One of the best jazz singers of her generation, Dee Dee Bridgewater (who was married to trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater in the early '70s) had to move to France to find herself. She performed in Michigan during the '60s and toured the Soviet Union in 1969 with the University of Illinois Big Band.
She sang with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis orchestra (1972-1974) and appeared in the Broadway musical The Wiz (1974-1976). Due to erratic records and a lack of direction, Bridgewater was largely overlooked in the jazz world by the time she moved to France in the '80s. She appeared in the show Lady Day and at European jazz festivals, and eventually formed her own backup group. By the late '80s, Bridgewater's Verve recordings were starting to alert American listeners as to her singing talents.
Her 1995 Horace Silver tribute disc (Love and Peace) is a gem, and resulted in the singer extensively touring the U.S, reintroducing her to American audiences. She would find even more success with her tribute album, Dear Ella, which won a Grammy in 1997. This Is New, released in 2002, featured Bridgewater singing Kurt Weill songs, while 2005's J'ai Deux Amours found her tackling French classics.
For 2010's Eleanora Fagan (1917-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee, Bridgewater moved from Verve to Decca/Emarcy, and offered her versions of several songs associated with Billie Holiday. She followed this in August 2011 with her sophomore effort for the label; a compilation collection of jazz standards entitled Midnight Sun, with tunes fom previously albums ranging from "Angel Eyes" to Horace Silver's "Lonely Woman," and included one cut, "L'Hymne a la Amour (J'ai Deux Amours)," which was released previously only in Japan.
But her two companions "became more interested in boys," Bridgewater recalled for the New York Times, and left to her own devices she turned to jazz. "Nancy Wilson was my first big idol," she told the Seattle Times. "I loved her stage performance, so classy. My walls in my room were covered with articles about Nancy Wilson." While still in high school she performed with instrumental trios her father put together; underage, she had to sit in the kitchen between sets.
She attended Michigan State University briefly, but switched to the University of Illinois after meeting the director of the school's jazz band in 1969 and finding herself interested in a trumpeter in the university's jazz program, Cecil Bridgewater. Married within six months of meeting, the two toured the Soviet Union with the school's jazz band. But they soon landed gigs off campus and resolved to move to New York to try their luck in the nation's jazz center. Later divorced from Cecil Bridgewater (with whom she remained on good terms and in close musical cooperation) and married twice more, Dee Dee Bridgewater has performed under that name since the days of their marriage.
Bridgewater made a splash quickly in New York, performing at the famed Village Vanguard club with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis orchestra. "Everything I know about music today, I learned in that band," she told the New York Times. Performing as far afield as the Soviet Union (for a second time) and Tokyo, she was named Best New Vocalist in Down Beat magazine's annual poll. With her marriage breaking up, however, Bridgewater turned to more lucrative work--with Thad Jones, performing at one of the nation's leading jazz venues, she was earning only $25 a night. In 1974 Bridgewater auditioned for The Wiz, the all-black version of The Wizard of Oz that captivated Broadway audiences in the 1970s. Playing the part of Glinda the Good Witch, she won a Tony award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.