Black Music Month’s Featured Artist
A CONVERSATION WITH “SWEET GINA BROWN”
Of all the performers out there, few can rock you out of your seat like the “one and only” Gina Brown! Her high energy shows have satisfied audiences from Dubai to Daphne! That’s right, for more than 20 years she’s left adoring fans all over the world dancing in the aisles and begging for more of the “Gina Experience!"
Anyone who knows Gina knows she’s been singing as long as she’s been talking! Some might even say this New Orleans native was “born to sing.” No one knows that more than me, Gina Brown and I have been best friends since we were 14 years old.
Through the years I’ve had the privilege of watching her career flourish. She began performing at family functions and high school talent shows. As an Air Force brat, she travelled the world, but she launched her professional career in Mobile, Alabama where we both grew up. We shared a chuckle recently about how she started out her professional career as a wedding singer. “My first paying gig was singing at a wedding with vocalist Vincent White,” recalled Gina. I only got twenty-five dollars for that gig, but at the time I was happy to have it. Honestly I love singing and I would have done it for free,” chuckled Brown.
Though we’ve talked almost every day for the last 25 years, I recently discovered just how much I didn’t know about my longtime friend. Anyone familiar with her history knows Gina got her start in New Orleans by performing with noted jazz musicians like violinist Michael Ward. She has also shared the stage with other noted artist such as Gerald L. Levert; Jon B, Pattie Austin, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia of American Idol, just to name a few.
She also took it to “another level” when she formed her own band more than eight years ago. She has released a live CD –“Gina Brown and “Anutha Level”. She also currently has two singles, “Can’t Stop Thinking of You” and the very popular “G Slide”, Gina’s own line dance produced by Southern Soul recording artist Mel Waiters.
But, few people know one of Gina’s biggest joys comes from sharing the stage with some noted musicians whose names are no longer plastered across the marquee. “At least two times a year, my band and I visit nursing homes. It’s important to me to give back and to say thank you to those who came before me. A lot of people in those centers opened doors for me and other artists are still making a living in New Orleans today. I try to remember that anytime I step up to a microphone at the House of Blues, or during any of my other performances in the city. I’m standing on the shoulders of some giants and that’s just my way of letting them know you haven’t been forgotten and somebody still cares,” said Brown.
Another revelation about this breakthrough artist, Gina comes from a family steeped in New Orleans' musical history. “My mother, Sandra Jones, was famous in the gospel circuit in this area.” She was a child prodigy who sung with Andre’ Crouch. She also performed with Mahalia Jackson and became a recording artist” Brown noted.
Brown isn't the only child of music royalty who's keeping the tradition alive. “Bourbon Street is known worldwide and there are a lot of big named artists whose children are still here. Everyone from Irma Thomas to Marva Wright, “The Queen of New Orleans Blues” her daughter Gerry McKey picked up where her mother left off. Fat’s Domino’s son also performs in New Orleans too. It’s that kind of rich heritage that can’t be ignored and continues to separate New Orleans from any other place in the world and it’s really cool to witness,” Brown said.
New Orleans’ rich heritage is also why she jumped at the chance to join the cast of the wildly successful production of “The Joints Jumpin”! It’s a classic celebration of New Orleans rhythm and blues. For nearly three years, Gina has been part of a famous ensemble of top New Orleans singers and musicians showcasing artists like Etta James, Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, The Dixie Cups. Chart topping performers who had hits which helped “The Crescent City” define its place in world class jazz and R&B almost a century ago. “I love “The Joints Jumpin” because it reminds us of some great songwriters like Bo Dillard who wrote a couple of hits Etta James recorded including “At Last”. There’s also Alan Toussaint who still has ties to New Orleans today. He wrote a string of hits for everybody from Aaron Neville to James Brown and the Pointer Sisters. It’s that kind of history that truly makes it just a little bit more exciting to be in New Orleans than anywhere else,” exclaimed Brown.
Her love of “The Crescent City” is what naturally had Gina advocating and fighting for many of New Orleans' singers and musicians following Hurricane Katrina. Musicians like Irma Thomas, Alan Toussaint were displaced. So, Gina fought to become part of The New Orleans Musician’s Clinic. It is a healthcare program that helped struggling New Orleans musicians, singers and songwriters to get free health screening. “That was so rewarding to actually fight for the money to make a difference in the lives of musicians who didn’t have a place to go when it came to just their health screenings, blood pressure, diabetes, regular check-ups and assistance with their medicine as the city was trying to rebuild,” said Brown.
Its' also been rewarding for me to watch as my best friend has become an outstanding teacher. Gina has been showcased as a local judge for BET’s “Sunday Best”. It’s the Black Entertainment Television Network’s gospel version of American Idol! Together with a panel of other seasoned industry veterans, Gina passes on solid advice to many of those kids who also dream of making it to the big time.
She also is known to take a number of artists under her wing. “Every opportunity I get I go back and pull someone into the industry. I try to teach them what to do and what not to do. I have to do that because somebody helped me. I’ve worked with several artists who are making a name for themselves in the city including Franklin Davis, IV, Teresa Betts, and Anthony Bailey from The Apollo. One of my biggest success stories is Kourtney Hart. Kourtney just signed with Jive Records,” said Brown.
Her talent coaching skills have come in handy as the third generation of Brown family performers gets ready to take the stage. We're talking about her daughter Tyler. “She’s only 16 and she’s already a triple threat; Tyler can sing, dance and act! Though her father wants her to pursue being a doctor or a lawyer, I want it to be her decision. But, when and if she’s ready, I’ll be here to remind her of the shoulders she’s standing on as a third generation performer in this family, plus the rich history and heritage of the city we both call home!
To get your dose of the "Gina Brown experience” be sure to Click onto the enclosed link and website for a look at Gina Brown’s complete performance schedule at www.ginabrownonline.com , www.neworleansjazzcafe.com