Baseball announcers often talk about a player having “sneaky power,” meaning that the batter has more strength and impact than at first it might seem. And that is analogous to the story of Patrice Rushen, a complete musician who has quietly created a career that has won for her millions of fans and the full admiration of her musical peers.
A child musical prodigy, Patrice was an award winner at the Monterey Jazz Festival while still a teenager, and graduated from the University of Southern California with a reputation as a star on the rise. Her prowess resulted in being signed at age 19 by Prestige Records to record traditional jazz. And she did that with aplomb, issuing three critically acclaimed albums for the label with some of the great names in the genre. But Rushen wasn't satisfied in the sometimes stifling world of traditional jazz, and by the late 70s, she was offered a contract with Elektra Records to pursue a more accessible blend of jazz, funk and R&B.
The change was perfect timing for the budding musical star, and she responded with a new style and look that was as refreshing as it was musically solid. It began with the sophisticated dance hit, "Haven't You Heard," and led to a five album string of hits that crossed over into multiple formats. Each album was musically interesting and alluring, and she found great success with hits like “Feels So Real” and her signature smash, “Forget Me Nots.” But those albums went deep with great cuts, winning for her a sizeable, loyal following that continues to this day.
Feeling that Elektra lacked clear direction, Rushen left the label for Clive Davis's Arista Records. Davis was never short on giving direction, but creative differences between Rushen and him led to a three year delay between albums, and a lot of lost momentum. She opted out of her Arista contract after one album and began a new chapter, scoring music for a Robert Townsend movie and taking on larger roles behind the scenes. She paved new trails as the first female musical director for both the Grammy and Emmy Awards. She also served in that capacity for the People’s Choice Awards and the CBS show, The Midnight Hour, and, of course, for the world tour of the great Janet Jackson.
Patrice’s songs have been sampled countless times, including by Kirk Franklin, who sampled “Forget Me Nots” in his recording “Looking For You,” which became the top Gospel song of 2007. She continues to record with and produce other artists, and has spent much of the past two decades as a faculty member at the noted Berklee School of Music and at UCLA, sharing her knowledge with the next generation of artists.
By Chris Rizik