Nov 12, 2013
One of the most riveting jazz performance experiences I have ever had came when watching singer René Marie a few years back. Her set was moving along quite well, but then she paused to tell about her musical upbringing, how she learned to appreciate a variety of styles listening to her parent’s record collection. What followed was an intense medley of Ravel’s “Bolero” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” that brought the house to its feet. You can hear a version of it on her Live at the Jazz Standard CD.
That sort of medley has been one of her musical trademarks, particularly the brilliant pairing of “Dixie” and “Strange Fruit” on Vertigo. Sadly, she has earned far more press for an unfortunate incident five years ago in Denver, when she was invited to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner” at a civic event and substituted the song's lyrics with those from "Lift Every Voice and Sing”, causing a furor. Since then, she has recorded more of her own original material, some of it political in nature. Her excellent Black Lace Freudian Slip CD made my list of favorite things in 2011.
With I Wanna Be Evil, Ms. Marie returns to the music of one of her influences, singer and actress Eartha Kitt. While Ms. Kitt may today be known better for her role as Catwoman on the Batman TV series, or for her sex-kitten camp Christmas classic “Santa Baby”, she was a major song stylist and entertainer in the 1950’s. Not coincidentally, Ms. Kitt also had a major political flap in her day. In 1968, during the Johnson administration, she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. When asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War, Ms. Kitt replied: "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot." Due to the outpouring of criticism (and support) that followed, her career never recovered for almost a decade.
I Wanna Be Evil allows Ms. Marie to honor Eartha’s spirit, introducing her material to a new generation of music fans. Podcast 392 is my conversation with René Marie, including musical selections from her albums, featuring:
Rene Marie - "I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch", "Peel Me a Grape" and "Oh, John"from I Wanna Be Evil.
Rene Marie - "This for Joe" from Black Freudian Slip.
Rene Marie - "Life Ev'ry Voice and Sing (Star Spangled Banner Version) from Voice of My Beautiful Country.