Local jazz singer pays tribute to Billie Holiday
Janicey Brar to perform at Turner Hall on Sunday, April 10
by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
Someone recently asked singer Janicey Brar if she channels the spirit of Billie Holiday whenever she performs her tribute to the legendary jazz singer.
“Sometimes when I get on stage and sing, I sound so much like her that it scares me,” Brar said.
That’s not a delusional boast from a self-absorbed diva. Not after you learn Brar studied the jazz singer for three years, eight hours a day—every day—from 8 a.m. until one o’clock in the morning.
The result is a performance where you (almost) believe Holiday has come back to life. Brar has completely absorbed and perfected the mannerisms, speech and, of course, singing style of the jazz chanteuse.
So good is her impersonation, that Brar, a Milwaukee native, recently won the 2010 BMA Award for best tribute artist.
Milwaukeeans will have an opportunity to judge for themselves just how good Brar is when she brings her award winning show home to Turner Hall April 10, starting at 5 p.m. Turner Hall is located at 1032 N 4th St. downtown. Tickets can be purchased online at Tickets.com.
In an interview Brar, said she wanted to bring her show home so that the world could see that Milwaukee is on the entertainment map.
For many years, Brar was Milwaukee’s Tina Turner impersonator, performing between Milwaukee and Chicago. But after several years impersonating the high energy Queen of Rock n’ Roll, Brar said she was ready for something with a slower tempo.
“I wanted to do someone who was in jazz; it was more my style. (Plus) I didn’t want to do a lot of movement.”
So Brar chose Holiday, noting that her decision to impersonate her came during a tumultuous time in her personal life, having to deal with the deaths of several family members, including her son.
During her research, Brar learned she and Holiday shared an affinity for impersonating famous jazz trumpeter Louie Armstrong. “When I was 10-years-old I was paid to do Louie Armstrong. When I did my research on Holiday, I read she impersonated Armstrong, which made it easy for me to do her.”
Brar has been all over the U.S. and the world performing all the songs in the Holiday musical library, from “God Bless the Child,” “Fine and Mellow,” to her signature song, the haunting “Strange Fruit.”
One of the songs Brar sings during her performance is, “Never Felt Love,” which came to her in a dream.
“I dreamed that someone asked me to sing a particular song and wrote down the lyrics. I woke up remembering the lyrics from the dream.”
Brar told a musician friend about her dream and the lyrics. The two then proceeded to write, arrange and produce “Never Felt Love.”
Whenever, Brar performs in New York (she’s performed at the Lenox Lounge in Harlem where Holiday performed), she visits the great singer’s gravesite. Brar says she wants Holiday to be remembered for her music, not for the troubled life of drugs that ultimately led to her early demise.
It’s Holiday’s personal life that Brar refuses to include in her tribute show. “I’ve turned down gigs where I’ve been asked to perform Billie Holiday high on drugs or with a glass of alcohol in my hand. I just won’t do it.”
Brar has found a better reception in Europe than in the United States for her tribute show. “They (Europeans) appreciate the music (jazz) more than they do in the U.S.,” Brar said. “Jazz is given a greater level of respect and appreciation there.”
When not performing in Europe, Brar—recently returned from performing in Spain—can be found performing her tribute to Holiday regularly at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas, where they hired her on the spot when she first auditioned.
Brar has been asked to do impersonations of other famous singers such as Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington. But her heart will always be with “Lady Day.”
“I’ll always perform her,” said Brar. “My focus is on Billie Holiday first and foremost.”