Thursday, October 26, 2017

Be Truly Moved By This Mother And Son's Musical Collaborations And Inspirations

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Nationwide - One good listen to bass singer supreme Los Angeles native Phillip Brandon’s impressive just-released CD The Story Begins reveals influences from a range of artists stretching from Sammy Davis Jr. and Stevie Wonder to Luther Vandross and Gregory Porter. 

However, the singer who has been the most consistent inspiration for Phillip all along is his mother Brenda Davis: “Ms. B.” to most! The one-time backup vocalist for “Genius of Soul” Ray Charles as a member of his world renowned Raelettes even guests on a jazzy highlight of her son’s debut album. The love and respect flowing freely between them is a revelation to behold.

“Before I really tuned into the musical aspect of my mother, I was fascinated by the whole experience of her being on the road and on the go,” Phillip shares. “She toured around the nation with a Top 40 band. Her trips to Japan really spoke to me because she’d be there for six months. Hearing those stories and seeing photos always fascinated me.” Gazing upon her son with the beaming eyes of one very proud mama, Mrs. Davis relays, “When we moved into our first house, we would have talent shows in the backyard. My other boys, Jonathan Thomas and Sean Paul, would always do wrestling and acrobatics. Phillip was the one who would sing or lip-sync - to a tee.”

*SOULFULLY COOL FACT: The Ray Charles Foundation awarded Morehouse College with two amazing donations -- his tour bus and a $3 million gift. The monetary gift will secure the naming of the academic wing of the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at the college after the late singer’s mother, Aretha Robinson. The midnight blue tour bus emblazoned with the image of Charles' famous face is currently on display. *

Far removed from lip-syncing today, Phillip Brandon has toured the world for the last 8 years straight as the singing “Narrator” with platinum selling rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra and had a feature role in the staged life story of Gospel legend BeBe Winans “Born For This: The Musical.” When crafting his crucial 10-song debut CD, The Story Begins, primarily produced by the prolific Preston Glass (Aretha Franklin, George Benson), one of the songs Phillip and Preston co-wrote, “Stay in the Moment,” cried out for a second voice. Phillip knew just where to go. “Anytime I do something in the studio, I love to have my Mom come in. Our voices are almost identical - hers is just up a couple of octaves! The blend is heavenly. We sang in the studio together, so we could feed off each other.” Ms. B. adds, “It’s always exciting and a pleasure to work with Phillip. He’s such a perfectionist! I want to do my very-very best for him.”

Perfection is something Ms. B. knows all about. Born Brenda Johnson in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she grew up watching her mother, Georgia Lee Blair, rehearse her gospel groups right there at home. Brenda marveled over the harmonies. One day when Brenda was 9, her mother called her up to sing at a church in Oklahoma City. “I could hardly wait for them to get through my introduction before I started singing `Joy, Joy, Joy’.’” Brenda laughs. “When I saw all the people applauding and crying over me, I loved the feeling.” By the time she got to Manual High School in Denver, Brenda participated in many battles of the bands and talent shows. Among her peers were future jazz singer Dianne Reeves and future Earth Wind & Fire falsetto star Philip Bailey. “My groups either won or came in no lower than second place. That’s when I knew I had something special. I didn’t know how to go any further in Denver, so I went away to college.”

Home on her first spring break, Brenda was helping around the house, dusting, while a woman from Avon cosmetics was signing her mother up to become a representative. “The lady heard me chirping something by Chaka, stopped her presentation and said, ‘Young lady, have you ever thought of singing professionally?’ She told my mom that her niece sang with Ray Charles and that he was looking for another girl. Mom told her for me, ‘Yes, she’d be interested!’

“So, they flew me out to Los Angeles - first class - had a car pick me up and take me to Ray’s RPM Studio on Washington & Westmoreland. General Manager, Don Adams, introduced me to everyone including a man called ‘Bags’ (not vibraphonist Milt Jackson) who auditioned me with the other Raelettes: Susaye Greene (the Avon lady’s niece), Vernita Moss and Mable John. My audition was pretty easy actually. I did everything they asked me to do... but when I was finished, I was sitting there like a deer in headlights! They told me they would be calling. Just before I left, they introduced me to Ray who had been sitting in the back, quietly listening. I flew back home. A week-and-a-half later, I got a call to join them in Jacksonville, Florida. When I got there, standing by the door, Ray said, ‘Come on over here. I’m not gonna bite!’ He took my hand, squeezed my wrist and upper arm. He said, ‘You know what I’m gonna call you? Stallion!’ I was in.”

However, Brenda’s time with Brother Ray was brief. When some gigs popped up overseas, she did not have a passport. Though disappointed, Brenda had so much love for singing that she didn’t go back to college. Instead, when artists like Eddie Floyd, Tina Turner or Quincy Jones came to town, she put vocal groups or warm up acts together for them, eventually touring groups. She moved to L.A. fell in love, married Phillip Davis and had their first son, Phillip Brandon.

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Posted by community events coordinator, Nzinga Lonstein Austin, is a prolific blogger who writes on the entertainment industry and issues for people with developmental and physical challenges.

She is presently in high school looking to have a career in video, film, and media. You can see more of her entertainment writing on Lonstein Movies.

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