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René Marie

In a span of two decades, eleven recordings, and countless stage performances, vocalist René Marie has cemented her reputation as not only a singer but also a composer, arranger, theatrical performer, and teacher. Guided and tempered by powerful life lessons and rooted in jazz traditions laid down by Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and other leading ladies of past generations, she borrows various elements of folk, R&B, and even classical and country to create a captivating hybrid style.

René was born in November 1955 into a family of seven children in Warrenton, Virginia. While neither of her parents were formally trained musicians, radio and records of all kinds — blues, folk, bluegrass, and classical — made up the soundtrack to her childhood. René had just one year of formal piano training at age nine, then another year of lessons at age thirteen after her parents divorced and she moved with her mother to Roanoke, Virginia. During her teenage years, she sang in a few R&B bands at musical functions in her community. She composed and sang her first piece with a band when she was fifteen.

Putting her musical aspirations aside to make room for the obligations and responsibilities of adulthood, she married a former bandmate when she was eighteen, and by the mid-1990s, she was the mother of two and working in a bank. When she was 41, her older son convinced her to start singing again, and she took a few tenuous steps into her local music scene, singing for tips one night a week in a hotel bar. Her husband was initially supportive of her reboot to her musical career, but he later issued an ultimatum: stop singing or leave their home. Tension over the issue escalated from emotional abuse to domestic violence, and she left the house and the marriage behind. She left her bank job, moved to Richmond, Virginia, divorced her husband of 23 years, produced her first CD, signed onto the MaxJazz label, and took the title role in the world premiere production of Ella and Her Fella, Frank at the Barksdale Theatre in Richmond.

René’s recordings include the self-produced CD, Renaissance (1999). In 2000, she signed onto the MaxJazz label and recorded How Can I Keep from Singing? (2000), Vertigo (2001), Live at Jazz Standard (2003), and Serene Renegade (2004). She parted ways with the label and recorded and co-produced her sixth CD, Experiment in Truth, in 2007. René appeared in a one-woman stage show, Slut Energy Theory: U’Dean, a play about overcoming abuse and incest, in 2009, and released the soundtrack that year.

René joined the Motéma label with the 2011 release of Voice of My Beautiful Country, followed later that same year by Black Lace Freudian Slip. Her 2013 follow-up, I Wanna Be Evil: With Love To Eartha Kitt, earned a GRAMMY nomination in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category. Her latest release is Sound of Red (Motéma, 2016), her first album of all-original material.