American singer, actress and broadcaster Dee Dee Bridgewater is an artist of great depth and impressive range no matter the medium. It was only after she relocated to Europe, however, that the accomplished performer was "discovered" back home during the late 1980s. Today, Bridgewater is considered one of the greatest jazz singers of her generation, applauded for her heartfelt tributes to past legends of the genre as well as her exploration of new musical horizons through her extensive travels.
Born Denise Eileen Garrett in Memphis, Tennessee, the singer grew up in Flint, Michigan. She was first introduced to music through her father, Matthew Garrett, a jazz trumpeter and teacher.
At 16, she began performing with a rock-R&B trio in clubs around the area. At 19, after transferring from Michigan State University to the University of Illinois, she embarked on a tour of the Soviet Union as part of the school's big band.
In 1970, she met and married trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, legally taking his last name, and moved to New York City, where he played in Horace Silver's band. In the early 1970s, Bridgewater launched her jazz career after joining the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra as lead vocalist, and was soon performing with Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon.
In 1974, at the age of 23, she released her debut, Afro Blue. That same year, the multi-talented artist appeared on Broadway in The Wiz, a musical inspired by The Wizard of Oz in which Bridgewater played Glinda the Good Witch. The role won her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress.
After having visited France while on tour for the musical Sophisticated Ladies, Bridgewater moved to Paris in 1986. That same year, she starred as Billie Holiday in Lady Day, a performance for which she received a prestigious Laurence Olivier Award nomination.
The artist made her debut on the Festival stages in 1993 alongside John Pizzarelli and his Orchestra, an appearance deemed so successful that she returned for the following two years. In 1995, Bridgewater released Love and Peace, a tribute to jazz pianist Horace Silver, who also played on two of the tracks. In 1997, she followed up with another homage to a jazz legend: Dear Ella. A joyous celebration of Fitzgerald's immeasurable contribution to the genre, the album won two Grammys, including Best Jazz Vocal Performance.
In 1999, the celebrated artist became a United Nations Ambassador for the Food and Agricultural Organization, a post that works toward abolishing world hunger. Closer to home, she nurtures the next generation of jazz stars as host of JazzSet on National Public Radio.
Bridgewater returned to the Festival in 2004 as part of Latin Landscapes, a concert that also featured Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez, pianist Edsel Gomez and drummer Henry Cole, American bassist Ira Coleman and Argentinean drummer Minino Garay.
Drawing on the rich tradition of French chanson from her adopted homeland, she released J'ai Deux Amours in 2005. Channelling Piaf and Brel, Bridgewater maintains her expressive vocal range while singing en français.
For her follow-up, the well-traveled singer refocused her musical sights on Mali, looking to the rhythms of West Africa and its melodic indigenous dialects on Red Earth (2007). Featuring a set of original compositions and four reworked jazz classics, the ambitious album kicks off on a nostalgic note as the singer revisits Afro Blue.
In 2008, Bridgewater made her eighth appearance at the Festival, bringing her Malian musical odyssey onstage at Théâtre Maisonneuve with the help of 10 talented musicians. In 2010, she payed tribute to Billie Holiday with the album Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959), To Billie with Love from Dee Dee. Five years later, she came to the Festival alongside Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra before releasing the joint album Dee Dee's Feathers.