Janinah Burnett is a world-renowned performer sought for her timeless and refined vocal quality as well as her candid emotion. One of the few singers to perform roles on both Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera stage, her full-length album Love the Color of your Butterfly was released on February 12, 2021. AGMAzine originally caught up with Burnett in the days leading up to her release and featured her in the Winter 2021 issue of the magazine. She was interviewed by Alicia Cook, AGMA's Director of Communications. Today, we are happy to share the interview again as part of our AGMAzine Spotlight Series.
Alicia Cook (AC) for AGMAzine: Thank you so much for finding the time to speak with AGMAzine about what you have been up to the past year. First and foremost, we wish to extend our biggest CONGRATS on the release of your new album, Love the Color of Your Butterfly! So, let’s start there! How did the making of this album go?
Janinah Burnett (JB): This process was glorious! I learned so much from the instrumentalists and so much magic happened in the studio. We truly found that the language of music is far more important than genre or style specifications.
AC: Did you start the process before the pandemic took hold?
JB: Yes, we recorded the music in 2018 and 2019 and did the mastering, artwork, etc., once the pandemic hit and we had an abundance of time. It was an artistic product born out of the depths of my creative spirit.
AC: Love the Color of Your Butterfly is such a beautiful title that can likely be interpreted in a number of ways. What does the title mean to you?
JB: This title is a phrase that my mother lovingly guided me with when she noticed I was comparing myself to others. She always encouraged me to use what I possessed in order to live my life to the very fullest. I interpret this phrase to mean “love everything about yourself—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the sad. ALL OF IT!!”
AC: So great. Do you remember where you were when the title came to you?
JB: I believe I was in graduate school when I decided that this phrase would be a title that I would use in future musical endeavors.
AC: The album seems to be a hybrid of all your musical passions: opera, obviously, but also art songs, spirituals, R&B, and jazz. Would you say that is accurate? How have you blended all the genres?
JB: I would say it’s more of a collage of all of my musical passions. I have taken some of my most beloved songs that I have sung and heard and presented them with jazz sensibilities in my creative way. The Artists on the album and I have done so by trusting our understanding of music to show us the way toward authentic storytelling, therefore creating a new picture out of many pieces of artful elements.
AC: Are there original songs in addition to the covers? We are really excited to listen to the Billie Holiday song on the tracklist.
JB: No, all of the songs are written by composers other than myself such as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Georges Bizet, Donny Hathaway, Giacomo Puccini, and Sade to name a few. I chose music that I had experiences with and that colored my butterfly in some way, shape, or form.
The Strange Fruit selection you refer to is actually written by Lewis Allan, whose actual name is Abel Meeropol. Ms. Holiday was so moved by the poetry he wrote that she decided she must sing it. The arrangement that we present on the album is by the amazing Joseph Joubert, who arranged it specifically for Three Mo’ Divas, a showI had the distinct pleasure of premiering to the world.
AC: In Broadway World’s article on your release, they state: “Releasing this album in early 2021, on the heels of 2020's harsh renewed spotlight on systemic racism in America, makes this a powerful universal statement of social consciousness.” Can you expand more on that? Especially in relation to your industry.
JB: “Love the Color of Your Butterfly” as a statement not only encourages us to do more loving of ourselves but more loving, period. In presenting this album, I want to highlight genres of music that are indigenously American: spirituals, jazz, and rhythm and blues.
This music is also the music of the movement for freedom, justice, and equality as it is born out of brutal circumstances, some of which are still evident today. I believe it is my job as an Artist and human being to acknowledge these circumstances and present commentary about them on the world stage in order to broaden social consciousness. It is my intention to encourage hope and fortitude though the road we trod be stony. I will continue to do all I can to keep my eyes on the prize until everyone knows freedom.
AC: As you know, so many Artists across every discipline all over the world are hurting right now. We hope you’ve been doing as well as possible. Tell us how you’ve been coping during the COVID-19 shutdown.
JB: What I recognized during the COVID-19 shutdown was that being of service really mattered to me most when people were suffering. I knew my gift was a part of that service.
So, I started a balcony concert series and every week I went out on my balcony and sang for my quarantined neighbors. I also posted the concerts on social media.
AC: We saw a few of those videos on Instagram! Any tips on staying positive during this time? We are sure Artists are eager to hear.
JB: I certainly believe self-care is not to be taken for granted. Take care of your heart, mind, body, and soul by doing what YOU like. This is a rare period in which our time is our own. Take advantage!
Also, I truly have been motivated by the creative methods in which Artists in the community have been creating with what they have at their fingertips. That’s a big way to love the color of your butterfly; discover what you can do with what you have right here and now. I promise the discovery will be more than you can imagine!
AC: Inspirational. The major undertaking of this album release notwithstanding, how have you been staying busy and creative… We know you teach, did you shift to a virtual class?
JB: Yes, I have done virtual teaching and master classes. I also started Clazz Records, the record label from which I released Love the Color of Your Butterfly. This endeavor has truly kept me busy and I have learned so much about the music business from PR and marketing to social media development, product distribution, audience cultivation, and so much more!
AC: That’s amazing. We are so excited to see what you do next. Is there anything else you want readers to know about Love the Color of Your Butterfly?
JB: Love the Color of Your Butterfly is a labor of love that encourages positivity!
More information: Love the Color of Your Butterfly is available for purchase and is streaming on all major platforms. Visit www.janinahburnett.com for more information.