Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1096

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Feature

Dawn McGhee: Diamonds Aglow

Dawn McGhee Blues & Soul magazine interview @bluesandsoul.com
Dawn McGhee Blues & Soul magazine interview @bluesandsoul.com Dawn McGhee Blues & Soul magazine interview @bluesandsoul.com Dawn McGhee Blues & Soul magazine interview @bluesandsoul.com Dawn McGhee Blues & Soul magazine interview @bluesandsoul.com

One of the most popular neo-soul albums released in the UK this year so far is "Ten of Diamonds", the compilation album featuring an array of vocal talent, by the Gifted League Of Writers, better known by the acronym GLOW. Dawn McGhee from Dallas, Texas and the owner of indie label Archive Records who came up with the GLOW concept, took some time out from her busy schedule to talk to us about her past, her future and the lowdown on all matters GLOW. First of all, Dawn explained the workings of the Gifted League Of Writers.

"GLOW is an artist, just not the normal artist. I'd been thinking of ways to present song material to the world without using my name as a soloist since most songs are a team effort. I know what I want musicians to play and often, the musician is also a writer. When our talents fuse, it becomes a team effort to make a song. The concept of GLOW is not a new idea but I did modernise the marketing aspects of what "an artist" means. GLOW is similar to Motown's in-house production team, The Corporation, during the sixties and seventies. The Corporation, like GLOW, were a group of producers, songwriters and composers joining forces to write hits. They, like GLOW, were not a touring band but a production team. GLOW is a production artist."

Where The Corporation and GLOW differ, of course, is that The Corporation had the backing of a seriously wealthy Berry Gordy Jr., a luxury not afforded to the GLOW team. Getting a physical product on retailers' shelves is beyond most indie labels. Major companies rarely take chances and do deals with indie labels and give them financial support, and consumers are accustomed to streaming, all of which makes running an indie label very challenging.

"Archive Records does not have the luxury of megabucks. It took three years of savings and other challenges to bring "Ten of Diamonds" to the market. Most consumers are not buying physical CDs anymore; they are content with three to four songs from an artist instead of an entire LP record. They've grown accustomed to listening to the records on streaming platforms, which does not pay the label or publishing company enough royalties to produce a sophomore record. Most indie labels only have enough financial resources to produce an EP because of the shorter shelf life."

GLOW's group of talented musicians include Jarriel Carter (trumpet), Cymphony Jaxon (piano), Justin McKinney (bass), Bobby Sparks (organ), DJ Ernie G. (keyboards), Frank Moka (perc), Daru Jones (drums), Jason Thomas (drums) and Devin Morrison (keyboards) with McGhee contributing most of the lyrics with additional input coming from some of the featured artists on the album and GLOW musicians.

"The GLOW team have known each other for years. Most of GLOW freelance with other bands or have their own group or both. I thought it was going to be a small cadre of us working on material. But word got around to other cats in the industry and they contacted me to see if they could collaborate. It only took hearing the productions or knowing my work ethic as a producer for the others to be a part of the GLOW family. It's a non-exclusive atmosphere and the end results are hit records. Artists like Omar, Deonis Cook, and Honey Larochelle, I've known them for years and knew I wanted to work with them when the time was right. Some of the artists came through other artists' recommendations. "Ten of Diamonds" has ten different artists with ten different styles of music. I wrote most of the lyrics on the album but I had no problem in removing my bridge or third verse to allow another writer to have equity in a song. It gives the song texture."

The highly versatile GLOW musicians were able to craft an album of different musical styles perfectly suited to the needs of each performer. Although most of the set has neo-soul at its heart there are many diverse influences from jazz to Caribbean, from r&b to psychedelic funk-rock with a pinch of eighties funk and gospel thrown in. It features experienced vocalists such as Omar, Honey Larochelle, Deonis Cook and Keith Robinson as well as future names like Nndi, Mary Joyner, TEGA, Fudakochi, Lavahi and Dave Love but Dawn admits that some of the material was not necessarily written for the artist who eventually recorded it.

"It's important to me that there's a healthy balance of untapped and seasoned artists on a GLOW production. I'm told by both that they walk away learning more about music by my production style and work ethic. It is a good thing for untapped artists to feel that they too can bring the heat. Conversely, the seasoned artists still feel the hunger. I don't choose an artist to work with based on any factors other than PASSION and FIRE. It doesn't matter if an artist is known or unknown. Without passion, the song dies. I describe "Ten of Diamonds" as a multi-layered, multi-genre stew of soul. Most of the material on the album is organic in structure, being worked out in the studio with several artists in mind who could perform vocally on the track. "Best of Me" (Dave Love) was initially written for D'Angelo but his team didn't think it would've been a good fit for the "Black Messiah" project. "Same Ol'" (Honey Larochelle) was written with N'Dambi in mind. And "Birth" (Fudakochi) was initially written with Lenny Kravitz in mind. But I believe that the artist who ultimately sang on the record that it was meant for them! Each brought their "A" game to the table and performed with heart and passion. Each piece of music is made with an artist in mind initially but we can't always know what will manifest by the end of production."

Dawn's upbringing gave her the knowledge and the tools to fuel her love of the performing arts while simultaneously giving her an entrepreneurial spirit. Her father, Bill McGhee was a TV and film actor who broke down barriers by becoming the first African-American to perform on a Dallas stage where ethnic origin was not specific to the role. Ina, her mother, was a civil rights activist and educator. Their encouragement in a dynamic home gave Dawn the motivation to earn her first master's degree and own a production label by the time she reached her mid-twenties while performing and writing in differing performing arts platforms. In 2001 she was a noise on the rap scene, known as Rysque with tunes such as "Ballaz 2 Boppaz" and "Wanna Ride" as well as being involved in other areas of the entertainment industry, both before and afterwards.

"My flair for the dramatics opened doors for me to write and produce three films: "Peep Show" (an adult comedy, now out of production), "Behind The Life" (a documentary now showing on YouTube) and the unreleased "New York 21" (a docu-drama film about the New York Chapter of the Black Panther Party). In high school through to college, I loved hip-hop and rap music. I would beatbox and write my rhymes when the bible-belt South didn't offer a wide range of opportunities to make it as a female in the rap world. After college, I worked at Short Stop Records where Lil' Troy, the label's owner, had just rolled out his "Wanna Be A Baller" campaign. Upon Troy's gaining multi-platinum status, he was given a distribution deal via Universal Records. Troy began signing co-distribution deals for indie labels. It was during that time that the window of opportunity opened for me as the rapper Rysque."

The rise of Rysque contributed to her meeting and networking with hip hop big guns like Sean Combs, Too Short and Snoop Dogg while working with Houston-based talent like Pimp-C, DJ DMD and The Screwed Up Click. Her film work led to her hooking up with producers like Cle Sloan and Shelia Nevins and her appearances at events such as Billboard conferences put her in touch with huge names like Narada Michael Walden, Bootsy Collins, D'Angelo, Gerald Levert and James Poyser. All seemed set for her to become one of the 21st century's rising stars. Unfortunately, after she began climbing the ramp, the McGhee family were dealt some cruel blows and Dawn put her career on hold and returned home.

"During the filming of the "Peep Show", my father became gravely ill with cancer. I had to take a break to care for him until his death in 2007. My mother became afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and Dementia. Since then, I've been her only caregiver so my career came to a halt. It was a test of me being talented enough to re-enter the world of entertainment once I'd been absent. Honestly, I thought I failed the test, until 2017. It wasn't until then that I began to pick up enough stamina to pursue working in the music industry again. It has made me even stronger today. My parents poured love into me and I never hesitated to give them the same love and care when they needed me. I may have missed out during my time off but "Ten of Diamonds" has assured me that talent is in my blood and does not waver. My writings are deeper because I have experienced a lifetime of various worlds. I worked on the album for three years and it has been climbing the charts since its release. My parents guided me into a good work ethic and they taught me to be patient and keep the ball rolling while pursuing my passions."

Now that "Ten of Diamonds" has hit the ground running, Dawn has plenty of plans for the future, both on further GLOW projects and her ambitions. A return to acting and film production work are possibilities while a gig in print ads are high on her list. On the music front, her next aim is for a new GLOW album with more to come and to work with further artists she has the utmost respect for.

"I'm working hard to see that "Ten of Diamonds" becomes mainstream across the globe. If expenses are recouped, there will be another record featuring ten more different artists, ten different production styles. Musically there are so many artists I'd like to work with and produce. I could not name them all but certainly, D'Angelo is always first on my list. I've known "D" for so many years, as a person. I want to work with him in his artistry and with Dwele, Trina Broussard, Jarrod Lawson, Janita. I am on pins and needles hoping I'll have the chance to cut records with them!"

Album "Ten of Diamonds" on Archive Records is now available on CD and download.

ESSENTIAL LINKS:

INSTAGRAM dawnmcgheeofglow

FACEBOOK therealglowmusic

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Words DUNCAN PAYNE

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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