Although I have lived in Memphis for over a decade, I, unfortunately, have never attended a concert at the Levitt Shell, so I was looking forward to the Dee Dee Bridgewater event as part of the Rhodes Night at the Levitt Shell series. When I arrived, parking was already tight. I was a bit surprised to see that the lawn was quite packed. I did not expect so many people to attend a jazz concert, but I was glad to know that there were a significant number of people there! Seeing the size of the audience not only reassured me but also made me look forward to the music even more. Because the Levitt Shell is an open-air amphitheater, there were no seats. Some people had brought their lawn chairs, but most of them were sitting on top of blankets. It was a casual environment, but also a very well done event. The atmosphere was most definitely one of a family-friendly and comfortable setting. There were a couple of food trucks, and the amphitheater had a screen on either side, which allowed me to get a good look at what was happening on stage once the music began.
About the audience, it seemed as though the majority were of Caucasian background, at least from where I was sitting, on the fringe of the lawn. There were African Americans in attendance, but they seemed to make up only a handful. This composition may be partly due to the event’s affiliation with Rhodes College, as well as the event’s taking place over parents’ weekend. There seemed to be a few students with backpacks, and there were quite a few college-aged persons. There were also a good number of younger children. At one point in the show, Dee Dee came off the stage for a little bit. The area directly in front of the theater was not covered by grass, and there were children hopping and jumping around. Dee Dee grabbed someone’s dog, and held it as she played with the kids! The little girls were especially excited to twirl and dance with her. This light-hearted moment reinforced the environment as welcoming to people of all ages. The night was not too warm, thankfully, and the lawn smelled of sweet grass and food.
Dee Dee started off by informing the audience that she had just released an album, called “Memphis, Yes I’m Ready.” I was not expecting the concert to be so Memphis-centric, which it was; she also mentioned the radio and her favorite station, the top radio station in Memphis for which her father was a DJ (Music News Desk). One of the reasons why I enjoyed the show was that it was easy for me to understand what Dee Dee was saying; another was Dee Dee Bridgewater’s character and personality. Although she did not play an instrument, she was very animated and interacted with her lyrics, almost acting them out. She interacted with the guitar player, although there were not any musical instrument solos. The musical genre was jazz, although Dee Dee had some interesting vocalizations at one point; it was not rapped, but almost sounded like yodeling. The other musical instruments I noticed included the trumpet, drums, cymbals, electric piano, and guitar. In one of the songs, Dee Dee slapped her thigh to keep a beat with the instruments (corpophone). There was also some call and response with the trumpet. She did have two female backup singers, who came forward for the few minutes that Dee Dee took a break. Nevertheless, throughout the entire concert, Dee Dee was the primary focus.
Although Dee Dee Bridgewater sang from her album, I was surprised when she sang songs by other artists. I also did not expect her to talk so much in between songs. Almost before every song, she gave a little introduction. She mentioned Willie Mitchel, Reverend Al Green, and Barbara Mason. She also sang Barbara Mason’s, “Yes, I’m Ready.” She also mentioned the Little Rock 9, the nine high school students who decided they wanted a better education for themselves and with the help of the NAACP began the desegregation of the US school system. She mentioned the Staples Singers and a favorite song of Martin Luther King. In between songs Dee Dee told anecdotes, said prayers, and asked for affirmation. She mentioned Carla Thomas, and how her father played in Carla’s father’s band. She also sang Booker T. and the MG’s “Chicken Pox.”
I noted a few lyrics that particularly stood out to me: “Giving up is so hard to do,” “I’m ready to fall in love with you,” and “Why am I treated so bad?” Many of these lyrics, such as these, reminded me of blues and jazz songs we have discussed in class, such as “I’m a Bad Luck Woman.” In a few of her songs, a few people in the audience clapped along (particularly a group of African American women sitting in the front). On the whole, people did respond when Dee Dee spoke. There was always a spattering of applause before and after she introduced her songs. It was a relaxed atmosphere, in which everyone was pretty much sitting and listening; there were not very many people just passing through or focusing on other things. I spoke with a young couple sitting next to me who had brought their two kids, like many other parents who attended, to spend a fun, family Saturday night. Their little girl, who was enjoying the music, was about six years old, responded with “It’s awesome!!” when I asked her how she liked the music.
Because Dee Dee prefaced her concert with coming home to Memphis, the show seemed to be geared towards celebrating Memphis and her roots in the city. The event also celebrated African American music and history, primarily by her singing of songs by fellow African American artists, and her honoring particular civil rights events, such as the Little Rock Nine and Martin Luther King Jr. All in all, the Dee Dee Bridgewater concert was an excellent demonstration of jazz music in celebration of the city of Memphis and the history of African Americans in the United States.