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Thursday, January 27, 2022

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Arts + CulturePatrice Rushen gets her flowers in 40th anniversary re-release...

Patrice Rushen gets her flowers in 40th anniversary re-release of ‘Straight From The Heart’

Certainly, the bouquet includes "Forget Me Nots"—but dive deeper into the album's tracklist for a reminder of the arranger's massive impact on Black radio.

In 1977, Elektra Records signed LA-based polymath and jazz prodigy Patrice Rushen in the hopes of overtaking Donald Byrd and Grover Washington Jr. in the jazz-funk lane. But when she delivered her seventh studio album Straight From The Heart in 1982, A&R didn’t like it.

It is to the benefit of musicians to come that she didn’t bow to pressure to change—all these years later, the LP is being remastered by Strut Records for its 40th anniversary.

Broadening pop sensibilities, the album showcases the way Black music was evolving in the early ’80s. It includes Rushen’s indelible, multi-generation Black radio staple “Forget Me Nots,” the heavily-sampled “Remind Me,” and family-gathering-friendly instrumental “Number One.” It was a little bit of this, a touch of that. It spoke to Rushen’s heart, not the label’s projected construct.

Straight From The Heart features funk, Afro-Cuban, boogie, augmented chord progression ballads, quiet storm selections, smooth jazz, and fusion joints to which to move. You know, tracks you could electric slide to at your cousin’s next wedding—sounds that the label’s A&R couldn’t begin to comprehend.

In acknowledgment of her accomplishment, the forward-thinking album scored Rushen her first two nominations at the 1983 Grammy Awards; for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Forget Me Nots” and Best R&B Instrumental Performance for “Number One.” That success proved that she did know exactly what was going on in ’80s contemporary radio, while at the same time understanding what the future would require. To this day, she still receives some 30 requests a week to use her music for samples, especially by hip-hop artist—and that’s not counting requests for Will Smith’s monster 1997 hit “Men In Black,” which heavily sampled “Forget Me Nots.”

She had been laying the stage for this success for years. “Haven’t You Heard,” her vigorous 1979 disco hit from Pizzazz, first broadcasted Rushen’s ability to be synchronous, yet singular all at once. Moving with precision, incorporating energized Earth Wind & Fire-type horn and string charts in the introduction of the song, it pushes up to full Stravinsky intensity, and then delivers a mid-song breezy-yet-lyrical Fender Rhodes solo to cool things out.

This masterful arrangement, coming from a young African American woman who wrote, performed, scored, produced, played, and ran her outfit, was the genesis of Rushen’s bankable pop music touch. While maintaining her jazz roots, she’d accumulate various forms of accolades—financial and critical—for decades to come.

Once we work past the Grammy-nominated highlights of Straight From The Heart, we get into its deeper cuts, like “Where There Is Love,” a moonlight-beam-filled jaunt with atmospheric vibes that lays the foundation of how quiet storm radio was about to take over. “Breakout!” is a punk-funk-rocker of sorts, one that would later provide Laura Branigan with a color-by-numbers pathway to synth-pop dominance. Similar to “Remind Me” and that track’s significance to jazz-fusion musicians, the songs provided a runway to fellow creatives, a potential lane in which to earn money, be contemporary, and still hold on to your authenticity.

That versatility, with bankability, led Prince seek Rushen out, and pick her brain. As documented in a Bandcamp Daily Interview, he reached out to her while recording his debut LP For You. Prince was struck and befuddled by her mastery and inquired, “How’d you get that sound?” in what Rushen remembers as a dulcet tone. Soon, he’d enlist her help in writing the strings for his song “Baby.”

“He already knew what he wanted,” she said. “But at that point didn’t know how to write it down.” In 1984, he invited her to join him at a restaurant in a hotel where they both happened to be staying, and told her about his new movie—Purple Rain.

“He said, ‘I may have bitten off more than I can chew on this! I’m nervous about it.’” Rushen remembers. She asked him, “’Did you do the best that you could?’ And he said, ‘yeah.’ And I told him, ‘You have to let it go and see what happens.’”

Rushen knew she’d done everything possible with Straight From The Heart. Despite initial distaste from the industry’s powers-that-be, she—luckily for us—never changed a note.

Buy Strut Records’ 40th anniversary remaster of Straight From The Heart here.

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John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.
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