Music keeps calling to Brynda McCurdy. Lucky for us, she keeps answering.
As a child, starting at age 2, she was called to the music of her gospel-singing family in Virginia. She continued with her parents and sisters into her 20s when she moved away to pursue her education.
Years later, music started calling again. She was recruited for a production of Ragtime. Which led to more musicals and being recruited to sing jazz at a local eatery. Which led to Black Russian, a very successful Windsor jazz outfit. Which led to Juno nominated and Harry Jerome recipient, producer Jay Douglas, imploring Brynda to record a CD to showcase her musical range.
Which leads to Follow My Heart with its elements of gospel and jazz, reggae and R&B. It reflects her discovery of jazz, but it also harkens back to the music of her childhood and the time in between. “The CD has a bit of everything,” she says. “It’s a labour of love.”
“Brynda is a blessed soul with a sweet spirit flowing through her like a gentle stream,” says Douglas, who recorded her with his Studio Two Band. “She leads by example, showing what it takes and how to make one’s dream a reality. You can call that sweet, sweet inspiration.”
Brynda’s parents, Rogers and Alcie Wright, formed their Jubilee Duet and Central Jubilee Quartet in the 1940s, which gave way to the Wright Family Singers as their daughters began to arrive and add their harmonies. Rogers barbered through the week, and every Sunday, parents and three daughters would sing at churches along the Eastern Seaboard. “We'd get home something like 11 at night and drag ourselves to bed and get up for school the next day, but that's how we lived our lives until I left home in 1970,” Brynda recalls.
With her masters from what is now Virginia Commonwealth University, she headed North. She earned a doctorate in immunology and microbiology at Wayne State University, and worked her way up to her current position as Science Branch Director at the Detroit District Office of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In her personal life, she married scientist-activist-politician Dr. Howard McCurdy and made her home in Windsor to be with him. “I put music on the backburner and I got involved in other things,” as she puts it.
Then the Windsor Light Opera (as it was called at the time) came knocking, seeking black singers for a production of Ragtime. “I enjoyed that musical so much that I just kept doing them,” she says. Word of her vocal chops got around, and one day, sitting with a friend for drinks at the Pit for Pasta she got an offer. “Oh, we heard that you perform with the Windsor Light Musical Theatre and we want you to sing for us,” one of the owners told her. She was paired with various pianists at first, and later, when she teamed up with the Russian-immigrant pianist Max Shleyfman, the soon-to-be-popular jazz group Black Russian was born.
On this CD, “The Masquerade Is Over” goes back to when Brynda was just starting to build her club repertoire. There are “songs from way back when I was a kid,” like “He’s Mine,” one of the rare Platters’ tunes that gave the lead to female vocalist Zola Taylor (a fave of Brynda’s father, by the way), and tunes by Sarah Vaughan (“Smooth Operator”), Irma Thomas (“Take a Look at This Heart”) and the underrated Barbara Acklin (“Love Makes a Woman”). There’s even reggae with Dennis Brown’s “If I Follow My Heart”. And for extra measure, Brynda emerges as a songwriter with her own worthy contributions “Good for You” and “Memories.”
All in all, the goal has been to make older and less familiar tunes connect with listeners, and make the familiar ones sound fresh and new.
Give a listen and, no doubt, you’ll be calling for more from Brynda, too.