HONOURING BLACK HISTORY MONTH 2011: INTERVIEW WITH BLUES SINGER DIANA BRAITHWAITE

Diana Braithwaite is an award winning Blues singer and songwriter whose ancestry traces back to the Underground Railroad.

Not only a musician, Braithwaite educates youth about Black History and the Underground Railraod via workshops that include the Blues.

Braithwaite brings her important message worldwide with her partner Chris Whiteley. 

BCP: Why Blues?

DB: Blues is one of the oldest traditional types of music.  The music touches the heart and soul.

BCP: Where did you learn how to sing?

DB: I started singing in a family group with my brothers and sisters when I was four years old. 

BCP: You won Song Writer of the Year 2010. How long have you been writing songs? What is your writing process?  What makes a good song?

DB: I have been writing songs throughout my career.  For about 20 years.  A good song is one that has all the qualities in it that work together to leave an impression on the listener—good lyrics, a great melody and they both work together really well.

BCP: Who are your influences?

DB: Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker

BCP: Your songs are emotional, honest, and positive.  What do you try to convey to your listeners?

DB: My songs are straight from the heart.  Blues is passionate music and if I can move people, I know the song is working.

BCP: This is Black History Month.  What does Black History Month mean to you? What do you want to see come out of Black History Month that has not come out in the past?

DB: Black history month is a great time to celebrate the accomplishments of Blacks who have paved the way for us today.  Every year, I like to learn something new about an event, person or thing that happened to add to my Black history knowledge.

BCP: One of the songs you performed at the Silver Dollar in January 2011had some Black history in it.  You told the crowd about being the descendant of peoples who came to Canada via the Underground Railroad.  Is there a conscious effort on your part to educate listeners about Black history through your music?

DB: Yes. I always try to include some Black history in my repertoire.

BCP: You run workshops in high schools about the Underground Railroad.  Do you include the parallels and shared history between Aboriginal peoples and Black peoples?

DB: Yes.  Black people and aboriginals share a similar past.

BCP: You have performed all over the world: U.S, Russia, UK, France, Jamaica, Scotland, The Netherlands. What similarities and differences have you noticed Blues scenes you have witnessed?

DB: Blues is loved all over the world.  Often, in countries where English is a second language, blues musicians can sing the lyrics in English.  And sound like Muddy Waters. 

BCP: Most of the performers at the Silver Dollar show were men.  Is that common in the Blues scene?  If so, is it difficult being a woman musician in the Blues scene?

DB: I am proud to be one of the few Black women singing blues and keeping the tradition alive.

BCP: What are you working on now?

DB: We have a busy festival season in the works and will be touring to Ireland, England, The Netherlands & Spain.

BCP: When do you expect to have a new CD out?

DB: 2012.

BCP: When and where is your next show?

DB: We have a show coming up at Hugh’s room in March with Bob Hall—a boogie woogie piano player from England—who was in the band Savoy Brown.

BCP: Can you give readers a short recommended Blues list for Black History month?

DB: Look for artists such as:

Bessie Smith

Muddy Waters

Koko Taylor

Memphis Minnie

John Lee Hooker

BCP: What advice do you have for other musicians out there who are having difficulties getting started or putting together a CD or performing?

DB: Once you have your goal in mind, get some advice from seasoned performers as to how to proceed.  They can give you tips on what to do and what not to do along the way.

Tune in to Black Coffee Poet Friday February 11, 2011 for a video of Diana Braithwaite performing her music.

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About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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