Siedah Garrett: The Woman In The Mirror

Grammy Award nominated songwriter Siedah Garrett has had her share of career milestones including a chance to not only write for the King of Pop Michael Jackson but to also share the stage with the star. In recent years Garrett has penned a number of classic songs including a Grammy-winning record for Jennifer Hudson while also releasing her own brand of Rock/R&B/Pop via two albums. Singersroom sat down with Garrett recently to discuss her songwriting career, upcoming projects, relationship with Quincy Jones, an exclusive partnership with TV One and more.

Singersroom: Over the years you have worked with a number of artists including Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and most recently Jennifer Hudson…how and when did you begin your songwriting career?

Siedah Garrett: I began my songwriting career when I met Quincy Jones. I was signed to a group of musicians and singers who wanted publishing deals and I got into songwriting because I was made to get this publishing deal that I didn’t want but it was all of us or none of us; I did that and started writing songs.

Singersroom: One of your most recent projects won a Grammy, namely Jennifer Hudson’s “Love You I Do,” how did the song come about and what inspired you to write such a compelling ode to love as portrayed in the film Dreamgirls between Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx?

Siedah Garrett: At the time there was a music supervisor who knew that the director Bill Condon was going to work with the original composer Henry Krieger on new songs to replace scripts that were sung in the play. He wanted to replace that kind of sing-poppy music in the play with real songs so there were five new songs that they wanted to use the original composer for. The original lyricist would have been used but he passed away in the 80s, so they went around auditioning lyrics from different songwriters. You send your lyrics in and they go over them. What they were looking for was a lyricist that could paint a picture with the words and tell the story with the way that the words were put together. One of the samples I sent in was “Man In The Mirror” and they ended up choosing me and 2-3 others to write the five songs. I ended up writing two of the five songs that were open in the movie.

Singersroom: Where is the funniest place that an idea for a song has come to you?

Siedah Garrett: I was writing with a friend of mine at his house. We were in the middle of writing a song and his phone rang. He stopped what he was doing (he was playing piano) and started talking on the phone.

I only heard chunks of the conversation…I only heard what he was saying and it went something like this:

“What man?”
“Oh, the man in the mirror”

I wrote that phrase down.

Two years later I was in a room with Glenn Ballard trying to come up with a song for Michael Jackson’s album and I’m flipping through my lyric book and I see the phrase “Man In the Mirror” and I just started singing.

I couldn’t write the words fast enough. I couldn’t get it out fast enough and Glenn was just playing the chords. It just seemed to just flow with exactly what I was going to sing musically. It was weird. It was like magic…. I couldn’t write fast enough.

Singersroom: When sitting down to write a song are there any words or phrases that you are afraid of using, or perhaps words you try to avoid?

Siedah Garrett: I was writing a lyric one day and used the word ‘ain’t’ and my writing partner said “uh, uh, uh, no I would never use the word ain’t in one my songs.” So I said to him so wouldn’t have written “Ain’t That Peculiar” and “Ain’t That A Shame” and he just said no, no.

I don’t have that kind of rule but Barbara Streisand won’t sing ‘baby.’ I did a demo for her on a song called “The Places You Find Love” and in my adlib at the end of the song I might have said ‘baby’ once or twice and when Barbara was recording the song for one of her albums Clifton said she would never ever sing the word ‘baby’ and she scratched it off the lyric sheet. I have no such rules (laughter)

Singersroom: Going back to the late 80s, you had an amazing opportunity to work with Michael Jackson on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Man In The Mirror,” the latter of which was co-written by you. How was that experience for you?

Siedah Garrett: When I think about those times they were really, really heavy times and it was always magical when we were on stage together. Of course he’s out of this world…talented, phenomenal.

There were nights when we were on stage where the band and everyone else on the stage were clapping at the end of his performance like everybody else in the 100,000; 80,000; 75, 000 audience. There were some nights we just had to say “damn Mike” and we were on every night. It’s just that he was amazing. It was surreal.

Singersroom: For aspiring songwriters or artists out there, what top three things should they remember moving forward in the industry?

Siedah Garrett: Number 1 – learn your craft. Know what a good song is. Know the formula for proper songwriting. Just listen and learn your craft.

Second thing would be perseverance, perseverance is a must.

The third thing is something Quincy Jones told me when he signed me as a songwriter: “The best songwriters are re-writers.” He said listen, it’s all about making it the best it can be and if you have to re-write a few lines everytime or keep going until it is good then it’s worth it.

Singersroom: I understand that you have a new line of handbags as well?

Siedah Garrett: My friends refer to me as the “handbag scarlet.” I have been collecting handbags and shoes since I can remember and at one point started making them. I would knit and crochet and make purses, sweaters and scarves.

I made this bag once that women would stop me on the street and ask me where I got the bag and that’s when I knew I was kind of on to something. Then I started making bags for my family and friends.

Two years ago I was at Quincy Jones’ house having dinner with some other people among them Ms. Patti Austin and I had my bag on the floor and I picked it up to check my make up or whatever and put the bag on the table.

Patti looked around from the conversation she was having and said “oh my god Siedah that bag is amazing where’d you get it” and I said “I made it.”

She goes “you made that” and everyone at the table turned their heads and all the women started talking about this bag and passing it around. Well Njai, I just happened to have additional pieces in my car. I went to my car and I pulled out these bags and I started slinging handbags at Quincy’s Thanksgiving Dinner (laughter).

It was amazing so at the end of the night I said Quincy thank you so much for letting me sell my bags at your dinner and he said no problem I tell you what, tomorrow Benny Medina’s coming over to have a meeting with me and Mariah Carey and then Oprah’s flying in tomorrow night so why don’t you leave the rest of them here and he said I’m not making any promises but just leave them here and we’ll see what happens.

So I left my bags and he called me two days later and said that Oprah took two and Mariah Carey took two so you can come get the other bags.

A year after that my publicist gets a call from Oprah Winfrey’s office saying they want to do a two page spread on my handbags and now that’s coming up in her magazine.

Singersroom: Wow, that is an amazing story. Where can people find these handbags?

Siedah Garrett:

Singersroom: Lastly, at Singersroom we have a motto that reads “I Love R&B,” Why do you love R&B?

Siedah Garrett: R&B is the soundtrack to my life …are you kidding (laughter). It’s in every fiber, every pore, and every part of my being. It is what makes good pop songs, it is what makes good rock songs, it’s what makes good blues songs and Blues is the mother of it all. R&B is a beautiful, attractive, intelligent sister. —— By: Interview By Njai Joszor


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