René Marie – singer, actress, writer. Eartha Kitt – singer, actress, writer. Never before has there been a vocal recording tipping the hat to the divine Ms. Kitt and her fiery, sensual and clever interpretations of songs. With her incredible vocal range, her emotional resonance and strong independent streak, René maintains Ms. Kitt’s legacy and helps keep her spirit alive. I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt) is René’s 10th career album.
This brilliantly entertaining album burnishes René’s reputation as the most provocative risk-taker among today’s jazz divas. Featuring star turns by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, trumpeter Etienne Charles and Australia’s Adrian Cunningham on saxophone, clarinet and flute, I Wanna Be Evil features René’s longtime band: Quentin Baxter (drums, percussion, washboard); Kevin Bales (piano); and Elias Bailey (bass).
Eartha Kitt is one of America’s strongest iconic figures. She was an inspiring artist, a strong woman and an essential activist in different ways. She was homeless when she first moved to New York City yet became a star. She was a sensual and powerful woman in a man’s world at a time when most women were background not front and center. She was a black actress in Hollywood at a time when most black actors were given subservient roles yet here she was – Catwoman. She challenged President Johnson on the Vietnam War and paid a price for her outspokenness. She unabashedly shared her sensual self and her fierce self and was just herself – simply Eartha. That alone, I have learned, can be the most radical act, especially if you are a woman. As Eartha states in one of her famous ‘Kittisms’: The price you pay for being yourself is worth it.
René too is unabashedly herself, winning many fans for her audaciousness but also receiving strong criticism. Her well-known medley of “Strange Fruit” and “Dixie” wowed many but also stirred the pot on America’s history of slavery and Southern race relations. Her choice to sing the black national anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” (set to the melody of the “Star Spangled Banner”) when the Mayor of Denver John Hickenlooper asked René – one of Denver’s high profile resident artists at the time – to open the State of the City address in 2008 spurred a significant backlash, right wing criticism and even death threats.
René’s daring makes her one of America’s most interesting and compelling artists. So do her influences. Her style incorporates a distinctly American mélange of jazz, soul, blues, folk and gospel and an innate theatrical ability to interpret a song deeply and live its truth.
For René Marie, success means shining attention on important issues in America and on bold artists like Eartha Kitt who helped change America’s landscape for the better. René has become one of those bold artists.
What Other People Have Been Saying...
“…a jazz singer with the talent, the imagination and the sheer presence to be included in the very top level of performers.” -L.A. Times
“…Sheer brilliance…one of the most sensuous songbirds ever captured on disc. Marie’s torch burns hotter and oft-times brighter than any of her peers.” -Christopher Loudon – Jazz Times
“Great art comes from taking chances. Jazz vocalist René Marie takes some doozies…“ –Miami Herald
“Marie is in the top tier of living female jazz vocalists and her performances continue to prove that point.” -All About Jazz
“Marie is cut from similar cloth as blues singer Bettye Lavette. Both women sing as if they have nothing to lose, nothing to fear. They give it their all.“ read the rest of Pamela Espeland’s MinnPost preview here