three guys, made it to form Deco.
We signed and made a record for Sydney Poitier’s directorial debut film ’Fast Forward’ (1985). I had a single from that movie, ’Do You Want To Do It Now,’ and from that everything started taking off. It was a #1 dance record. But, I was in this obscure group. Our album failed and within a year we were dropped from the label (Qwest), but I was kept on because I had started writing songs. That is really what made me hone the skill of songwriting because the artist thing was a little too difficult. But, I was a poet, not a songwriter. I wrote poems. I had to learn how to put my poems in a structure for songwriting.
BeBe: You know that is what I think separates those that write trendy songs and those who write great songs. I recently went to a concert that featured the return of Helen Reddy from a 10-year retirement period, and she did not sing her legendary hit ’I Am Woman,’ she spoke as a poem which is how she wrote it some 40 years ago. And you earlier mentioned Adele, her music I love because her songs are poetry. They tell stories. She lets the story drive the lyric which drives the song, not the beat.
Siedah Garrett: I think the best songwriters are storytellers.
BeBe: I remember reading in Quincy’s autobiography ’Q’ something to the effect that you were the type of singer that could go into the studio and record a song in one take.
Siedah Garrett: I think his message there is that the moment you step into the studio, he just puts it on record. The first couple of takes are usually the best. It often deteriorates from that point on because you’re worried about this or that note, or your phrasing and so on. So we usually just take from the first couple of takes.
BeBe: We spoke about your gift of voice, your instrument, which, in its natural state, was valuable to a record label back then. Now, we create that type of voice in the studio which takes time. Much of what we hear is not naturally a God-given talent. Many of the singers of today are fabricated. There’s all the auto-tuning and digital engineering that needs to be done on the voice now. Back in the day, we didn’t need all that.
Siedah Garrett: Now you’re sounding like my grandmother, back in the day when I was a youngen’ (in her best old lady voice).
Joy and Pride
BeBe: (after quite a bit of laughter) In addition to all the hoopla surrounding the September 18th release of ’Bad 25’ the silver anniversary of Michael’s record breaking "bad" album (first album to have consecutive #1 Billboard singles from it), there is also a documentary film by Spike Lee (’She’s Gotta Have It,’ ’4 Little Girls,’ ’Do The Right Thing,’ ’Malcolm X’), to be shown at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals, which focuses on the behind-the-scenes making of the ’Bad’ album and its subsequent tour. Are you involved with the documentary at all?
Siedah Garrett: Most definitely! I was interviewed by Spike over a couple of days here in Los Angeles for that project. I had the most fun talking about Michael. I don’t get a chance to do that very often with that kind of depth and intensity. Then to have it all filmed where it will last forever and ever was just an amazing opportunity for me to get to talk about a man that I loved for so many years. Michael changed the course of my life!
As we have said, he introduced me to the world as a songwriter. Before ’Man In The Mirror,’ I had been signed with Quincy Jones as a songwriter for 2½ years, and I hadn’t written anything of note that anyone of note had recorded. Because Quincy saw something in that song, he got it to Michael. Quincy called me after he let Michael hear it and said Michael loved it. It was the most rewarding feeling in the world.
My heart just filled with joy and pride. Before writing ’Man In The Mirror,’ I was just a demo and session singer. I had sung the demo for Chaka Khan’s ’Through The Fire’ and others. I was the demo chick.
BeBe: The timing of that song was so right. Think about this, when you listen to the lyrics of ’Man In The Mirror’ and think about what was going on in the world in the mid-80s, and then look at the performer who chose to record it and how the world was viewing and scrutinizing Michael at that time, and the fact that thing called MTV was changing the presentation of music then allowing Michael to create an imagery for the song. Everything was in alignment for it to be a success.
Siedah Garrett: The moon, the stars and the universe had to be just right for sure.
A Different Journey
BeBe: Now, Siedah, you did those wonderful things with Michael on his ’Bad’ album, and, I think it would be fair to say, after that people expected a Siedah Garrett solo career to just blow up. However, you have only had two solo albums in the past 25 years.
Siedah Garrett: It really has been sort of weird and different for me. We were a week into rehearsals for the Bad Tour, and I dropped out to make my own solo record (’K.I.S.S.I.N.G.’ from the album ’Kiss of Life’). Right when the duet was released and before ’Man In The Mirror’ came out, I was told by my record company and people whose opinions I did admire I should make my own record and not go on tour with Michael Jackson (Siedah did join Michael on his next tour, the Dangerous Tour, 5 years later). When I dropped out (then) enters Sheryl Crow. And, the rest is ’her-story.’
BeBe: Yes, and Sheryl has gone on to have a prolific solo career, and is also a songwriter. Wow! But, you know what? Things happen for a reason.
Siedah Garrett: BeBe, you know what?! You are absolutely right.
BeBe: If you think on it, you’ve been able to do so many things that you would not have done if you were on a different journey.
Siedah Garrett: It is what it is.
Her ’Man in The Mirror?’
BeBe: I know you recently treated some fans of yours with a first time listen of ’Keep On Loving You’ at an August 14th breakfast event in honor of Michael Jackson that was held at Westlake Recording Studio where you and Michael recorded your duet, and you gave them a listen to the demo you recorded of ’Man In The Mirror’ as it was presented to Michael for consideration to record the song. So a thought, have you ever considered recording and releasing your version of ’Man In The Mirror’?
Siedah Garrett: I hadn’t thought about that. I’m sure the song will be around for a minute, so there is always that possibility.
BeBe: I’m just saying, if the song should be released as a remake, who better to do it than the person who wrote it? You definitely have the vocal chops to do it.
Siedah Garrett: I would agree! If you’ll spread that around to the right people, I’ll send you a check!
BeBe: And I’ll be happy to cash it! Speaking of cashing checks, you have written songs for so many other artists out there, is there a performer you wish you would have written for but haven’t?
Siedah Garrett: Well, it’s not over. I’m not dead yet! Maybe I will get an opportunity to write for Prince. I also want to write a song for Celine Dion because her voice is so amazing. I really appreciate her tone and level of artistry as a vocalist. And, I love Barbra Streisand, too. She actually did record a song of mine but it was never released.
For the love of Michael, Siedah Garrett, please keep on giving us stuff to keep loving you for.
Siedah Garrett’s new single "Keep On Loving You" will be released on all music media on-line outlets on September 11.
Look for Siedah’s third solo album release "The Answer’s Always Love" this fall in October.
Also, share in the magic once again created between Michael Jackson and Siedah Garrett on their two-time #1 Billboard hit "I Just Can’t Stop Loving You" when it is released on the 25 Anniversary edition of "Bad 25."
Follow Siedah on her website at and on Twitter.
Watch this video on Siedah Garrett’s writing of "Keep On Loving You":
Watch this video on Siedah Garrett performing "Man in the Mirror" in honor of Michael Jackson: