▶ R‘n’B singer Beth Grif­fith speaks to Saeed Saeed about learn­ing from le­gends and mov­ing into the lime­light

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Beth Grif­fith is one of the head­lin­ers at the Jazz Gar­den on Fri­day, Habtoor Grand Re­sort, Dubai Ma­rina. Ad­mis­sion are free with reg­is­tra­tion at www. jaz­zgar­ and doors will open at 6.30pm

Af­ter a ca­reer in the back­ground, Beth Grif­fith is now shin­ing in her own light. The Amer­i­can soul singer head­lines the lat­est in­stal­ment of Dubai’s free live mu­sic se­ries, Jazz Gar­den, on Fri­day. The show is part of a ma­jor ca­reer de­vel­op­ment for the Detroit-based singer, who honed her craft as a back­ing vo­cal­ist for R‘n’B stal­wart Anita Baker and the ul­tra-smooth crooner Kem.

You would think the years spent in the shad­ows of other artists would be­gin to grate Grif­fith, but the singer chal­lenges the per­cep­tion that a back­ground vo­cal­ist is in re­al­ity a frus­trated star in-wait­ing.

“That is all I re­ally wanted to do,” she says. “And that’s be­cause I thought there would be less pres­sure that I would have to deal with. I like the idea that I can travel, be on stage and still have my own life, with­out go­ing through the wor­ries of be­ing a main artist. So it took some time to tran­si­tion to be­ing the main singer, as you have to carry most of the show.”

What’s be­hind that de­vel­op­ment is Grif­fith’s de­but al­bum, Free. Self-fi­nanced, the al­bum is col­lec­tion of in­ti­mate R‘n’B tunes that partly pays homage to her men­tors. The swelling cho­rus and lush in­stru­men­ta­tion of the ti­tle track should ap­peal to Kem fans, while Anita Baker gets a di­rect nod in a cover of her 1979 track I Just Wanna Be Your Girl.

While Kem taught her grace un­der pres­sure, Grif­fith cites Baker for pro­vid­ing stern ca­reer ad­vice. “Tour­ing with her is where I learned about how to han­dle things that go on be­hind the scenes,” she says. “She showed me how the in­dus­try can treat women dif­fer­ently than men. Some­times the pay and re­spect may not be the same, and they would want you to pro­vide the same en­ergy and per­for­mance as the male artist may give. She showed me how we should stand up for our­selves as fe­male artists and she al­ways said that I would be a solo artist one day, which I didn’t be­lieve, of course.”

A big­ger and hid­den in­flu­ence in Grif­fith’s work is her late fa­ther, the pian­ist Johnny Grif­fith, who was part of the leg­endary pro­duc­tion team, The Funk Broth­ers, who were re­spon­si­ble for Mo­town clas­sics such as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Go­ing On (1971) and The Supremes’ Stop! In the Name of Love (1965). De­spite his suc­cess and ac­claim, it was the un­pre­dictable na­ture of show­busi­ness that led to Grif­fith’s fa­ther ini­tially dis­cour­ag­ing her from en­ter­ing the mu­sic in­dus­try.

“He knew that in the busi­ness your highs are very high and your lows are re­ally low. So he didn’t want me to ex­pe­ri­ence that,” she says.

“But when it is in you then you can’t help [it]. I worked in cor­po­rate Amer­ica for a lit­tle bit but that wasn’t me, and it was mu­sic that I was drawn to. Un­for­tu­nately, he passed away just when I was be­gin­ning to sing.”

An­other late leg­end who had of­fered sup­port to Grif­fith was Whit­ney Hous­ton. The two met on the set of the 2012 drama Sparkle af­ter Grif­fith was un­ex­pect­edly cast as the diva’s body-dou­ble.

“That was funny be­cause I au­di­tioned

Anita Baker showed her how fe­male artists should stand up for them­selves, while Kem taught her grace un­der pres­sure

only as an ex­tra and they put me in that role,” she says. “It was re­ally in­ter­est­ing be­cause I share a lot of things with Whit­ney, like we have the same birth­day and same height. So when I had the chance to meet her and told her what I was do­ing, she just hugged me. Whit­ney was so kind, lov­ing and ex­tremely funny. For me they were the most amaz­ing mo­ments ever.”

With Dubai be­ing part of a se­ries of shows to pro­mote Free, Grif­fith is look­ing for­ward to show­cas­ing her work to a new au­di­ence.

“I am re­ally ex­cited, be­cause this is re­ally the best thing about be­ing a per­former,” she says.“Also the weather here in Michi­gan is cold, so I am happy to leave this for a while.”

Beth Grif­fith

Beth Grif­fith tried to climb the cor­po­rate ca­reer lad­der but re­turned to her first pas­sion, mu­sic

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