Siedah Garrett is an Academy Award and Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and philanthropist whose contributions to popular culture are unparalleled. A Southern California native, Siedah took full advantage of being from the music capital of the world, beginning her career as a background vocalist when she was just 15 years old. Her experience in the music business has been varied, to say the least. She’s done it all – from being a member of a 19-piece Mexican R&B band in her early days to catapulting to the status of one of the most sought after songwriters in the world. A collaborator and close friend of Michael Jackson’s, Siedah is most famous for penning The King of Pop’s megahit “Man in the Mirror” off of his Grammy Award-winning, chart-topping 1987 album, Bad.
In addition to collaborating with Jackson, Siedah has also worked alongside icons including mentor Quincy Jones, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Jamie Foxx, Donna Summers, Jennifer Hudson, Will.i.Am and Aloe Blac.
Siedah’s latest project is her single “G.H.E.T.T.O” featuring GRAMMY and Academy Award-winning rapper and actor Common. The single, which is a motivational anthem about not being defined by where you come from, was released today (April 14th) and premiered on Essence.com.
Outside of her work as a singer and songwriter, Garrett is also a philanthropist – using her talents and treasure to make a positive difference in the world. Siedah has contributed two songs to the Special Olympics and also penned a song, “It’s Time to Listen,” used as part of a campaign to raise awareness about Autism. Siedah has taken a particular interest in causes related to HIV/AIDS, earning her the Good Samaritan Award from the Minority AIDS Foundation. An avid knitter, Siedah is currently working on an initiative – Beanies for Babies – knitting, herself, 100 hats for children living with HIV, AIDS and cancer.
The legendary songwriter took time to answer some questions for a Q&A about it all, from getting her start in the industry, new music, being and AIDS awareness advocate, and more.
Check it out below!
You’ve written/co-written so many songs with/for the likes of Michael Jackson (“Man in the Mirror,” “Keep The Faith”) “Can’t Stop Loving You”), Jennifer Hudson (“Love You I Do” from Dreamgirls), etc. You’ve also sung background for equally as many like Madonna, Donna Summer, and many more. How did you get started in the industry?
My first ‘industry’ job, was background vocals for an R&B artist named DJ Rogers. It was so much fun, singing with these beautifully melodic and deliciously harmonic women, who’s voices blended to make a sound like none I’d ever heard. I loved recording with them, and I left the session on air. Then, about three weeks later, I got a check in the mail! Chile, I knew that singing is what I wanted to do, from that moment on.
I then joined a group called Plush, and we recorded one album on RCA. Then I auditioned for the great Sergio Mendes, and he invited me to tour internationally with his group Brazil ’66. After going on countless more auditions and cattle calls, including one organized by Quincy Jones, I was signed to Q’s record label as a member of a vocal group called Deco. That contract stipulated that I become a songwriter, which I worked very hard at, and it was Quincy who gave me the opportunity to write for and sing with the King of Pop.
Did you know that songs like “Man In The Mirror” would be iconic as the are?
Of course not, darling. One never does… until it is! Sometimes you write just to write, other times you write for a specific artist or project. In the case of “Man In The Mirror,” Glen Ballard and I set out to write a song specifically for MJ. When we finished writing the song, we knew we had something special, but we couldn’t know whether Quincy or Michael would even like the song. They both did, and the rest is history.
What’s your secret to writing a hit song that moves people?
You’ve gotta speak from the heart. And if you speak truthfully, that truth will resonate with people. The magic of a real song and it’s the only obligation is to speak to some of the emotions that mere mortals cannot naturally express.
Do you have any cool stories you can share from working with some of those artists you’ve worked with?
Yes, I absolutely do, but due to my having signed non-disclosure agreements with them, if I told you, I’d have to kill you, immediately!
How do you feel about today’s music industry?
The industry is changing more and more every day. It’s not the music business I cut my teeth on. However, it has become much more accessible to outsiders and those whom ordinarily wouldn’t be attractive to a big record label. Those independent artists who are just outside the box at radio, but build their own following via social media and live shows are getting a real chance at connecting with their core audiences and making a real impact with their music through avenues like YouTube and other platforms. It’s kinda evened out the playing field.
Tell us about your work as an AIDs advocate.
Yeah, let’s talk about that. I had a second cousin that I grew up with, and he was the first person I ever knew that had HIV/AIDS. No one knew how it was transmitted at that time. He had the disease when no one was living with it; everyone that had it died from it. His battle against the ravages of the disease and his mind and body, his brave fight until the end of his life, deeply impacted me and the way I feel about the disease itself, and people who have it. For me, it’s personal. I’ve tried to volunteer time and donate resources to several organizations and really enjoyed performing in Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Divas Simply Singing, to benefit HIV/AIDS awareness. Other causes that I am passionate about are Autism Awareness, MS Awareness, and Women In Tech. I’ve gladly written and donated songs for each of those initiatives.
Tell us about your new single “G.H.E.T.T.O.” featuring rapper Common.
The song itself is meant to help change the perception of those who believe their circumstances determine what they can achieve in their lives, how high they will climb or how successful they will be. I came from a broken home, was raised by my grandparents in Compton, California, and I’ve done pretty well, in spite of my humble, impoverished beginnings. And as the song says, ‘It don’t matter where you come from, it’s where you end up!”
Common is an amazing artist whom I highly respect due to his impactful words of wisdom that permeate his music and artistry. He’s a super smart dude; I adore him. It truly was my pleasure to joyfully feature him on the song, “G.H.E.T.T.O.” (Greatness Happens Even Though There’s Oppression.) He killed it!
Is the single a part of a new project you’re working on?
Yes, it’s all a part of a new project featuring songs with meaning, melody, and message! I hope some of the songs will become as iconic and impactful as “Man In The Mirror.”
What else have you been up to lately?
Well, I recently performed in Miami at the Hispanicize conference for their Positive Impact Awards, an annual event honoring Latino individuals and people of color who’ve made a positive difference in their communities. Also, I performed at a fundraising event for Autism Awareness to benefit the charity established by Miami Heat star Hassan Whiteside, who’s brother Nassan suffers from the condition. I’ve recently written and will release a theme song for the “Race To Erase MS” charity, donating all proceeds from that single to the charity, and will be performing it at their upcoming gala and fundraiser.
As for the future, got a lot of irons in the fire right now. In addition to writing with and for a few new artists I’m involved with developing, I continue to write songs for film and tv projects and even placed my very first song in a video game, Nioh. It has already shipped a million copies, so I’ve been bitten by the video game bug. What else, oh, I continue to do voiceover projects, including a national radio campaign for Coca-Cola, and an animated TV show. I’m now trying my hand at songwriting for musical theater, with my eye on Broadway. I’d LOVE to come up with the next “Hamilton”!
What advice can you give to aspiring singer/songwriters?
Find your voice, and use it to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Purchase “G.H.E.T.T.O.” on iTunes HERE.