Mic Check: Blues singer Diane Durrett talks about the unifying power of music

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

For nearly 30 years, Diane Durrett has delivered albums full of tough, soulful vocals and melodically moving blues songs.

Since her 1993 debut, “50,000 Volts of Soul,” she’s performed with Sting, Gregg Allman and the Indigo Girls, opened for Tina Turner and Derek Trucks, and recorded in sessions with Kristian Bush and producer Brendan O’Brien.

And those are only a few highlights of her history.

Recently, Durrett, along with her longtime band, Soul Suga — including drummer Melissa “Junebug” Massey — released “Make America Groove,” her rallying cry for unity.

Durrett, an Atlantan since the age of 10, was inspired by a meeting with Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson during District Advocacy Day with the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy.

“We were talking about how music unifies all of us, and Hank was saying, ‘We gotta…we gotta,’ and I said, ‘Make America groove!’ That stuck with me, and when I got home I thought, I need to make it a song,” Durrett said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Durrett what else she has been working on since the pandemic sidelined her from the road. Here’s what she had to say.

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Q: How has your life changed this year?

A: The first of the year I had tour dates and festivals and was looking forward to that, and (when the pandemic started), we thought well, we’ll relax for a minute. But when the (touring) season started, I felt this overwhelming sadness of, “This is gonna be awhile.” I put it in my head that it would be until July. And then we realized it wasn’t July. In the spring, I did some online concerts with Melissa “Junebug,” and it was great to communicate with our fans, but the sound quality isn’t up there yet. By July, I thought, OK, I’m a music producer and engineer and already work with software similar to video, and I want to be able to use the best sound quality, but we need to have a visual to go with (the music). So, I jumped in to start video editing. The first I did was (a video for) “Blue Water” with help from Melissa “Junebug”… This last one (“Make America Groove”), we used a green screen, and that was more complicated. (Video) gave me the opportunity to not only express in music and lyrics, but visually. You have to ride the waves of technology.

Q: What have you been listening to?

A: I think I have some standouts, like Janelle Monáe and her video for “Turntables,” since I’ve been more visual-oriented lately. That new song with Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile (”A Beautiful Noise), it’s cool. I like to listen to my morning radio shows. I listen to WRFG with Blackjack and AJ in the mornings. I’m a big fan of Mavis Staples — she’s one of my favorites — and Bonnie Raitt.

Q: You’ve got a new album planned for next year (“Sweeter Love Grows”). What can you tell us about it?

A: It’s still the plan to release it, I’m thinking late first quarter. The singles (from this year) will be on it. I co-produced it with TK Kidd. I have my own studio, and I record a lot of the overdubs, and he mixes it. Tinsley Ellis played on the first Soul Suga album, and he’ll be on this one as well.

Q: Are you even thinking about the road yet?

A: It’s sort of a wait and see. I’m very protective of my voice, and honestly, I liken it to the pandemic being a lung issue a lot of times. You’ve got to be able to breathe to sing, so I’m a little more hesitant. I’m not the first one to jump out there. I do so miss the live experience. There’s nothing like it. The communication with the musicians on stage and the audience. I truly miss that. I miss it as a patron, as a festival-goer. It really makes you appreciate it to a new level. There will just be joy once we can all get together again. It’s a very special part of all of our lives and our communities, even at the small level.