In 1976 a Trinidadian in the USA, with an eye on returning home and working for the government, decided to apply to do a Masters in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
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Bigford continues to shine
Vaughnette Bigford is little annoyed. A case of the sniffles is keeping her back. As a singer, anything that resembles a cold can affect the vocal chords or a performance. She is staving off a sinus attack, which she never experienced until her adulthood. “Zebapique? Nah!” she replied to a suggestion of the bush brew remedy. She was determined to cure the dryness in her throat before her concert to launch her jazz CD Born to Shine at Kaiso Blues Café the next day. (Read the review of Bigford’s launch on page A32)
As a performer, a singer at that, Bigford is prepared for anything. She has been taking to the stage since she was seven, when she sang her first calypso at primary school, and she is not afraid of an audience either. But she admits, hours before a show butterflies flutter in her stomach. “It’s not out of fear but having the best ever concert, about how the songs flow, it’s about how I interact, it’s about the whole thing from start to finish, it’s the product,” she said. But as soon as she steps on stage the butterflies disappear, leaving her alone with the audience. “It is what it is, it has to flow,” she said. After her shows she takes note of what hiccups have arisen, to ensure that they do not arise at another time.
Bigford is living the life she wanted—a jazz singer, a mother, a wife, a health and safety professional in the petroleum industry. Given the chance to do it all over again, Bigford would do it the very same way—sitting in the living room of an admired jazz singer in New York to be trained in the styles and phrasing of the genre; to be mentored by the best jazz singers in the US; to be vocally trained by renowned musician Jessel Murray of Trinidad and mentored by Patti Rogers, a beloved San Fernando jazz performer who passed away last year.
Bigford also attended one year at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “At 36, I was one of the older students there,” she recalled. But she gained a great deal of knowledge, information and insight into the jazz and entertainment business.
Not to mention, she is the mother of an only child, a three-and-a-half-year old who likes to sing “Hold dem and wuk them”’ and loves to strike notes on his piano, following the footsteps of his father on keyboard.
“I don’t have the energy to have more. At 43, where I going?” Bigford asked. “It’s a lot to manage two careers and a son. I good.”
While some have the perception that an only child is spoiled by his relatives, Bigford believes her child is not privileged. As a mother, she wants to ensure she has raised a well-rounded young man, someone who can contribute to society and do what could be possibly done.
As a singer, Bigford continues to find ways to share the joys of jazz. “Young people believe this jazz thing, that the average age is 60. Which is so far from the truth. With my music, I try to take current music and interpret it differently, to get a wider audience, to get an interest,” she said.
Her formula seems to have worked, she has appeared and headlined at major events, making her name a familiar one on the music circuit. Using the social media platform, she shares her work in a time where there are just a few radio stations (like i95 and Wack) which play music like hers.
“I live on Facebook. It works for me,” she said.
Now, she has added the CD Born to Shine, an 11-piece collection of T&T classics ranging from calypso to pop, revised and restyled in a jazz format. The title song is none other than Carol Addison’s which was popular during the 70s which Bigford calls the golden age of Trinidad music. It was a time when names like Addison, Jenny Pakeera, Wild Fire, Hot Chocolate and Kalyan brought a musical mix that was neither calypso nor an early version of soca. It was simply music that reflected a variety of styles demonstrating versatility and creativity.
“The CD is a collection of classic music, digging into T&T music,” Bigford said. “If you have a teenager, they would have no idea who Kalyan is or Carol Addison unless they have been actively seeking that music. So this is my way of sharing part of who we are.”
Ras Shorty I’s Who God Bless, King Austin’s Progress, Ella Andall’s Missing Generation, Merchant’s Be Careful are also in the compilation.
Perhaps, the songs are a way of connecting with her childhood in Pt Fortin, exposed to music at her grandparents’ house. “Music was always played in our house—Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Sparrow, Kitchener,” she said. Her mother also played the piano but hasn’t touched the instrument in 20 years. At her home, her husband Shurlan Griffith shares Bigford’s musical passion, having played with her at performances. Now, he has taken a behind-the-scenes approach with bookings and balancing the chaos of parenting when Bigford is on stage.
Looking at the future of the music, she hopes to encourage younger people to come out to shows. One of the challenges is getting a good place for the next generation to meet and listen. “Kaiso Blues is a space for younger people. So is Big Black Box. But looking for something sustainable for them, that’s tough,” she said. But as she continues to make music, she also plans to give back and share as much as she can.
For more information about purchasing the Born to Shine CD, visit vaughnettebigford.com
The CD is a collection of classic music, digging into Trinidad and Tobago music. If you have a teenager, they would have no idea who Kalyan is or Carol Addison unless they have been actively seeking that music. So this is my way of sharing part of who we are.
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