'Dreamgirls' Songwriter Talks Oscars, MJ
Black Academy Awards Series: Two-time nominee Siedah Garrett on songwriting and her kinship with Jackson.
TR: What projects are you working on now?
SG: I'm getting ready to embark on a new adventure with my writing partner Glen Ballard, where we're going to write a musical based on the life of Madame Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of Louisiana. She was extremely special for her time [the 19th century]. She had power where women didn't have power at that time, especially black women ... It would be a Broadway musical. But we haven't even started yet, and it could take as little as a few months and as many as a few years.
TR: You said you like to live in the moment. How has that helped you in your career?
SG: I think since the music and entertainment business is so busy, in order to just really give something the attention it needs to make it the best it can be, you really kind of have to focus. Multitasking really isn't productive in the creative process. So I guess I'm really good at focusing on what I'm doing at the time. I wrote, I think, 25 or 26 songs for Dreamgirls. And most of those were rewrites. I got two songs in the film, and one of them was nominated for an Oscar.
TR: Aside from yourself, who would you say has been the most influential person in your career?
SG: It would have to be Quincy Jones. Quincy made it a deal to be a songwriter. All I wanted to be was a recording artist because that's all I saw for me. But Quincy introduced me to the world as a writer, and he introduced me to the world's biggest pop star -- Michael Jackson. And Quincy introduced the world's biggest pop star to a song that I wrote -- "Man in the Mirror." So he is by far my biggest influence and my mentor. And he's my brother for life.
TR: How did that change your life?
SG: Well, it got me to talk to people like you. If I was filing at the insurance company I used to work for, I doubt we'd be having this conversation. It was a real introduction, a real entree into the elite of the entertainment industry. And from that introduction, Michael liked my voice so much he wanted to do a duet with me, which was my No. 1 pop song ("I Just Can't Stop Loving You") that I was an artist on. When Michael Jackson says, "I want to sing with you," that means you've got something -- something that somebody else doesn't have.
TR: It's been nearly four years since Michael Jackson's death. Are you still affected by it?
SG: He's everywhere, you know. His energy and his music is pervasive in my life. He never really goes away, so I think about him all the time. But it's not as constant as it was when he first passed. I released a song last year in honor of Michael because I never got a chance to tell him when he was alive how much I appreciated his impact on my life and his introducing me to the world as an artist to pay attention to. And Michael was a great artist. He drew and painted. Very few people know about that.
TR: You've worked with some great people, but is there anyone you'd like to work with who you haven't already?
SG: Prince! I want to work with Prince! I want to work with Prince! He's, like, the guy. [But it hasn't happened yet because] Prince doesn't write with anybody. Prince does what Prince wants to do. He's not a co-writer, so I don't know how that's going to happen, but I want to collaborate with him on some level.
I have no idea how it's going to happen, but chile, I didn't know I was going to meet Michael Jackson, either, so I just put it out there. That's all I can do is put it out there. Where did I get the audacity to think I would meet Michael Jackson, let alone sing with him and write for him? Hello?!
Previously in the Black Academy Awards Series: Louis Gossett Jr. on Post-Oscar Heartbreak.
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