“Remember, everything we say, everything we do carries power. Even if you sing softly, be sure of where you’re going. You’ll know when it’s time to kick it up, and ride it!” – Brenda Lee Eager
Brenda Lee Eager is a singer, performing artist, and songwriter whose lyrics and music have made hits possible for recording artists such as Prince, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin, to name a few. She has also toured and recorded with R&B royalty: Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Smokey Robinson, Roberta Flack, Donnie Hathaway, Linda Hopkins, Maxine Weldon, Nancy Wilson, Norman Connors, Gerald Butler, and her beloved friend Teena Marie.
Brenda Lee Eager has stories to tell. They are as rich, deep, and multi-layered as her music is diverse: Gospel, R&B, and Jazz.
The common denominator is that they all have soul. That’s how one of her big hits for Prince came about, in the wee hours of the morning, when the rain was falling outside, and tears of longing were trickling inside. She turned the challenge of life into the catharsis of a song when she switched on the light and wrote the song “Somebody’s Somebody.”
Prince performing “Somebody’s Somebody” on The Rosie O’Donnell Show
Brenda Lee Eager began singing at the age of 3, and by the time she was a teenager, she had started writing songs. “We had no television at the time, so I read a lot, and had a vivid imagination. I loved to write stories and poetry. A blank sheet of paper became my canvas.”
“We did have a radio that played rhythm and blues at night, and gospel and the great quartets on Sunday mornings. My first love was Mahalia Jackson. She would wrap her soul around a song and use her whole body to express it. What a voice! Strong as a mountain yet would caress you like a mother with her child.
Then there was Sarah Vaughn. What phrasing and color. I called her my liquid singer, because she was flowing smooth like warm butter…in and out of octaves…sassy…. smooth. I wanted to sing music like that Miss Sarah.”
By 9th grade, music and melody started naturally attaching to her words, and songs began surfacing. The first, not surprisingly, was a love song: “Gonna Get a New Boy.” Then, as the Vietnam War intensified and began to take its toll on her recently graduated classmates, social justice themes emerged in her music. In 10th grade she wrote about the induction of her boyfriend into the military: ‘Don’t Take Him Away.”
King’s Club in Pritchard, Alabama was where she began her first professional singing gigs. It wasn’t New York, which she had briefly explored musically and forsaken. However, she used the Alabama club as an opportunity to hone her craft, confident as she recalls the self-observation: “I’m singing my songs, right here where I am. The faces I see make me know…someday, I’ll take that ticket to ride…and someday, you’re gonna see me.”
The next stop was Chicago, where she met other talented musicians, singers, and producers. One of her admirers was Don Cornelius, who a few years later launched the groundbreaking musical television show “Soul Train.”
Cornelius has been credited with bringing Black soul and dance music into the living rooms of teenagers throughout the United States. Soul Train came at a critical time when the nation was being challenged to establish peace through civil rights, a dissolution of the Vietnam War, and women’s rights in response to massive demonstrations of civil disobedience. His show subtly led to an integration of cultures among youth, a change that the laws were still impotent in codifying. Cornelius concluded each show with the moniker: “Love, Peace and Soul.”
Brenda Lee Eager and Jerry Butler on Soul Train
4-4-68 Life and Death
“I was at my mother’s house, having the worst nightmare of my life. In the dream, I was in a country church and there was a funeral, I was feeling such grief that I could hardly breathe. Just as I got close enough to see who it was, I screamed, and sat straight up in bed. Nine hours later, after a brutal period of labor, my beloved daughter was born. When I awoke, my mother had tears streaming down her face. I panicked, thinking about the baby. Biting her lip she said: ‘The baby is fine. They just killed Dr. King.’”
“One year later, I joined the [civil rights] movement traveling with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to sing freedom songs of the times, and the hopes and aspirations for the future.” Brenda was part of a group called the Ben Branch Orchestra & The Pipperettes. They sang at rallies, get-out-the-vote drives, and picket lines. “At meetings it was common to see people like Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones, Nancy Wilson, and Sammy Davis. These people risked their careers to take a stand for justice and equality.”
Jesse Jackson negotiated a record contract for the Piperettes with the famous Sax Records in Memphis. One year later Brenda was released from her contract so she could record with the legendary Jerry Butler. Their record became a hit and they were booked as headliners at the iconic Apollo Theater in New York City.
Don Cornelius asked Butler and Eager to go to Los Angeles to appear on Soul Train on the same episode that also featured Ike and Tina Turner. Having left Chicago in a blizzard, and landing in L.A. amidst the sunshine, palm trees, and happening music scene, Brenda “knew I had landed in heaven and it would become home.”
Billy Osborne of LTD was also a major collaborator and their songs were recorded by Aretha Franklin (“Just To Be Loved”), Mavis Staples (“More Than Beautiful”), and Gladys Knight (“Friends”). It was Billy who introduced Brenda to Ray Charles, whom they wrote duets for. She recalls: “I loved working in the studio with Mr. C. He could work the [sound] board as well or better than anyone else.”
The historic 1979 “No Nukes” concert that ran five nights at Madison Square Garden (and was also turned into a film) brought Brenda together with artists that included Michael McDonald, Chaka Kahn, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. This led to an extensive collaboration and recordings with Graham Nash.
Brenda Lee Eager performing at the No Nukes Concert at Madison Square Garden
“Collaborating is sacred to me. It’s kind of like a communion of souls who give birth to music that marries lyrics and melodies.”
Brenda Lee Eager is a prolific songwriter and performer who continues to expand her horizons. She has written, directs, and performs in her one-woman show: Brenda Lee Eager’s Classic Soul Review. She directs and writes original music for T.H.E. “The Heaven on Earth Choir.” With a career continuing to expand as each year progresses, Brenda Lee Eager has already composed and published hundreds of songs.
“When you’re a singer/songwriter, you can’t stop. A song will wake you up in the middle of the night. It will creep into your dreams at three in the morning. Don’t think you’re going to remember it in the morning, you won’t! You have to write in down, record it then. The universe is funny, it will give you what you ask for, but you’ve got to take it when it is being given.”
Brenda Lee recording with Charles Miller