Amidst the criticism of R&B music – talk of mediocre talent and dependence on image rather than vocal ability – Corinne Bailey Rae's star shone bright with her self titled debut album. In an age where the art smooth R&B seems lost, Corinne Bailey Rae proved that it is indeed alive and well with her softly sweet voice over delicate melodies. British born, Rae started her music career learning the play the violin in school, later turning her attention to singing. It is unsurprising that Rae got her start as a vocalist in church, however hers was probably not the gospel experience typically evoked when thinking of Black churches.
"I started off singing in church, I suppose, but people think it must have been a gospel church because of the whole, you know, black assumption," she says in reference to her mixed-race background. "But it wasn't gospel at all, it was just your regular brethren church, very middle-class, where we would sing these harmonies every Sunday. It was always my favourite part of the service, the singing."
- From The Official Corinne Bailey Rae Website
It was when she was given an electric guitar by a youth leader at church that her love for music was written in her heart. She began exploring an eclectic mix of influences such as Led Zeppelin, Roberta Flack, Lenny Kravitz, Portishead, Nirvana and Lauren Hill.
At the tender age of 15, Rae formed an all girl cover band called Helen, though short lived. Disappointed when the group disbanded, Rae decided to study literature at Leeds University and worked as a hat-check girl in a local jazz club. Wouldn't you know that it was at this very jazz club she was given a chance to perform with the house band and was eventually signed to EMI records.
While it was the second single "Put Your Records On", that shot to the top of UK charts and thrust Corinne Bailey Rae into stardom, her first single "Like a Star" exemplified Rae's poetic gift. This ballad with its gentle acoustic guitar melody, educes the feeling of falling in love with a passion and sophistication rarely heard by artists so young. Her talent and refined style paid off with a 2008 Grammy for Album of the Year for her work with Herbie Hancock on "Rivers: The Joni Letters" and an endorsement by Oprah, one of the most influential opinion leaders in the US.
It is my humble opinion that Corinne Bailey Rae has yet to max out her potential. Her music is marked by its simplicity, melody and supple sweet crooning, as well as a light and succinct nature that elicits nostalgia for soul music of the past. With audiences thirsty for quality and passion, Corinne Bailey Rae could quite possibly be the newest song bird to satisfy this longing.
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This article is cross-posted from Listen In Music.