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There is a feeling of freedom and joy you get from listening to René Marie’s music. It’s a feeling that also comes through when she talks about her art and the hard road she traveled to make it as a headlining jazz singer. Her latest release, “Sound Of Red,” was nominated for a Grammy this year for best jazz vocal album. This is Marie’s second album to be nominated for a Grammy in that category. In 2015 she was nominated for her tribute to Eartha Kitt, “I Wanna Be Evil.” Marie makes her home in the Fredericksburg area along with her husband Jesse. The family, including her grown sons, will be flying to Los Angeles this weekend to attend the Grammy awards ceremony. Marie began her singing career relatively late in life, although she knew from an early age that she loved to sing and knew she had a voice that people responded to. She grew up in Warrenton, and moved at a young age when her parents separated. It was in Roanoke that she first sang in front of a neighborhood audience. She was just 10 years old. “It was Halloween and there was this talent show at this guy’s house down the street from where we lived,” said Marie. “All the kids in the neighborhood were getting up on the back deck standing there and singing little songs. I wanted to sing the song ‘This House Is Not A Home.’ It had just come out that summer. I went up there and just belted it out, full throttle. Everybody got quiet, listening to me. I thought, ‘I want to do that again.’ That’s when I knew. People actually listen to me when I’m singing.” As a teenager Marie sang with an R&B band, doing songs by Aretha Franklin. She ended up marrying a member of that band and she followed him into the Jehovah’s Witness faith. Since that church was very conservative, particularly about the role of women, Marie became a wife and mother, working days in a bank and raising her two sons. Although she sang around the house and with family friends, she did not perform in public during those years. It was one of her sons who encouraged her to get back into singing. “It was when my older son was in college and he was at a restaurant where there was a jazz trio with a woman singing,” said Marie. “He called me from there and said, ‘you’ve got to come and listen to this woman. She’s singing all the songs you sing and it’s terrible.’ ” Marie went to the restaurant and realized that she had kept her talent to herself for too long. She began going to jazz jam sessions and singing standards like “Summertime.” She realized that she loved singing and the rapport between the musicians. “How good it felt to communicate with other musicians,” said Marie. “It was like I found my tribe again, or was speaking this language I had learned a long time ago. It’s one thing to just play the piano and sing, it’s another to have a group of musicians and you’re all doing the same thing with the same goal.” At first her husband approved of her new hobby, but as Marie spent more time and energy on her music he began to change his attitude, at one point forcing her to stop singing altogether. After a break for several months, Marie convinced her husband to reconsider. He did, until she made plans to record her first CD. The night before she was to go into the studio with her group, he told her to cancel everything. That led to verbal and physical abuse. Marie left her home, her first marriage and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Marie’s job at the bank took her to Richmond for a promotion and it was there that she finally made the jump to quit her day job and pursue music full time. She has released 11 albums, most recently on the Motéma Music label. “The Sound Of Red” is her first album of all-original compositions. She is tastefully accompanied by the rhythm section of Quentin Baxter on drums, Elias Bailey on bass and John Chin on piano. The music spans a variety of styles and feelings. One song, “Many Years Ago,” was written before she began her singing career and also appeared on her 2004 album, “Serene Renegade.” It recalls childhood memories in a vivid and touching way. “It was one of those songs I had to put on there because of the vibe,” said Marie. “I was really hesitant to do that song in the first place because it was so personal.” “This Is (Not) A Protest Song” uses a country rhythm to sing about the plight of the homeless. “It’s kind of got a country-western twang in it,” said Marie. “It comes naturally depending on what the song is about. I think the ones that are close to my personal life, I can sing like that because we listened to a lot of country and bluegrass growing up. My dad loved that kind of music.” The album closes with “Blessings” which sounds like a benediction. It was the first recording where Marie arranged backing singers. “I really wanted to put on strings but our producer said, ‘what about background vocals?’ which are a lot cheaper,” said Marie. “I ended up writing the parts for the background vocals, which I had never done before. The same thing with ‘Protest Song.’ I really like that thick vocal flavor in those two songs.” Blessings was inspired by Marie’s late brother, who encouraged her to quit her day job and devote all her time to her music. “When he was in the hospital and I was sitting beside him I was humming this melody, just the first part,” said Marie. “After he died, maybe a month or two months later I was finishing the song. It felt like he gave it to me. I love singing that song. Almost every time that’s the last song we sing.”
Guest posted a topic in Jehovah’s Witnesses's TopicsWhen Rene Marie returned to performing music after more than 20 years away from it, her now-ex-husband made her decision easy. Marie, who had been a singer since her teens, and her ex-husband became Jehovah's Witnesses, and the conservative group they were in frowned on singing nonreligious music in public places. "I continued to play at home," says Marie in a call from her home in Fredericksburg, Va. "My husband played piano. I played and sang and our sons were musical. And whenever there was a gathering and there was a piano nearby I was on it. It was just at a gathering we might have or at a friend's house, but never on stage." In her early 40s, though, Marie started singing again and was about to record her first album. Her then-husband disapproved. "He said, 'If you keep singing, you have to get out. And if you gonna keep living here, you have to quit singing.' I was about to record a CD and he said, 'If you go to that studio tomorrow, don't come back home. If you do come back home you're gonna have hell to pay.' So I asked him if he was threatening me with physical harm and he said it was a promise, not a threat. Having grown up with that kind of physical abuse, I just decided the choice is clear for me. It wasn't that I chose music over my marriage, but I didn't want to be in that sort of a marriage where that kind of talk was considered normal or acceptable. So I left that night and things did get violent before I left." She says under the circumstances, it was the best thing he could have done. "It crystallized a huge decision I needed to make in my life. Am I going to make this change or am I going to stay in this situation knowing good and well what it's going to be like? But if he said, 'Oh, Rene, our kids are in college now and we've got an empty nest and I want to spend way more time with you. I miss you when you're gone. Sweetheart, do you really have to sing?' If he had said that, I probably would've said, 'No, I don't have to.' "Sometimes we jump off a cliff and sometimes we get pushed, but either way we end up in the same place in the air. We can either fly or plummet to the ground. It's not how we get out there. It's now that we're out there, what do we do? It was a gift as far as I'm concerned." If so, it was a gift that keeps on giving. Marie's status as one of jazz music's great singers continues to grow, and her album "I Wanna Be Evil (A Tribute to Eartha Kitt)" was nominated for a Grammy in 2014. She's earned critical acclaim and a solid following over the past 15 years. Marie has won special notice as being a modern jazz singer who writes much of her own material. "I wrote my first song when I was 15," she says. "My boyfriend and I broke up. Isn't that where all art comes from? Pain? So we broke up and I wrote my first song, which I really did like. We met in this musical group we were playing in, and when we got back together we started playing it." Even during her time away from music, Marie continued to write songs. She says that all the years of being told to not make music took its toll on her confidence. "It took me about five to seven years to not have what he (her ex-husband) might say in a certain circumstance running through my head. What happens when you're hearing that stuff regularly if you don't replace it with something positive is you're just going to keep hearing it, whether they're standing there or not. I think that's what got to me. I was like, 'Wow. He's not here and I'm still hearing this in my head? I cannot blame him for this anymore. This is me. I'm the one dredging this up. I have to replace this with something beautiful and positive.' " Marie decided to start calling her answering machine to leave positive, affirming messages to herself. When she'd talk to record store owners about selling her album, and having initially been frightened, she'd call her answering machine after the meeting, congratulating herself for going through with it. "I'd say, 'You were crying in the car you were so afraid, but look at what you did! You still got out and went in there. You did a great job.' Or, 'You kept that appointment with so-and-so and you are maybe going to do this gig together!' I'd go back home and sometimes forget what I'd said and then listen to those messages. That was so powerful to me. It helped move me forward." She says having confidence in her own compositions in a world where playing standards is more typical can also be difficult. "I'm always encouraging other singers to write. They think it's big headed to consider themselves a composer. But you don't have to be a Tchaikovsky or a Duke Ellington to call yourself a composer. If you write a song and it's original, then, hey, you're a composer. It's as simple as that. It does take a little bit of guts when you're filling out a set-list and you deign to put on a couple of your own songs. You erase it, because it just doesn't seem right to put your own stuff beside someone else's, but it's a process." Source: