St. Cecilia Music Center, Grand Rapids
March 12, 7:30 p.m.
$35-$40 public, $10 students
scmc-online.org, (616) 459-2224
Following in the footsteps of her idol, Eartha Kitt, Rene Marie seldom plays by the rules. Since emerging as a voice to be heard at the age of 42, the jazz vocalist has captured a worldwide audience as well as multiple awards and nominations. Most recently, Marie earned her first Grammy nomination in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Album for her 2014 release I Wanna Be Evil (With Love to Eartha Kitt).
After first observing Kitt in her role as Cat Woman on the 1960s "Batman" television series, Marie was inspired to find out more about the actor and singer.
“Eartha Kitt was insistent upon being fully herself,” Marie said. “She didn’t fit into any of the niches women were supposed to fill at the time. Some people say that her entire persona was an act, but I don’t think that’s the case. She was honest and open, and had no shame when she performed in public.”
Marie didn’t realize that when her first few albums of original material were released, it was highly unusual for jazz singers to release self-penned songs. Balking at the concept of a traditional tribute album, Marie found ways to fully inhabit each of Kitt’s songs by changing such aspects as tempo, mood and emotional emphasis.
"I held an incorrect view that a tribute album was a lazy person’s way of doing something creative," Marie said. "But the arrangements of the songs we chose to do were so different from the originals that they seem like new songs."
For example, Marie’s version of Kitt’s popular song “C’est Si Bon” is much more spacious, smooth, and slightly more mysterious than its counterpart.
“I think my personality has changed from singing Eartha’s songs,” Marie said. “I don’t suffer fools lightly anymore. I see a red light, and that’s the universe’s signal to drive right through.”
Building a full-time career from the ground up turned out to be an endeavor that would test Marie’s closest relationships. Her husband issued a pivotal ultimatum to Marie between maintaining wifely duties and continuing to sing.
“My ex-husband made my singing very difficult," she said. "It wasn’t that I chose singing over my marriage, but I chose not to live with someone who was okay with issuing an ultimatum. It proved to be a huge gift he gave to me.”