Brenda Russell Biography
Claim to Fame: Singer-Songwriter, The Color Purple
DOB: April 8, 1949
Diabetes Type: 1
Quote: “I am a citizen of the world and believe in peace and love to all people. That is what I write about and what I sing about. It’s the motivating force behind everything I do and the way I live. I want my music to bring people together.”
Brenda Russell was born as Brenda Gordon on April 8, 1949. She moved to Toronto with her family when she was 12, and eventually hosted the Canadian TV series Music Machine with her husband, Brian Russell. Russell—a soul singer, composer, and keyboardist—moved to Los Angeles with her husband where they both worked as session musicians in 1973. In 1978, the two recorded together under the name Brian & Brenda.
Russell embarked on a solo career after her divorce, signing with A&M and releasing two albums, Brenda Russell (1979) and Love Life (1981). She also released Two Eyes with Warner Brothers in 1983, but her most popular album was Get Here as she returned to A&M in 1988. Russell received 1988 Grammy nominations for Song of the Year and Best Pop Duo Performance, as well as Best Pop Female Vocal. She released two further albums in the early 1990s, and then took some time off to compose songs for other artists, as well as write the score for the film How Stella Got Her Groove Back. In 1999, Russell also appeared in Liberty Heights, where she performed two songs written especially for the movie.
Russell’s critically acclaimed album Paris Rain marked her return to her solo career in 2000. In 2003, she released her compilation album So Good, So Right: The Best of Brenda Russell. The following year, her eighth studio album, Between the Sun and the Moon, was released.
Russell’s most notable work is the composition of music and lyrics for the Award-winning Broadway musical The Color Purple, with Allee Willis and Stephen Bray in 2004. Russell and her co-authors were nominated for a 2007 Grammy in the Best Musical Show Album category for the original cast album.
While working on music for The Color Purple in Atlanta, Russell grew very weak and tired. After being taken to the emergency room, Russell was listed in critical condition with her blood sugar at about 750. It was then that she found out she had diabetes, and has since accepted the illness.
“I didn’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for myself because everyone’s waiting for a show. I had a show to write songs for, which was probably a good thing,” Russell told JET Magazine in 2007. “[Now] I am in incredible condition. My doctors are so proud of me. It’s made me more conscious of what I put into my body, how I eat. I am taking really good care of myself. I am probably healthier now that I have ever been.”
Russell now strives to get the word out about diabetes to the community. “The community definitely needs to know that if you have diabetes in your family, you must get your blood checked. Get your children checked, especially if there are weight issues. And it's simple. Just a blood test. It's really important because a lot of people can bypass the whole trip that I went through. And I know lots of people who are susceptible because they have it in their family and they do all the right things before it blows up on them. And they never cross that line into diabetes. You can ward it off with exercise and proper diet. There are plenty of people who do it,” Russell told Angela Bronner of AOL Black Voices.
Russell takes daily insulin injections, eats properly, and exercises. She considers herself a warrior because of her daily battle with diabetes. Her ninth studio album, This Is Real Life is set for release in 2010.
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