‘Dreamgirls’ Songwriter Talks Oscars, MJ

Black Academy Awards Series: Two-time nominee Siedah Garrett on songwriting and her kinship with Jackson.

 As we gear up for the 2013 Academy Awards, airing Feb. 24, The Root is speaking with black Oscar winners and nominees — past and present — about the prestigious honor.

(The Root) — Siedah Garrett is a burst of energy. Anyone in the presence of the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter for just the smallest amount of time can feel it. It beams from her aura. Effervescent. Funny. And real.

The vibrant Californian got her big break in 1984 at age 23 when she met Quincy Jones, who plucked her from an 800-person “cattle call” audition. After connecting with Jones, her star began to shine more brightly. She co-wrote and sang backup on several of his 1980s and 1990s hits, including “Tomorrow (A Better You, Better Me),” “Back on the Block” and “The Secret Garden.”

She also sang a duet with the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, for the 1987 hit “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” Soon after, Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” which Garrett had co-written, shot to the top of the charts. Her first Academy Award nomination for best original song was for “Love You, I Do” from the 2006 musical film Dreamgirls. Last year she received another best original song nod for the Brazilian-flavored “Real in Rio” from the animated feature Rio, making her the most Oscar-nominated black female songwriter.

The Root spoke with Garrett about her latest endeavor, working with Quincy Jones and missing the King of Pop.  

The Root: Tell me about the day you found out you were nominated for “Love You, I Do” from Dreamgirls.

Siedah Garrett: I’d been up very late the night before, and my phone just kept ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing. In my haze of sleep, I couldn’t figure out why everyone kept calling me. By the time I got to the phone and started listening to the messages, I kept hearing, “Congratulations!” and “We’re so proud of you!” I was literally stopped in my tracks when it sank in what had happened. That was such rare air for me. I was stunned by the moment. And the phone calls came in days and days after that.

TR: When you’re writing the song, does it go through your mind that this could be a hit, or I could be nominated for an Oscar?

SG: Oh, no! That was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to fulfill the promise that I had made to the director. I was focused on giving him what he wanted because I wanted him to call me again. That was my only plan. I didn’t think so far enough ahead to think “Oscar.” That wasn’t even in my thought process.  

TR: How was it different when you got your second nomination five years later?

SG: It was very different for me the second time around because instead of being one of eight songs, it was one of two. And I had a 50-50 shot. But I lost to a muppet — “Man or Muppet” is the song that won.