Rachelle Ferrell: Honoring the Artist Within

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There are some people born to an art form. Music is Rachelle Ferrell’s living breath as much as it is her life’s craft and mission.

Ferrell is a true artist as is evidenced by her vocal, instrumental and songwriting skills. Anyone having heard Ms. Ferrell hit the high octaves cannot help but become a fan for life. The warmth that plays out on stage does not disappear offstage. Ferrell proves to be a warm, spiritual, gracious down-to-earth individual. Her humanitarian bent has led her to understand that all of us are intrinsically woven together as part of the human mosaic and therefore mirrored reflections and caretakers of one another.

Ferrell will be appearing in New York for two separate engagements. She will appear at SOBs in Manhattan, August 4th. Acknowledging the need to help those with AIDS, Ms. Ferrell will be lending her musical talents to aid the kickoff of the Black Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Opening Award Ceremony of “The Pride In The City� event. “Pride in the City� will be a 4-Day Extravaganza Celebration held at the Brooklyn Marriott, located at 333 Adam Street in Brooklyn on Thursday, August 5th at 7:00 p.m.

The goal of the event is to provide a festive atmosphere while offering testing services directly to the community, instead of having people travel to an office or clinic outside their neighborhood. People of Color in Crisis, Inc., the hosting community-based organization, is hoping that the increased accessibility and ease of this initiative will help them reach their goal of testing 300 community members for HIV.

Rachelle has toured extensively over the years and intends to begin again in October but presently she finds herself in the studio putting the finishing touches on her live CD, “Free, Black and Live.� Her CD is scheduled to be released September, 2004. “I am very, very happy with the way this CD is turning out. It is the culmination of the last ten years. I have included songs from each album I have done and also new songs that I have written,� commented Ferrell.

Ms. Ferrell continues to challenge herself as a performer and thereby admits to seeing a lot of growth and development in her present work. As a songwriter, Ferrell oftentimes seeks out those quiet moments of contemplation and introspection. Those moments have proven to be a springboard for the lyrics that grace her songs. "Spirituality is at the core and the center of my life and my consciousness and aspirations," said Rachelle. “It colors my music and everything I do and its perfect with everything, really. I would tend to go so far as to say that we are living in desperate times. Music has always been the balm and panacea that addresses whatever is occurring in whatever time it occurs...historically speaking. Given the fact that it's the universal language, it communicates to us on a level that goes beyond the influence of the intellect and the ego. This is what I believe to be music’s highest purpose – to heal, make aware, empower, uplift and inspire – to heal at our core.�

Rachelle recently added the guitar to her instrumental skills. Early on she trained classically on the violin and then as a teen became proficient on the piano which she played at the professional level. She is at ease with that which strikes a chord of versatility within her performances, moving as smoothly and comfortably between jazz, gospel and pop as she does when singing soul, funk and R&B. “I am comfortable singing it all. I do love it all. I go through phases where I may lean more toward one genre than another,� said Ferrell.

“Where I put my attention at any given moment pretty much comes about based on my current growth and development as an artist. It really depends on what the song is and how the song comes through. The song primarily dictates how it wants to be sung. For a while last summer, I put my attention toward old delta blues while I was learning to play guitar. My radar was tuned into listening to Mississippi Fred McDowell, Skip James, Big Bill Broonzy and John Hurt. The list goes on. There was this wonderful recording of Fred McDowell. You could actually hear that they were in this cabin with a wooden floor. A woman in this recording was sweeping a broom across the wood floor in time to the song that Fred McDowell was playing. It was extraordinary. The blues goes to the essence of black life and survival. This is what I needed particularly for my own survival. I have woven what I learned from that experience into what my music is now,� explained Rachelle.

There are many stages in an artist’s life and Rachelle Ferrell knows full well how difficult it can be to keep one’s artistic focus when dealing with the record companies. “I didn’t know that there were separate genres of music until I grew up and got into the record companies where everything was what I would call serious ‘music apartheid’� said the bemused singer. “I learned a lot from being in the corporate world. You can learn from joy and you can learn from pain. I felt pain but what I learned was very, very valuable. At this point in my life, I likened it to when the slaves actually realized they were free. It wasn’t that moment when it was declared but maybe a year or so later, when someone was just riding by and made the announcement and then it hit the slaves that they no longer had to stay on the plantation. I think it was then that they realized that they had their destiny and their lives totally and completely in their own hands. It was that level and kind of scary freedom,� reflected the resilient artist.

“That is what I have been experiencing over the last year, which has been wonderful. I recognize that I can do anything I want any time I want and the only restraint placed upon me is the one I place upon myself. That realization has been a wonderful, delicious feeling.�

Raised in a tiny town in Pennsylvania near the Valley Forge area, Rachelle came from a musically inclined family. Her father played organ, piano, classical, blues and jazz. At age 18, Rachelle enrolled in the Berklee College of Music in Boston to study composition and arranging. Noted for such songs as “Individuality (Can I Be Me?),� “I Know You Love Me,� “Sentimental,� “Welcome to My Love,� “You Don't Know What Love Is,� and “Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This,� Ferrell first debuted and released the song "First Instrument," in Japan in 1990. “I can’t even begin to describe how well received my music was in Japan. I have toured nationally and internationally and have heard the phrase ‘citizen of the world’. When you travel to different countries, you are able to touch people of different cultures, background and locale basically through the heart chakra. That is when you really get to understand on a cellular level what universality and oneness is,� stated Rachelle.

“I have come to recognize and acknowledge we are living in trying times and one must be resilient and strong and sit back and recognize that this too shall pass. I am deeply and particularly aware of the shift of energy. There used to be a level of warmth, humanity and hospitality in this country that is no longer there. I don’t talk too much about my politics but I would say that I am political. I am political -- but not so much in the microcosm as in the macrocosm. As author Bell Hooks says, ‘Love is political.’ And, you can’t get more political than love.�

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