Syleena Johnson Rebirth Of Soul Album Cover

Grown Folks Music caught up to Syleena Johnson. She talked with us about her new album Rebirth Of Soul, the best advise her father ever gave her, doing Aretha Franklin justice and the difference in environment on the the reality show R&B Divas and her new talk show Sister Circle. Read below and enjoy. Rebirth Of Soul is set for release in November and catch Sister Circle weekdays on TV One.

Rebirth Of Soul… A Reintroduction and Paying Homage

GFM: The Rebirth Of Soul… rebirth suggests bringing something back to life. Tell us how doing a classic soul album revives the music and bridges the gap between the generations.

Syleena Johnson: The hope is that in creating something over again it is a reintroduction. I’m hoping that my relevance in today’s society can link the relevance of the past society and just kind of link music all together. Really music is universal, and so I want people to understand that what they’re listening to now has come from something that has already been established. We need to pay homage to it. That’s basically all that I’m doing.

GFM: Speaking of paying homage– you worked with your father and other classic soul musicians playing live in the studio on this album. Describe the experience of working with them and doing it live.

Syleena Johnson: It was amazing. It was absolutely amazing. The last time I sang live with a band [in the studio]… well with that kind of situation… was probably in the very beginning when I started working on Chapter 1 with Bob Power. Even still it wasn’t to that tenacity, because it was one musician at a time like session work. This was being actually in the studio while the music was playing and singing at the same time. It was like hearing music and singing music at the same time so that was real cool.

A Father’s Wisdom

GFM: I read that your father initially didn’t want you to go into the music business. What were some of the reasons he gave and what did he say that after 20 years [in the business] you found to be absolutely true.

Syleena Johnson: He said something that I thought was negative at the time. Indeed and in fact it was very negative because it came from a negative place. But now that I look back on it, it was the realest word he ever spoke. He told me when I signed with Jive Records… I will never forget, I’m 20 years old… and my father tells me, ‘Even if you sell a million copies, you’ll never be happy.’ At the time I was like, ‘Seriously? Who says that to their daughter who just signed to Jive Records?’ But now, 20 years later he was right. He was right in the sense of happiness does not come from record sales. So, I was able to understand that that word was really something that God was trying to tell me. I didn’t listen to that word. Obviously I didn’t take heed take heed to it, but had I really listened [and] had I really been in a place where I could’ve… ’cause I was only 20 years old… but I had I been in a place where I could have been knowledgeable enough to understand that statement– which, I still don’t think that’s what he meant– I would’ve known that God used him to tell me happiness does not comes from record sales. It does not come from accolades. It does not come from monetary value. Happiness is going to have to come from something that you attach to your passion. Happiness comes from working in your passion and your purpose. Peace comes from your passion in itself– not the logistics or the monetary value of what it can bring to you. So, looking back on what he said it was probably the most powerful thing he ever said to me.

GFM: In my opinion your voice was made for an album like this.  But, did you ever have a moment in the studio… a nervous moment where you thought to yourself, ‘I’m singing Aretha [Franklin] or I’m singing Etta James.’ Did you ever have a moment like that? 

Syleena Johnson: With Aretha yes, because so many women have already done it.  She hasn’t been the happiest camper about some of them and I really wanted to do her singing justice because she was [and] she is the queen of soul. It really is what it is. I’m talking about when you go back and really study Aretha… the fact that she was a musician… the way she was and the way she used her voice… she really was.  So, I needed to encapsulate that exact tone and exact runs and throw a little of myself in there so that you can see that it was me. But, I do have this ability because I have perfect pitch… my father says I get it from my grandfather…  I can listen to something and mimic it exactly. This album was made for me in a sense where I feel like I can give it justice as far as doing it like they did it. The part that’s hard is there are a lot of people that can mimic things all the time. It doesn’t mean they’re great. The part that was quite difficult was trying to capture the spirit of the record. Being a soul singer has really nothing to do with your tone or how well you can sing. What classifies you as a soul singer is based on your story and being able to tell that story from that place. I wanted to be able to tell that story from that place and those weren’t my stories. So, that was the difficult part– having to warp into who they were or that person they were singing about.

R&B Divas vs. Sister Circle

GFM: You’ve been on television with a group of women before, but now you’re in a much different capacity as a talk show co-host. How is the dynamic and the environment different with Sister Circle?

Syleena Johnson: We’re not in a predicament where it’s designed to be at each other’s throats to make good TV. Actually, the design is to show unity.  What’s so fun about that is if that’s not what you’re trying to do [then] you look out of place. Imagine being in an instance where you’re a room with ten women or even five women. For most women it is the norm from the outside world looking in that we’re gonna be catty and fight with each other. What we already know is that is the general consensus for women. But, imagine being put in a room with those five women and being told,’You have to get along. This is a sister circle. You have to create a bond. You have to become a sister circle in order to be able to heal women across the world. It is what it is. If you do not do that, you do not belong here.’

What that does is it says it’s fight or flight. It’s the opposite of what we see on TV. While other women are being put in the predicament where they are supposed to fight each other, we are put in a predicament where we are encouraged to love each other and that is so different and so fun. Now I have had sisters that do it. I’ve had sisters and our mother made us love each other ’cause that’s what we were taught to do so I understand it. But, with women who are not blood [related] it’s more difficult. So, to be in a predicament where that’s the culture is so fun, it’s so less stressful and it’s so encouraging and inspiring. We really have so much that we can offer each other because we’re such amazing beings– black women are. We’re so amazing and really all women– we really have a lot to offer each other. It’s so good to want to gel with another person and know that they want the same thing– whether they like it or they’re used to it or not. That’s the biggest difference between R&B Divas and Sister Circle: the climate. Love is promoted… and rewarded.

GFM: How much input do you and the hosts have?

Syleena Johnson: We have producers and they come with the show. They book our guests. They go over the questions with us and see if there’s a question that we don’t really like. We’re entertainers. We’re celebrities already, some of us, so we already know we half of the people who are coming sometimes and I might say, ‘That question is not gonna to work. We need to try this one.’ So, we do have input. They look to us to get bookings sometimes because most of people are our friends. We’re a family. It’s not a dictatorship. We are all in this together, but we do still respect the chain of command.

The cool part about us as hosts is we really can’t handle more than we can chew. Let me just say this– it’s not because we don’t want to. It’s because we have tons of other things going on in our lives and the good news is we get to show up and really just do what we’re told. For once in our lives we don’t have to drive the car or be in the front seat. We don’t have to be the driver of every single thing that is in our lives. It means we can relax. We have people that are very viable and can do the the job– do their job and help us to do ours. Really, all have to do is be myself and just bring my personality, common knowledge and research to the table and that’s not that hard to do. Let the producers produce the show and let Syleena be the talent. That’s very, very fun to do. I have a lot of other things in my life that I can run the ship and produce and this, that and a third.  Sister Circle is one of those things that I like to completely let go. I’m not going to worry about what my makeup artist did. I’m not going to work about what my hair did. I have a make up artist. I have a hair stylist. I have a clothes stylist. I’m going to at least let everybody do their job.

GFM: Who do you really want to come on the show?

Syleena Johnson: Maxine Waters. Auntie Maxine and Oprah Winfrey. Pretty much that’s it. And, Whoopi Goldberg. Those three and I’m good. As women, [if] we got those three… we won.

Grown Folks Music Is Timeless

GFM: What is your definition of Grown Folks Music? 

Syleena Johnson: Grown folks music is about the content. Anybody can move to a beat, but it’s gonna be about the soul of the record– what it is saying. If you ain’t grown, you can’t understand what’s going on. Grown Folks Music is music that is timeless. It grows and continues continues to grow with every age level.

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Kimberly Kennedy Charles

I have questions. Artists have answers.