Denise Eileen Garrett, 27 May 1950, Memphis, Tennessee, USA. After making her first public performances singing in the American north west, Garrett became featured vocalist with the University of Illinois big band. In 1970, she married trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, thereafter using her married name, even after their divorce. The couple recorded together, including the well-received Afro-Blue (1974), which also featured tenor saxophonist Ron Bridgewater. In New York during the early 70s she sang regularly with the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. She also began a parallel career as a performer in stage musicals, including The Wiz, for which she won a Tony Award in 1975. By the late 70s Bridgewater had opted to work outside jazz, singing pop music on the west coast of America. A long sojourn in Europe found her working more in the jazz field and making further stage appearances, including Sophisticated Ladies in Paris, France, and in London in the leading role in Lady Day.
At the end of the decade Bridgewater was back in the USA and a frequent visitor to jazz festivals in various parts of the world. Her late 80s recording Victim Of Love featured an excellent duet with Ray Charles on Til The Next Somewhere. She collaborated with pianist Horace Silver, her first husbands former employer, for a mid-90s tribute album. Similarly sensitive was her excellent tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Dear Ella, released by Verve Records in 1997. The album won a Grammy Award the following year in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category. A superb live album was released the following year.
In the new millennium, Bridgewater diversified her range with albums exploring the music of Kurt Weill (This Is New), French chanson (JAi Deux Amours), and African music (Red Earth: A Malian Journey). A powerful singer, with a style well-rooted in gospel, to which she brings a fresh and contemporary feeling, Bridgewater has all the qualities needed to make a lasting mark as a jazz singer. However, her successes in other fields has persuaded her to broaden her repertoire still further, which has tended to dilute her jazz core.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.