I could go on forever about what and who Rachelle Ferrell is to me as an artist and songwriter, let alone the music industry as a whole. However, I will keep it as succinct as possible. What I have come to know is that she is a masterful energy worker and the vehicle by which she moves is through the instrument that is her voice.
I heard Rachelle Ferrell’s first self-titled album as a young teen, and I was riveted. My father knew I loved Mariah Carey, Shanice, Minnie Riperton, Chanté Moore, Yma Sumac and other whistle tone queens. He smoothly placed this CD in my hand and told me, “Go listen to this lady with a seven octave range and tell me what you think.”
I remember hearing her soft vocals that were so pure and so clean, like the clearest water you can imagine. The sound was refreshing, open, never forced.
Mid-album I was hearing clarion belting and yodeling, the use of the voice to switch between registers, so masterfully done that I immediately paused every song to imitate and figure out how she was using her voice in this manner.
The breath control on songs like ‘I Know You Love Me,’ had me, once again, attempting to hold out my notes and take better breaths.
It was not until my twenties when I was independent and grown and buying my own music that I came across her First Instrument album and, a little later, Live in Montreux. These were displays of not only vocal agility, but the commitment to sound ministry. She was transporting you through her music and the sophistication therein.
My first time seeing Rachelle was at the SOB’s in Manhattan, and I was able to bring my father, who had, of course, introduced me to her work. It was the ultimate experience to feel her presence on that stage as she sang and danced her way in. I was delving into my spirituality at that point in my life and began to understand her on a deeper level, beyond just the voice.
She danced in the venue, creating a free, safe space where one could be cooky enough to dance to the music and vibe out in their own way, and it was ok. She wasn’t trying to be anyone other than who she was. She walked up to the mic and sang– mouth contorting in various shapes to help her deliver the sound. Every note that escaped her lips was to experience magic. It was certainly a spell she cast over us that evening. I looked around the room and saw that, just like me, people were wide-eyed with their mouths open in wide grins or in shock that she was doing all of this on that stage.
She took us all to the place where music transmutes all things, transforms us and our surroundings and allows us a moment of connection so deep it elicits visceral responses from our body like, for instance, tears of healing.
It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I saw her again at the Blue Note in The Village. The performance was just after the transition of contemporary jazz legend George Duke. Rachelle entered from the stairs and began to do syncopated breaths that were percussive in nature. She was doing breathwork! She was getting to the core of herself and utilizing her lungs and the oxygen in her body to do so. She admitted she missed George a great deal, and she was going to do her best that evening.
If you know what to watch for and open up that sixth sense, you can see Rachelle is never just singing. She engages in the spiritual realm upon arrival, ministering to herself as well as those in the audience that need it. She began to grace us with her voice in soft tones and wailing to the top of her register in ways that made us all collectively gasp. She looked into the audience (In my mind, right into my eyes and soul) and said one of the most inspiring things I hold dear to this day.
“No moment is alike. What is happening here will not happen in the next 10 pm show or tomorrow. This present moment we are co-creating, and it is special. Similarly, your gift is your own and no one can do it like you can. People can imitate it and emulate it, but they can’t do what you do, how you do it. So carry that with you, and do what makes you happy and what you know you have a gift for. Don’t compare yourself to anyone because you cannot. You can do what they do and they can’t do what you do.”
After that show, I got to meet and hug her and while hugging me she said, “You make sure you keep singing my brother!” Yes, I teared up. Typical Cancerean reaction. My soul needed to hear that.
At times when I would get discouraged from singing, feeling inferior to singers I felt I could not hold a candle to, it was and is these words that bring me out of that funk. I am indebted to this artist who I call my “master teacher” who does not get enough credit or shine in this industry. Unfortunately, most rarely do. So there is always a prayer on my lips for her, a song in my heart of hers, and flowers to be given while we still have the force of nature that is Rachelle Ferrell here with us. Whenever or if ever she puts out more music, I know I will be listening, learning and taking the journey with her.
David Sosa is an R&B singer-songwriter based in New York City. His debut EP, Journey to Love, peaked at the #3 position on the iTunes R&B chart. His latest single, “Careless,” is now streaming on all digital outlets. You can find him on Instagram and Facebook at @officialdavsos.