Melanie Charles is the phenomenal jazz impresario, singer, flutist, beat-maker, remixer, and storyteller who has weaved together the musical histories of some of the greatest female jazz performers of all time.
Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln, jazz singer Betty Davis, Sarah Vaughn, Marlena Shaw, and Ella Fitzgerald – they all have a voice on Charles’s remix album.
Charles’s 2021 offering, “Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women,” is an infusion of the beat culture, the beat sound with jazz music. This is the type of music that Charles grew up listening to around her grandmother’s house in Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY.
“Brooklyn was everything,” said Charles. Her family migrated from Haiti. She lived in a household with her grandmother, who passed away in her mid-80s.
Charles’s grandmother had church meetings in her home on Sundays, where, as Charles describes it, “all the dedicated members came to the house to pray, and sing loud, beautifully out of tune.”
“I could hear them from downstairs, in the basement where I lived with my mom and brother,” said Charles.
Charles, like most immigrants to the States, grew up in a multigenerational household. Everything from Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn, and Ella Fitzgerald to Maxwell, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, the inspirational and soulful sounds of Negro spirituals, and gospel music sung by artists like the great Mahalia Jackson were familiar sounds.
“I was lucky and blessed to share an intergenerational home like that,” says Charles.
Of all the great women who have influenced her life, Charles says, her mother was the greatest.
“My mother was an incredible, one-of-a-kind mom. She found all the best music programs for me to take part in,” said Charles. “I was part of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus; I was also doing afterschool programs at the Harlem School of the Arts.”
Charles continues, “The way that I interact with art is due largely to the fact that I was raised in Brooklyn, and my mother was kind of a stage mom, but in the most beautiful way.
“In fact,” Charles told this writer, “you need to be interviewing her!”
Charles considers herself to be a rebel in the jazz space who wants to “challenge the system on how we think about jazz.” She said, “Jazz is not just jazz at the Lincoln Center, it’s also basement gatherings where some of these bands are playing that you never hear about.
“Jazz is for everyone, and it should be affordable,” Charles concluded.
Early in Charles’s career, she knew she wanted to be a bandleader, but Charles felt it would be “hard and tiring, especially being a woman.”
Then she discovered SPs or samplers. According to various online sources, a sampler is an electronic or digital musical instrument which uses sound samples of existing instrument sounds and pieces of song recordings. The samples are then played back by a sampler program to then perform or create music.
“I found a way to interact with them and use them as instruments in themselves to create my own unique sound and I’m very proud of it,” said Charles.
Today, Charles is getting offers to produce and remix music. “That was never my intention to be a bedroom producer, you know, to produce a whole sound from top to bottom,” she said. “But now it turns out the need for my specific sound is important to the larger scheme of music.”
Speaking of scheme, “Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women” was not the original title of the album. It came out of a larger conversation, Charles says, for the world to enter a conversation about individuals like her.
“Black women, dark-skinned Black women,” said Charles. “Women like Breonna Tayler who was brutally killed in her home, that’s when I changed the title.”
She also wanted the title to be provocative, relaying how Black women feel, especially experiences and emotions usually only spoken of in private conversations.
“Black women are invested in telling the world, ‘we’re okay,’ so we rarely articulate when we’re hurting, and that’s unfair,” said Charles. “We just find ways to make it work. It was so overlooked in the beginning, and Black women have always felt overlooked,” Charles concluded.
Charles’s provocation inspired her to choose songs written or sung by all Black women.
For more information on Melanie Charles, “Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women,” and more of her music, visit https://www.melaniecharles.com.