You want to talk range? Talk Aimee K. Bryant. Bryant, a phenomenal vocalist and a damned strong actor, has stepped things up a notch, reaching a fine plateau with the release of her album Becoming. In fact, she outdoes herself with the album, delivering a tour de force. By turns, she waxes gritty, smooth, sophisticated, and downright funky. When she does gospel, it takes you straight to church.
Read Dwight Hobbes’s review of Becoming.
Bryant made her bones as an actor, coming to the Twin Cities from Chicago’s vaunted ETA ensemble. She acted at a laundry list of venues, then hit her stride performing in musicals—most notably at Penumbra Theatre Company (Black Nativity, Ain’t Misbehavin’) and Mixed Blood Theatre (Two Queens, One Castle). Late last year, she showed up on premiere bassist Yohannes Tona’s album Sand From the Desert, and now has Becoming. If the album, her solo debut, gets the exposure it warrants, Bryant will catch whiplash from her ascent.
Where’d you get your vocal training?
I sang in church when I was little, in the children’s choir and youth choir, but I was never really interested in singing. I always loved music and played in the bands and orchestras at my schools. My sister was in the choirs at church, so, I had to go. We were a package deal. I always wanted to act. I got the lead in a Christmas play at my church. I was Oh Holy Night in a show called The Christmas Carol, and I had to sing that song at the end of the show. After that, I was chosen for solos often. People really emphasize private training and I did study voice at Howard [University], but singing in a gospel choir really developed my ear and taught me a lot about vocal performance.
I got my B.F.A. from Howard University with a concentration in Musical Theatre.
Your acting was particularly strong in No Distance Between Us at Illusion Theater. What went into that portrayal?
I got a talent shout for playing Cobalt, a homeless heroin addict. For that i did a lot of research. I went to [twelve-step] meetings on the sly, read a lot, and got lots of insight from a friend who is a recovering addict. I kinda had to zone out, to lose myself in the physicality I created for the character and just let the whole stage be a blur.
How satisfied are you with Becoming?
I’m excited that it’s been getting a positive response. It took super long to make—probably because, as my first project, it is so precious to me. Eventually I just had to let it go. You can’t stay pregnant forever. So, while there are some imperfections in the production, I’m very happy with my writing and I think the album is a good representation of me as an artist.
How’d you go about selecting the material?
There are quite a few songs that didn’t make it on the project. I took the advice of one of my producers: If I reached for the “next” button as soon as a song came on, I didn’t put on the project. The songs that made it are [ones] I like listening to.
How did you and Yohannes Tona come to work together?
We met at The Blue Nile on one of those infamous open mic Tuesdays. Penumbra used to have a performance art series called Late Night that’s now at Pillsbury House Theater. Well, I was invited to participate, and I invited Yohannes to play with me that night. The rest, as they say, is history.
You, Yohannes, Thomasina Petrus, and T. Mychael Rambo were at a Target store a couple weeks ago, doing an hour-long set. I guess you had a nice time, huh?
Man, I was so nervous. T. Mychael put together a really rich program that chronicled black music from American slavery to the present. We sang some spirituals, some gospel. And you know Thomasina had to give ‘em a little Billie Holiday. We did Marvin Gaye. Me and Truth Maze surprised ‘em with that beatbox version of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “We Are.” That’s on the CD. And of course the program ended with “We Shall Overcome”. They loved it. It was a good time.
I’m ‘bout to take over the world!
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.