Song Biz Profile: Siedah Garrett

“G.H.E.T.T.O” (Greatness Happens Even Though There’s Oppression) weaves elements of Siedah Garrett’s personal history into an empowering new song. Joining her is Common. “I was giddy with enthusiasm and joy that he found the song important enough to add his voice to it,” she says.
With an illustrious career that includes two Academy Award nominations (“Real in Rio,” from Rio and “Love You I Do,” from Dreamgirls, which was awarded a Grammy in 2008 for Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media), Garrett is an accomplished recording artist and vocalist who has recorded and performed with an illustrious roster including Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Madonna. This year marks the 30th anniversary of a monumental event in this history––the release of “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, a No. 1 song that she co-wrote with Glen Ballard for Jackson’s massively successful collection Bad.

She never set out to write, Garrett explains. “I wanted to be an artist period. I wanted to have a record deal. That went by the wayside when I got so much in debt, having been signed to a couple of different labels, changing A&R guys and record companies, and them going out of business. It was not a smooth ride as an artist for me, so I had to lean on other talents. And the writing thing ended up in my lap.”

Garrett first came to the attention of the legendary Quincy Jones as a vocalist when she auditioned for a group formulated by the producer called Deco. She remembers where, as an aspiring singer, she read about this opportunity. “In Music Connection magazine. Absolutely. That was my Bible.”
When her group signed with Jones, she had never written songs. “I didn’t want a songwriter deal. Quincy, in effect, said either you all get a contract or nobody gets a contract. So I ended up learning the craft of songwriting and that saved me.”

She learned from singing demos. “I guess the songwriters thought that if I sang it Quincy would listen. And it taught me different ways to write a song. Did it start with a chorus or did it start with a verse? Did it have an intro? Did it have a bridge? Does it have a double chorus at the end of the first verse? There was so much to learn about songwriting and arrangements.”

Garrett wrote “Carry On” to benefit The Race to Erase MS. At a Los Angeles gala where she performed the song, she revealed that six years ago she too was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “I have a very mild version of a very deadly disease,” she qualifies. “I’ve blessed that this type of MS allows me to function normally 90 percent of the time. I came out because I could be an example to someone who is really dealing with severe issues. When I told the audience there was an audible gasp. I wanted them to think about me the way they did 30 seconds ago, not as a sick person on stage. I wanted to show that MS doesn’t look like Richard Pryor or Teri Garr, it also looks like me.”

Among Garrett’s new activities was a performance of “It’s Time to Listen” for autism awareness at a WNBA game at New York’s Madison Square Garden. She is currently writing a musical based on “Silent Night” with collaborators including Oscar-nominated composer John Debney, and is a co-writer and featured vocalist on “Aura” with Earth, Wind and Fire’s Ralph Johnson.

Looking forward to visiting California public schools to speak with students about the message within “G.H.E.T.T.O.,” Garrett reflects, “I spent the happiest time in my childhood in Watts and Compton. My dad left my sister and me when we were five and six. I graduated high school but I didn’t go to college. And if I was made to feel like I shouldn’t be anything because of where I’m from, I need to write a song that speaks to that. Because it’s so not true: It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you end up.”

Contact inthemirrormusic.com. More info is at siedah.com