It takes a leonine level of courage for a female singer to release her debut CD on the world using just her first name - when that name is Dionne – but this is no ordinary artist. Dionne is more than just a singer/songwriter with a tight 5-song soul EP (Digital Download) and 8-song soul CD, tellingly titled Living In The Music (on 111 East Records). She’s a woman of artistic goals and deep-seeded human compassion. She’s spent her first years out of college pursuing her dream job working with young girls as the Deputy Director of an arts and academics program called Interstages in Washington D.C., endeavoring to lift their self-esteem, leadership skills and sense of purpose. However, in the grand karmic scheme of things, it was one of Dionne’s students that gently taught HER a life-changing lesson.
Dallas-native Dionne attended both a middle school for the arts and the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (also known as Arts Magnet). Her first professional gig arrived while she was still in high school – singing backup for a local real estate agent turned country singer. Dionne later attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where her majors were English and Education, but because everyone knew she had such a lovely voice, she was able to pick up gigs here and there. This later led to singing backup for gospel star LaShun Pace and fronting The Odyssey Big Band for two years singing jazz arrangements of Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole and Norah Jones numbers, including a coveted engagement at D.C.’s venerable Wolf Trap venue.
Following time spent in Baltimore as a classroom teacher and supporting others’ dreams, Dionne moved to Washington D.C. to focus on what she felt was her dream job in youth development. That’s where Dionne met Brianna. “I was driving several students home,” Dionne shares. “Brianna – one of those children with an ‘old soul’ – lived closest to me, so she was always the last in the car. When the kids didn’t want to talk, I would sometimes just sing. On this evening, we were about a block-and-a-half from Brianna’s house when she looked up and said, ‘Ms. Dionne, what are you doing?’ She didn’t say another word but she and I both knew what she meant. Here I had been always teaching them to go for their dreams but I was working with them everyday instead of following my dream of singing. She was telling me to go for it. I loved that job...but I had to let it go so I could pursue my true passion.”
On a whim, Dionne did an online search through YellowPages.com, found a recording facility and scheduled some studio time to put herself to the test. She brought in three songs, insisting on ‘producing’ them herself by dictating to the house engineer what she wanted her tracks to sound like. The end result was dicey musically but encouraging enough vocally and writing-wise for Dionne to take the leap of faith to literally “live in the music.”
“I appreciated what I had to say in those early songs,” Dionne says. “I was an English major so I have always written in one form or another. Listening to the playback of me singing my songs was the beginning of my personal validation. I never had a powerhouse voice, but I learned to respect the beauty of what I have and to take note of what other people hear within it – to hone and work what I’ve got.” Dionne’s gift is the ability to express thoughtful themes in simple yet poetic terms. She named her publishing company Lyrics First Music because “the words and thoughts you share are very important, especially the way they are received by young people. Whether I’m 53 or 93 – writing for me or someone else – lyrics as a priority is never going to change for me.” All of the songs on her debut EP Living In The Music were conceived in one six-month burst of creativity. She settled on all one-word titles for a reason: “I love the simplicity and the intrigue of them…you won’t know exactly what the song is about - until you listen.”
Briefly introducing her songs, Dionne shares, “‘Ooh’ (a digital dream) is about that feeling I get when I write something, sing it for people and can feel them connecting to it. I can’t believe it when it happens and there’s just no other way to describe it!” Two songs provide cautionary anti-love at first sight lessons. “’Lucky’ (some ol’ school boom-bap for your soul) is about perfect timing,” Dionne continues, “and preparation meeting opportunity. ‘Sure’ (a breezy springtime love-spreader) reflects the importance of not moving forward in a relationship until you feel really sure it’s love…or not. It’s about a contemplative state of mind.”
The moody groove of “Allergies” is a song Dionne co-wrote with an old B’more acquaintance, James Collins: leader of the acclaimed souljazz band Fertile Ground. It is also the song that earned her a record deal. “Out of nowhere, it got me on the JL U.K. Soul Chart and that’s how 111 East Records found me. It wasn’t even me who submitted it! Somebody I still don’t know to this day sent it in simply because they liked it. That song is about recognizing what is not working for you in your life and getting away from it. It was inspired by my marriage that ended and really strikes me as how something so difficult to live through ended up being the thing that moved me forward.” The body-rockin’/head noddin’ first single/video “Move” was actually the last song completed for the EP. “Everybody at X-Posure
Entertainment - my primary production company headed up by Reginald Rainey – and my Project Manager/Vocal Arranger Jocelyn “iNDIGO” Saunders felt it was the hit because it was so upbeat and uplifting. I also felt the song best represented me as an artist as I move forward in my destiny. When I finished writing it, the song was telling me, ‘Dionne, there’s no looking back now, it’s time to move…full speed ahead.’ That’s the vibe you feel in my first video (directed by Kevin Sampson).”
Truly Living In The Music and manifesting her dreams, Dionne is on the path of her personal favorite artists Anita Baker and Jill Scott – hoping to get on tours with them, to perform at The Birchmere Music Hall, and to sing with her dream men Eric Roberson, MusiqSoulchild and Mint Condition. Dionne was a semi-finalist in Andre Harrell’s “Superstar Soul Search” where her song “Ooh” placed 7th out of 150 entries for the Northeast Tri-State area. She has graced the stage of Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar in New York, shared her writing process on a panel for The Songwriters Association of Washington, is in regular rotation on Pandora, performed at the annual “National Capital Barbecue Battle” (which she was invited back to perform this year), The Prophet Bar back home in Dallas, and at Harvey Star Washington’s “Night of 100 Stars” on a bill with Jennifer Holliday.
As for stepping out with her iconic first name Dionne (formerly Deedee Kirby), the lady affirms, “I made that decision just before my CDs were being pressed. Thinking about how much these songs mean to me, it didn’t feel right to hide behind my family nickname. That didn’t speak to the authenticity of me and what I am offering. Whether or not it confuses me with somebody else, I had to come out as Dionne - because that’s real to me.”
“Living in the music is literally what I’m doing now,” Dionne concludes. “It’s where I love to be. I actually love rehearsing even more than performing. If life could be a constant rehearsal with lots of great musicians all around me, that’s where I would live.”