During this time of year, we find ourselves in the midst of award season for the talented, gifted and famous in all aspects of the entertainment, arts and film business. We all watch in amazement from our homes, some from the seats in the theatre in which the ceremony is taking place—if we’re so lucky. But, what the viewing audience doesn’t get to see behind the red carpet interviews, is the sweat, blood and river of tears that have kept many in close proximity of either a box of Kleenex or two steps away from an asylum. The kind of passion that drives actors, producers, songwriters, singers and musicians to the point of no return—revealing much of their soul to the world.
Terisa Griffin has revealed more than her share of her soul to the public. As a singer and songwriter, she has had a twenty-year challenging relationship with the music business. A relationship that has taken her on some highs and some lows but a relationship that has built a solid understanding. She recently released her latest CD, “Revival of Soul” right before the Christmas holiday, it debuted on the Billboard Digital Charts.
This will be her third full-length release on her indie label, My Naked Soul Productions.
She said, “I get this call from Billboard and I thought someone was pranking me–that it was a real person. I said, ‘Let me google this person and see if it was a real call.’ Maybe the prank is a good prank. I called the number and the guy said they were trying to call me. ‘Congratulations, you’ve charted on Billboard!’,” Griffin had never charted on Billboard before so this was good sign that she was on the right path. “Not bad for an indie. Definitely not bad for the industry that we’re in now—as an R&B indie especially since I don’t rap. That was surreal–it felt good which is why I made a choice to delve into my savings to produce this project.”
Love of Family and Music
Griffin is not just another R&B singer—according to Chicago’s most high profile musicians and producers—she is ‘the’ singer. Born and raised in Monroe, Louisiana—she grew up in a tight knit family with her three sisters, mom and their minister father. She recounts her first memories falling in love with music.
“The first time that I knew music would be a part of me for the rest of my life, I was five years old. I can remember it as vividly as any other memory. It’s odd. My sister, Mary was eight and my dad called her up to sing. He left me there and I was like, ‘I can sing too.’ I got up and went up with her. We started singing together and it created a bond between us that even to this day can’t be severed.”
She is most proud of that bond that connects all of her sisters through their gift of song. Griffin admits, there is no comparison to what she’s shared with her family growing up in the church. “I can’t compare us to other families. No other family went through what we went through. If they did, I don’t know their story. The most talented women I know; I was born with. It’s a shame that we haven’t shown this to the world together.”
Her soulful range and eloquent Gospel infused voice was almost immediately the buzz around town, a few months after she moved to Chicago from her hometown in the early-1990’s. Leaping out on faith and taking an exit from college, her pursuit for becoming a lawyer could not measure up to her passion for becoming a successful entertainer and musician.
She arrived in Chicago and after sharing disappointments working on the demo circuit for producers shopping deals and utilizing her vocal skills until she met classic soul singer and musician, Jerry ‘Iceman’ Butler. A mentor to aspiring and young musicians, Butler saw Griffin’s raw talent and offered her a job as one of his background singers. A life changing opportunity that she said completely changed her perspective on how to grow in the music business. She soon started lending her vocals on commercials and working with the leading advertising agencies, making a decent living working the jingle circuit.
Over the years, Griffin has shared the stage, opening up for legendary entertainers such as Frankie Beverly and Maze, Isaac Hayes, The Whispers, Jeffrey Osbourne, among many acts including a career highlight singing with Diana Ross on The Oprah Show.
The Musical Journey
Throughout building her musical career, she continued to travel on the road for Butler up until 2011. She is grateful for the experience and considers him a mentor and father figure—guiding her career. With the release of “Revival of Soul” she credits his influence on the necessity of hitting the road and initiating a strong grassroots campaign working with indie record stores and specialty boutiques. “I’m making sure that I have a good campaign with cities that we have some sales and finding new markets. We’ve been stopping through the southern cities, grateful that we’re getting some airplay–Shreveport, Jackson, Little Rock and others. I’m doing it the old school way–just hit the highway. I don’t know any other way. Me and my band–some of them have been with me for 18 years,” Griffin said.
Many indie Soul artists find refuge in the South as their music connects better with their audience and Griffin feels her new project is a deeper connection with her female fan base.
The CD is about a revival of feelings, emotions, pain, hurt and healing. She explains her perspective, “This is a female CD because its written as a female. When Diane Warren wrote ‘Natural Woman’ who was mad at her about it? I know it’s some males out there that can totally relate to this problem where people don’t love you back. You give your all and they become abusive, you’re trying to stop yourself from loving them–you can’t. As result, it becomes a very hurtful situation. It really is how we handle those situations that define who we are.”
The album takes you through the singer’s analogy of a woman’s struggle of finding herself with the current single, “Save Me” and the first single, “Tonight is The Night” right after. The testimonial interludes set up the next song as a delightful treat for the listener. “It was easier to connect, understand and say, ‘This is where I’ve been and this is how deeply I’ve been hurt.’ I have wanted to be saved and damn has anyone else been there? Once I started with that one, I wrote them in sequence. “Tonight is the Night” came after “Save Me”. Actually, I wrote “Ain’t No Need in Loving You” (The musician song). So, I had my beginning, middle, end and everything else just filled in immediately,” Says Griffin. Other songs include, “Cotton Candy Kisses”—a Minnie Ripperton influenced track that she wrote in 10-minutes.
Working on the Marvin Gaye remake of “Distant Lover” brought in some seasoned heavyweights on the background vocals. “I was indifferent until Aretha Franklin’s singers came in to sing the backgrounds. Mae Koen and Diane Madison–they can sing! I made up my mind then, it’s a keeper. Working through those backgrounds with them, it was almost like having a Black and white session with old school perfection. They didn’t stop until we were finished and that it sounded the way that it needed to sound. They were the same way with “Oh Me Oh My” and “Talk About Love”.”
But, her most prolific piece of work on the new CD is a song she collaborated with Gospel composer and musician, Fred Nelson on called, “Beautiful Day”. The song pays tribute to those who are dealing with the battle of domestic abuse. “I started to talk and Fred was playing this really angelic tone behind me and I was directing him playing so he could see me through the studio glass. I was talking about how I admired women who’ve gone through domestic violence. How they are the most powerful women in the world. It takes a lot to go through that, to find yourself, forgive yourself, move on and find yourself again.”
The songs on Revival of Soul is a reflection of her songwriting depth and the ability to continue her story telling. In 2005, she released her first full-length CD, “My Naked Soul” after the local buzz of Songbird a five-song EP, released in 1998 which featured the breathtaking rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “This Song is for You”.
She considers Songbird her entry into the shallow part of the pool and My Naked Soul a debut into the deep side of the pool. The album spawned it’s strongest single, “Wonderful”—a sultry ballad that was eventually remixed and released as a House single by producer and DJ, Terry Hunter on My Naked Soul as a bonus track and UK record label—Soul Heaven. The breakout house music anthem introduced Griffin to an international audience, performing to new fans overseas. She released her sophomore album in 2011, Soulzophrenic—a collage of various critically-acclaimed songs–musical influences that Griffin wrote and produced.
“I’m happy at where I’m at right now. I don’t feel like I did it all for nothing. I’m proud of Revival of Soul. I’m proud of My Naked Soul. I’m happy with Soulzophrenic. I didn’t say I was proud but I’m happy with “Soulzophrenic”. It was a representation of where I was at that point in my life. I was looking at my songwriting skills in a different way then. With Revival of Soul, I looked at my artistry in a different way. I looked at myself and said, ‘When you write, write for yourself for this CD and be as honest as possible. Don’t apologize for your honesty. Tell it like you feel it.”
Beyond “The Voice”
Having built a loyal and strong fan base, her followers are familiar with the singer’s ballsy and ‘shoot from the hip’ approach, drawing her notoriety on NBC’s Season 3 of “The Voice” where she was a contestant on country singer, Blake Shelton’s team. An accomplishment that was well-deserved but nerve wrecking to the forty-something singer. She said the experience was not a road she wants to travel down again but she doesn’t regret the exposure to millions of viewers and the friendships with other singers that she formed. After injuring her ankle backstage on the show set, she found herself in the emergency room with her family suffering from a spiral fraction of the fibula. “I would not hate the very thing that has taken care of me all of my life. I won’t hate my artistry or the blessing that God has given me because I didn’t reach the pinnacle of my dream. That’s a part of life.”
She said, “It was time for me to go home and look at myself as the artist that I put all of my time and effort into. I left everything that I know in this world to do this and I’m not going to turn into the bitter artist that I promised myself I wouldn’t become.”
The set back had not slowed her down as she continued to build her non profit organization, Better Love Yourself—an organization that has recognized and assisted first-time college bound students with on-campus essentials and scholarships for the past 10 years—benefiting over 1,200 students. Griffin, also a music department head at a Chicago alternative charter school works with young people teaching them the essentials of music theory.
As a singer, songwriter, entertainer, philanthropist, teacher and burgeoning actress—Griffin accepted the role to co-star in the Hill Harper directed short film, “The Truth” in 2011. Terisa Griffin has created a life of revivals—staying on her course to create music that resonates to her cultural roots and remaining positively independent and unapologetically unique.
“We run from what is not acceptable. But that’s the uniqueness of who we are that makes us exceptional, that makes us creative. That makes us have the ability to make another human being cry and invoke feeling. Music allowed me to get through the worse emotions. It allowed me to eliminate my pain so that I could continue to feel it.”
Terisa Griffin: New Music, New Passion and Renewed Strength was originally published on chicagodefender.com