Bewitching queen of British soul makes her Hawaii debut at MACC
Grammy-winning musician Corinne Bailey Rae has been hailed as the “bewitching Queen of British Soul,” and “the most affecting British soul singer since Sade.” Compared to acclaimed artists like Billie Holiday, Norah Jones and Erykah Badu, her fans have ranged from Prince and Stevie Wonder to legendary composer Burt Bacharach.
One of the most gifted female artists of our modern age, she has had the honor of recording with jazz icon Herbie Hancock and soul great Al Green, and she performed at the White House with Sir Paul McCartney. President Obama even featured one of her songs, “Green Aphrodisiac,” on his Spotify summer playlist.
Making her Hawaii debut, Bailey Rae will likely deliver one of the most memorable shows of the year at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Castle Theater at Maui Arts & Cultural Centers in Kahului.
“It’s our first time ever coming to any of the islands,” Bailey Rae enthuses. “I can’t wait.”
Growing up, could she ever imagine that one day she would open for Stevie Wonder and record with legends like Al Green and Herbie Hancock?
“It’s astounding,” she says. “All these people have been my heroes for so long — and to this day I still pinch myself. I find it astounding that this journey has taken me to work with some of my greatest heroes. It’s incredible.”
Born in Leeds, England, she was exposed to all kinds of music, from Motown to Bjork, and cites Holiday and Nirvana as early, primary influences.
“I got into Billie Holiday in my early teens,” she recalls. “I had never heard a voice like that. I never thought I had the right type of voice. It wasn’t diva-like, like Whitney Houston, so Billie Holiday was revolutionary to me. And I was really into Nirvana and hearing Kurt Cobain sing, and his sort of storytelling voice. It was humble, but passionate, and it had lots of texture. They arrived in my life at the same time.”
Released in 2006, Bailey Rae’s self-titled debut album became a smash hit. Landing at No. 1 in Britain, she became the first British female singer-songwriter to debut in the Billboard Top 20 in decades. Along with Amy Winehouse, she became the pop voice of the year, with The New York Times hailing her as, “the most celebrated new soul singer of the year.”
“It was a huge whirlwind,” she recalls. “It all happened really fast. Suddenly I had this record and it was No. 1 in the U.K., and then it debuted in the top 20 in the U.S. It was a real buzz — stuff like getting a private jet to Oprah.”
“We got a private jet to go from a show in New York to appear on her show the next day. The label said, ‘We will make this happen.’ I feel really lucky.”
Selling close to four million copies worldwide, the album received three nominations at the 2007 Grammys — for Record and Song of the Year for “Put Your Records On,” and Best New Artist.
The bubbly hit “Put Your Records On” was released as a download with a soulful cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You.”
A year later, she won a Grammy for Album of the Year for her work as a featured artist on Hancock’s homage to Joni Mitchell, “River: The Joni Letters.”
Bailey Rae followed up with her second album, the critically-acclaimed “The Sea,” which was released after the accidental death of her husband.
The Telegraph praised it as “intense and moving . . . an album that suggests Nina Simone singing a modern version of Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks,’ “ and The Los Angeles Times called it a “remarkable accomplishment.” It included a beautiful version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”
As an interim release in 2011, Bailey Rae released the EP, “The Love,” with five love songs, including a sultry cover of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love,” (which won her another Grammy Award), Paul McCartney & Wings’ “My Love” and Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”
“I first met Prince at his O2 Arena shows (in London) and then we played in Abu Dhabi, and I was invited to his after show,” she says. “He said he’d been keeping an eye on what I did. He tweeted about my song, ‘Stop Where You Are,’ on my last album. He was always really supportive.”
Sir Paul McCartney must also have been impressed because Bailey Rae was invited to sing on the tribute collection, “The Art of McCartney.”
“We played together at the White House,” she explains. “Paul McCartney invited Herbie Hancock to play ‘Blackbird’ and I had sung that. I was singing ‘Blackbird’ at the rehearsal, and he was in the front row. It was incredible to be around someone with that talent.”
Among other covers, she recorded a fabulous live version of “One Night (of Sin)” on “Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino,” and a chilling, stripped down (accompanied only by a keyboard) take on John Lennon’s “I’m Losing You” on the Amnesty International benefit album, “Instant Karma.” Most recently, she covered Coldplay’s “The Scientist” in a stunning version featured in the “Fifty Shades Darker” movie.
Ten years after her debut, she released her latest studio album, the remarkable “The Heart Speaks In Whispers.” It’s a brilliant, adventurous work that feels like being enveloped in a post-storm burst of fresh air where everything is luminously glowing.
“I wanted to do something that was completely different to ‘The Sea,’ much more colorful and vibrant,” she explains. “I wanted it to reflect where I was personally which was the place of listening to my intuition and instinct, and feeling that I had come through into joy after being in such a sad place after loss. I wrote it with a lot of gratitude, and I wanted to use new sounds. I wanted it to be celebratory.”
On songs like the exuberant “The Skies Will Break,” she ventures into Coldplay/U2 anthem territory, while the ravishing “Been to the Moon” would make Sly Stone proud.
Currently recording new songs for a “conceptual, art record,” she will perform on Maui with a four-piece band which includes her husband, keyboardist Steve Brown.
“These are guys from England who I’ve known a really long time,” she says. “Our shows are very responsive to audiences. I want to make a connection with the audience and make it special. It’s heart music.”