May 10th, 2011 21:31 EST
Abby Dobson, Singer/Songwriter chats with Judyth Piazza on The American Perspective
Abby Dobson was born in Kingston, Jamaica to parents that came up in more rural Mandeville and Santa Cruz. Her early recollections of music are of country and reggae songs she sang from the radio as a child, and her aunt shushing the family at the dinner table to listen " Abby`s first hint that she might have a musical gift.
Though no one in her family was a professional musician, she learned later that her father courted her mother crooning Nat King " Cole tunes. And it was from her mother and older cousin that Abby acquired an insatiable love for literature that would profoundly spark and shape her imagination.
When Abby was 7, the family moved to Flatbush, Brooklyn in New York where she was expected to excel in her studies but also encouraged to develop her creative voice. She sang leads in front of the church choir with her cousins by her side as young as 9, studied classical voice and (briefly) piano in junior high, found herself giving recitals of arias and Great American Songbook Standards as the only child among adults at her high school music teacher`s private gatherings, and continued her singing studies through college and beyond. It was an older cousin who initially introduced her to more secular forms of music from the Jackson 5 to Prince.
Easing into her own highly diversified wealth of influences, Abby was drawn like a magnet to the powerful vocal persuasions of Sarah Vaughan, Whitney Houston, Anita Baker and Donny Hathaway while inspired by the introspective acoustic leaning writings of Tracy Chapman and Dolly Parton, the next level love songs of Anita Baker ("including Fairy Tales"), and the purposed writings of Bob Marley and Sweet Honey in The Rock ("My Lament," "Dear Martin" and "Joanne Little: She`s My Sister"). On the literary shelf sat her primary Muses Alice Walker and Toni Morrison as authors.
Abby attended Williams College in Massachusetts majoring in History and Political Science. She graduated with intentions to go into law or public policy. I always knew I wanted to sing, " Abby confesses, but was afraid of failing and being unable to sustain myself.
When you come to America from an immigrant family, you are expected to succeed in a profession. So after college, I continued on in law school to become an attorney "but I never stopped singing." Abby dipped her toes into the underground indie artist " circuit singing cover songs at an endless string of "open mic" nights.
She began writing her first songs when it was suggested that was the better way to land a "record deal." Abby put together a band and had her artistic coming out at the famed Nuyorican Poets CafÃ©. From there, things accelerated swiftly as Abby learned to untether herself from shyness and relying too heavily on technique, honing her chops to where she could fearlessly let go " emotionally as both a singer and writer. Of the latter, Abby began digging much deeper, finding she had a lot to say as a female artist.
I grew up in a very female centered household with my mother, grandmother, aunt, my aunt`s kids and my brother. I was an avid reader of feminist and womanist literature which really shaped my point of view. My mother, Theda Burrell, has always been my most consistent supporter, making sacrifices so I could have the creative life that she denied herself. My mother was always drawing things in the little spare time she had and also wrote poetry but was too busy working to pursue them. She made sure I got my piano and voice lessons. I could not do what I do without her. I am ever aware that I am standing on her shoulders and those of all the women in the house I was raised."
As evidence of Abby`s artistry spread, she graced honored New York stages such as S.O.B`s, The Knitting Factory, The Cutting Room, Joe`s Pub and the Blue Note - all to rave reviews. She was featured three times as a singer/songwriter at the New York Songwriter`s Circle and was a finalist in the R&B category of the John Lennon Song Writing Competition for her song "Deeply," which has been featured on television shows "The Shield," "Jack & Jill" and "Any Day Now." Abby won a BMI Atlanta Urban Music Showcase, was pegged by GIANT magazine in its September 2009 issue as an Artist to Watch, " and lent backing vocals to artists ranging from John Legend to Talib Kweli. Accompanied by her band (optimally consisting of two guitars, piano, bass, drums and backing vocals), Abby has opened concerts for Rahsaan Patterson, Ledisi, Dwele, Chrisette Michele, Floetry, Kindred, Leela James and Robin Thicke. Abby also performs with Burnt Sugar: The Arkestra Chamber, a 20-plus member ensemble known for improvisatory orchestral performances that combine all manner of vocal, instrumental and electronic music, led by founder and conductor Greg Tate.
For her long-awaited debut Sleeping Beauty: You Are the One You Have Been Waiting On, Abby Dobson whittled down two CDs worth of material to the 11 songs and two interludes that best told this story. Initial backing tracks were cut in two sessions February and June of 2007, followed by spot dates over the next year for overdubs. All the while, Abby leaned on her training as a paralegal to fund her sessions. When she got to the mixing stage, she tapped a finance touchstone of her Caribbean culture known as sou-sou," an arrangement made among friends whereby each person makes regular contributions to a fund, the money drawn out periodically by each individual in turn. So let it be clear " when Abby Dobson took the stage of New York`s legendary jazz club The Blue Note and Washington, DC`s renowned Kennedy Center Millenium Stage in November 2010 to formally introduce her lovingly crafted debut, she was far from an overnight sensation. The lady has been striving, sacrificing and succeeding on her own terms for the better part of a decade - to present the world with music of her singular vision "her way "via her LadyBraveBird Music company.
Reflecting on all that has led her to this auspicious precipice of her hard fought for musical career, Abby shares, I feel excited, a little nervous, but very proud for never quitting. The life of an independent artist going it alone is not easy, particularly when you see yourself in one place but it takes you longer to attain what you see. It helps knowing in your heart that you have something powerful, uplifting and relevant to offer. It`s a bitter pill to swallow being a true artist with something of value to say yet you see so much stuff that`s not good being blasted to the masses by people who straight up see music as a hustle and are getting over "big time! The key for me was letting go of the "plantation mentality` of hoping to be discovered and groomed as the next multi-platinum seller, and staying grounded in the dream of artistry I dreamed for myself. "
As a final footnote, it`s no cosmic accident that Abby Dobson`s Sleeping Beauty: You Are the One You Have Been Waiting On bowed the same month that Ntozake Shange`s pioneering literary/theatrical piece For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow Was Enuff came to the silver screen. It solidifies Abby`s work as a sacred cog in a continuum of vital female expression destined to touch hearts across generations. The lady who remains committed to shining her artistic light - selflessly volunteering at the service of programs such as Upward Bound, The Brotherhood SisterSol, Bronx Community College and The Lower Eastside Girl`s Club - rendered her all important debut as one from the heart " to touch the hearts of many.
As one admirer so dynamically expressed, Abby is to soulful music an innovative and compelling force, a voice bringing people together "and joy through the gift of song."
Abby will be performing (on a triple bill) on June 5, 2011 for the Blue Note Jazz Festival at the Highline Ballroom in NYC.
Music: Abby Dobson - Sleeping Beauty: You Are the One You Have Been Waiting On
To find out more about Abby Dobson: www.reverbnation.com/abbydobson1
To find out more about Judyth Piazza: www.judythpiazza.com