Posts Tagged ‘The Best of Jenny Burton’

A conversation with Jenny Burton

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

300x300Jenny Burton is an American singer from New York whose long and successful career has included soul, dance, Gospel, and inspirational music. Her distinctive voice and style have brought her acclaim with several hits on the US Billboard dance chart.

In 1983 Jenny began her solo career with the album In Black and White, which featured the Top 20 single “Remember What You Like” and the club favorites “Players” and “Rock Steady,” all released on Atlantic Records. Another major success came in 1984 with the release of her second self-titled album, featuring the #1 dance hit and #19 R&B single “Bad Habits.”

She also has two gold records from films to her credit—Harry Belafonte’s Beat Street and White Nights starring Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

In the 1990s, Jenny took a new direction as an inspirational artist, with her own band and group The Jenny Burton Experience, which had a standing room only 7-year run at the New York venue Don’t Tell Mama, and opened for Stevie Wonder at Lincoln Center

Jenny with Peter Link and Harry Belafonte

Jenny with Peter Link and Harry Belafonte

In 2011, Jenny performed to sold-out audiences at Watchfire Music’s Listening Rooms Concerts in New York City.

Jenny has just released a wonderful new CD for Watchfire Music that spotlights some of her finest material, The Best of Jenny Burton, with music and lyrics by Peter Link, and includes a 60-page digi-book. Here’s our conversation with Jenny:

Jenny, when I listen to you—just sit and immerse myself in your music—the first word that comes to me is “powerful.” How would you describe your music and your voice?

I think more now than ever…I think of my voice as something I have been given on loan this time around. I feel that the power it conveys is the signature of the gift giver, our Creator.

When young, we often don’t know what we’ve been given. As I’ve listened back, especially now, I deeply realized how amazing all our gifts are. Something, imbued in us, woven into our tapestry. Lately, when listening to others sing or seeing them sing, more specifically, I marvel at the physiological construct of that person’s voice box to make the sounds that come from them.

They’re certainly different than mine—the soprano, mezzo, contralto, bass, and tenor sound. So more than anything, I feel “wonder” about it—that it lives in me, like my breath. I am grateful for the ability to sing and the opportunity to align that with powerful lyrics that, hopefully, bring clarity, joy, comfort or healing to someone else as well as to myself.

JennyBest_7I’m wondering about how it all started. I know you grew up in the Bronx, NY—is your family musical? When did you first catch the music “bug?”

Don’t know much about my family, as I lived eighteen years in foster care. My dad was an actor of sorts and my aunt an actress, but to my knowledge no singers in the family. So, I have to consider my music beginnings as having started their life in the church choirs I sang in.

Also, during my youth, there was Motown and the sounds coming from there. In one of my homes, my father loved and listened to jazz. I think throughout all those years, I absorbed music and styles. I didn’t especially think about becoming a singer, but am grateful that’s how it turned out.

They were years of just surviving, so perhaps it’s natural that I’d express myself through music. I needed much healing and I think sometimes we try to offer what we most need.

I didn’t have formal training, so, as I said in my earlier answer, my talent was something I was given, something natural that brings me to Life and something that expresses my individual Soul.

Do you play any musical instruments?

I don’t play an instrument—wished I’d learned piano, one of my favorite instruments. There’s still time. 🙂

You first recorded when you were in your twenties, right? Tell me about before that…did you ever perform in high school? I’m trying to get a sense of how your career developed.

Mostly I sang in church choirs, not so much in school productions, etc. Music was a big part of my life growing up. It seemed to be everywhere. I also landed several administrative jobs with record companies.

While at one of those record companies, I met a producer with whom I recorded my first records. We had some success there, so I began to follow the footsteps that made sense and that presented themselves, leading to all that has come after.

Jenny with Watchfire Music owners Peter Link and Julia Wade

Jenny with Watchfire Music owners Peter Link and Julia Wade

When and how did you first settle into a style that felt right for you?

I contribute so much of the development of my style to the absorbing of so many kinds of music I heard growing up and the singing I did in church choirs.

Gospel is at the root of much of my style. Getting into the business and studying vocally, I learned much more about how to morph my sound into whatever I wanted or needed it to be, depending about what I was being called on to express or convey.

I leaned better control of my vibrato which also helps in creating style, making it R&B or more pop or classical.

I also think that the things I sing about determine a lot, for me, the style I choose.

You’ve gone through a number of styles, and it seems that you’ve been able to combine them…I love that you’ve combined R&B with inspirational music. Tell me a little about your transition into inspirational music.

Inspirational music is just returning home for me. Singing about things that I’ve come to believe in. It’s very important to me how a lyric is crafted. How much clarity it brings.

I’ve done other music styles, such as disco & dance. I have to admit that my gospel roots always sit at the base of it all.

I think gospel music and music that is based in inspiration is where I do my best work. It allows me to soar into concepts that are most interesting to me.

BestOfJenny_HQYou’ve collaborated with Peter Link on many projects. Tell me what it’s like for you working with him.

Peter always lays the platform of a professional and organized experience for me. We learned, over time, that I work best with him creating structure for me in a song, and then finding those places in which I had more freedom for me to do my thing. The goal is always to serve the song, but also to find my particular way of doing that.

Peter is good at sussing that out for the people he works with. I guess that comes with also having the qualities of director that live within him. He helped me to develop an understanding of what it is to prepare for recording or live performance. He’s very organized, which I so appreciate. He’s always prepared with what he needs to bring to the table, so he has been an example of that for me.

Whenever I have to get to work, I know what’s needed. I go in as prepared as I can be. In that way, there’s room and time for improvising, discovery and all the other wondrous and sometimes unexpected moments that can come to bear in the creative experience. He’s gotten better and better over the years of knowing how to get from the performer what’s needed, helping them to locate it within themselves, in order to bring that to the recording or performance. He’s been a mentor and made me better at what I do.

Your new release for Watchfire Music, The Best of Jenny Burton, left me breathless. I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

I’m excited about The Best Of. It’s so good to have it out there. It was wonderful to work on; everyone worked so hard on it to bring it to a reality. It gave me the opportunity to be involved every step of the way. I’ve become more and more interested over time in being a part of the other creative processes of doing a project. I love being a part of, discussing and choosing how the album cover looks, what goes into the Digi-Books, the pictures used, doing some writing about what the songs mean, etc.

I also have had the chance to listen back to the work we’d done. To appreciate all that went into it and all who worked on the songs. It’s given me a reminder of the work I’ve done, the career I’ve had in one fell swoop. It gave me a sense that perhaps I’ve touched someone and honored the gift I’ve been given. I’ve been humbled and am very grateful for this CD.

Yours is a voice that’s immediately identifiable. Do you hear that often?

Yes, I do often hear that and I like that. I think of singing as if I’m covering a canvas with sound. The words and thoughts of a song determine that sound for me. Some of it deep, some of it high, some of it soft, some of it dark, etc. To convey to the best of my ability what the song is saying to say.

So, Jenny, what do you do in your spare time just for fun?

I like to read, go to movies, have great conversation, eat good food, discover and learn news things on many subjects. When I can, I love the feeling of giving gifts to friends and family, things they might need, but don’t give themselves, helping young people, getting into volunteering more. I would love to travel to some more to beautiful places.

Plans for the future? We’d love to hear about them!

Planning on a duet with Julia Wade, a wonderful and very talented singer, presently working on a new album of duets with some amazing singers, and which may be the foretelling of some live performances next year. I’m very excited for Julia.

I’m planning on next year being about getting into the best shape I can to sing and perform more in a variety of ways. I’ve been in the corporate world for almost eight years now, which has been an incredible blessing in so many ways and still I look to 2015 as being a time to move back into being more creative as an artist. I have some ideas for two other albums I’d like to record. Shh, don’t tell Peter yet, he has to catch his breath first!

I think my experience as a musician and performer is mostly natural and organic with the added mixture of a great mentor and vocal teacher. Also, I have to give huge credit to what one learns as they do their craft.

For me, it’s been a good mixture, as those things have helped me to hone my craft and grow.

There is also the quiet and still time one must have to create and to hear into the lyric, the scene, the composing, the writing, whatever it is.

There is always a sprinkling of many things that go into doing one’s gift/craft that hopefully makes it fulfilling and creditable.

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The Best of Jenny Burton is available for purchase as a CD or digital download, or to listen to samples, here:

Check out Jenny’s other albums on her Watchfire Music page:

You can visit Jenny’s Facebook page here:








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