There is a worn photo album tucked away in a forgotten storage closet in my New Orleans home. The photographs contained within are just as worn, a lot of them water stained behind thin plastic covers—some of the only remnants we managed to save after the hurricane.
Black and white photos of family members from long ago line the first few pages; their likenesses immortalized for generations to come. The black and white photos shift into faded, colored polaroids, getting closer to the present with each turn of the page.
There are only a few photos of my cousin, Dawn Richard that we were able to save. In an earlier photograph, a five-year-old Dawn sits in the grass alongside my older sister, who was just an infant at the time. Her smile is familiar—eyes closed with a teeth-baring grin.
There’s another photo of Dawn singing at her brother, Frank’s engagement party. She’s wearing a red, spaghetti strapped dress with a microphone clutched firmly in her hands—head tilted back, eyes closed, belting out a beautiful ballad, no doubt. I don’t necessarily remember what song she sang, but I do remember how quiet the room got as soon as she opened her mouth. I remember the pleased looks on everyone’s faces, as they seemed to nod in agreement, “She’s got it.” And as her voice carried throughout the room—first hypnotic and deep and then culminating in a perfectly executed high note—I remember nodding my head as well. “Yeah, she’s got it.”
By “it,” I mean talent—the “it” that it takes to actually make it in such a cutthroat music industry. Ten years younger than her, I grew up watching her cultivate that talent—honing her craft by singing in clubs around New Orleans and dancing her way across NBA basketball courts. Whenever I would see her, I’d wrap my arms around her waist, and she’d gush to my mother about how tall I was getting. “This girl won’t stop growing,” she’d tease. “I’m taking her to New York and making her a model.”
Ten years has passed since Hurricane Katrina attempted to destroy our home, and I’ve only seen Dawn three times since then—our last encounter occurring last year after her grandmother, Pat, passed away. So, when I gave her a call on a lazy Thursday afternoon, we talked about the irony of me interviewing her. We laughed about Mardi Gras festivities and talked, not about how tall I was, but rather how much older I had gotten. “I’m twenty-one. I’m grown!” I laughed. “No, don’t tell me that,” she replied sullenly.
Somewhere in between our conversations about New Orleans and her new album Blackheart, I realized that Dawn hadn’t changed; I could hear her infamous teeth-baring smile through the phone and whenever I watch one of her performances on YouTube, I still see hints of her in the red dress singing at the engagement party—eyes closed, but on a stage this time, belting out a song that truly means something to her, because it is hers. Dawn is the same person she has always been, but over the last decade, she has found herself, her voice, and what she was meant to do, and no amount of time or pain can change that.
Saint Heron: You’ve manage to create a lot of intersections with your fan base. One day you’re premiering a video via New York Times, and the next you’re singing at SOB’s with a predominately black audience who loves “Damaged” as much as they do BlackHeart. Of course we understand how all of these intersections cross, but a lot of time in the “urban market” or the “indie markets” — folks do not. Do you sometimes feel conflicted that one does not understand or acknowledge the other?
Dawn Richard: This is such an excellent question and one the should be asked way more often then the amount of BS that gets thrown my way. I think the “industry folks” are conflicted by it, which makes me a hard sell to labels and even mainstream media. I’m either not urban enough or not indie enough… But my movement gets it. They embrace this diversified community, and it makes for one mixed ass crowd. What some find as my weakness, I find a strength because the music is creating its own lane and look. I can do a concert with an artist like Boots and then turn around and sing with “urban act.” If anything I think this is beautifully rare and a gem amongst a lot of the lumps or coal.
Saint Heron: How important to you is it to cater to the indie markets who have been in such support of your solo projects? Do you feel a presence within that world in terms of records sales or touring sales?
Yes. I think I’ve had to build this respect with them. Starting out in mainstream and reality TV made it a bit hard for them to take me seriously. It’s so interesting how they can’t conceive an artist with my background could achieve the works I’ve done as a solo artist. But it’s been beautiful watching them slowly believe and support and write these amazing reviews.
Saint Heron: You’ve been sort of a pioneer of the new wave of electronic experimental R&B, almost too early (and we mean this in a good way), too obscure and adventurous for your own time. When you see the certain artist applauded for being a trailblazer for that wave of sound… do you ever feel excluded or looked over because of your background with your other projects?
I’m never blind to this game. Not bitter to it. I understand that being independent means sometimes flying under the radar. It means people won’t see the vision on a large scale and you’ll not always get the credit. But I’m not here for the credit. Im here for the music. As long as there is a mic and a stage, I’ll continue doing things. For me, I haven’t even touched the surface of where my mind wants to visually take this movement. So maybe my music wasn’t meant for this time. Maybe in 100 years someone will say damn Dawn was dope.
Nia: I remember at one point you were living in New York. Why did you decide to move to L.A.?
Well, it was like a lifestyle and job type of change. Music has transferred over to L.A. despite everything being in New York in the past. Studios and people I was working with, like producers, started gravitating towards L.A., and it became the hub in the musical circle. So I had to kind of make a choice, because I was staying in L.A. more than in New York.
Nia: I was talking to my mom the other day, and I was telling her that as a little girl, I always saw you as this massive talent who was destined to escape New Orleans for bigger and better things in New York.
Is that really how you saw me (laughs)?
Nia:Yes! I always knew you weren’t going to be in New Orleans forever, because you were just too talented, and achieving fame in New Orleans just didn’t make sense to me at the time. In what ways has New Orleans shaped you as a person and as an artist?
New Orleans is everything. I mean, it’s in my music, and it’s in my style. People always criticize me because I’m always wearing avant-garde Native American headpieces, but that’s our culture. People don’t know that where we’re from, stuff like that is quite normal.
Nia: It is!
I mean, my great uncle, Harold Fedison, created all of the Indian costumes and he’s in the Mardi Gras Indians Hall of Fame in New Orleans. For me, from the cadence of the drum, the beat, and the 808’s are all a part of who I am as an artist and who I am stylistically. New Orleans never really leaves you. If you’re born there, it kind of just moves with you. You never let go of your city.
Nia: That’s home. I don’t think people realize that that culture exists here. There’s a lot of rich history behind it, and you celebrating that has gotten lost among some people who just don’t know.
Yeah, they don’t know. They’ve never been. They don’t realize that New Orleans was this hub for French and Spanish settlers and Native Americans, and what we have as a blend. The only way you can understand it is if you go. You can’t really explain to people that there are black Indians second-lining at a funeral.
Nia: Yeah, it’s hard to wrap your head around it if you’ve never seen it.
For me, it makes sense to embody and celebrate that. We don’t really have a lot a female, pop artists from New Orleans.
Nia: Exactly. So, when you starred on “Making the Band” and, ultimately, joined Danity Kane did you truly see that as the be-all-end-all in your music career?
I think I just wanted to do music, and I had reached my cap in New Orleans. I did everything from clubs, singing the national anthem for NBA games, and dancing for an NBA dance team. I was doing everything I could possibly do artistically in New Orleans, and everyone thought, like you said, that I should do more. “Making the Band” was an opportunity for me. I never looked at it like, oh I want to be in a group or I want to be a solo artist. I was looking at it like, this is a really good opportunity for me to do music way larger than what I was doing at home.
Nia: I remember when the show first aired; it was a difficult time at home here in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. We were living in Houston after the storm, and hearing your voice being televised to so many people kind of solidified this idea in my head that you were “making it” and leaving New Orleans to go out there and do what you love to do. What was that time like for you?
It was a whirlwind. After the storm, we were homeless. Hotels were full, and we were sleeping in our cars. People were sending us canned goods and shit right before the show called us to come back to tape again. We were watching TV and those people who were struggling were actually us.Nia: It was so surreal.
At that point it wasn’t about the TV show, it wasn’t about “Making the Band,” it was about how the hell we didn’t have a house in 10.5 seconds.
Nia: Can you believe it’ll be 10 years in August?
Yeah, those ten years went by fast.
Nia: So far in your career, do you think you’ve been able to find your voice and put the music that you want out there?
Absolutely, especially with my new album Blackheart. I’ve finally found myself and my niche. I’m fearless in who I am, and I’m really in a good place. I think people have kind of misunderstood me, because they don’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve been through. I’ve never grieved Katrina, I never really grieved my [grandmother] Pat’s death. I never got an opportunity to just sit in my art because grieving was always happening. I wanted to create something that was purely honest and purely who I am. I really love this era. I think it’s the best music I’ve ever made, and it’s the most me.
Nia: I actually love both of the albums in this era so far—Goldenheart and Blackheart. What were your intentions for Goldenheart, and how do you think it was received?
We were surprised by how critically acclaimed it was. I don’t think anyone thought it would go that way or that it would be that successful especially as an independent artist. I mean, the whole point of that album was to really tell the journey of my story through three parts—the rise, the fall, and the recovery of my life. I felt like at the beginning, Goldenheart was this female warrior going out on this quest and kind of having this Joan of Arc sense of pride where I will deliver this message at all costs. That’s kind of how it was for me with the music industry and everything. This large quest is kind of how everyone can relate to the beginning of the journey in their lives.
Nia: And how did that segue into the BlackHeart era?
Well you realize that when you’re on the journey, it’s not exactly what the fuck you thought it would be (laughs). So, you fall—you fall pretty damn hard, because life hits you, reality hits you, and all of the things you thought you were going to get out of the gate, you don’t. You realize you have to work extremely hard for it, and BlackHeart is the sound of that. It’s realer, it’s darker, more relatable and it’s blunter. That’s why I wanted both albums to have very distinct differences in their sound, but also have this similarity of feminism and strength in the woman to not only fall, but fall gracefully and with the intent and hope to rise again.
Nia: I just find BlackHeart so empowering. I love the interlude “Choices,” because when you’re singing, “I love you, but I love me more,” and “I choose me,” it just speaks to my 21-year-old self (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah, I think we forget it. We forget the choice is ours in all things that are going on, from Je Suis Charlie to Ferguson. It’s the choice to love yourself enough to want peace and to want for this to end. That record is so powerful and so simple, and the video speaks so many things. We think we want to choose ourselves, but when we’re in the midst of our fight to want to be all these different things, we lose a lot of ourselves in the process.
Nia: It’s so relatable!
Yeah! It’s relatable to men, women, black, white, or any person. At the end of the day, the music doesn’t really have a genre or a face or anything. It kind of just sits on its own.
Nia: What’s your favorite song on the album?
It changes all the time, but I think I’d have to go with “The Deep.” It’s lyrically one of the best records I’ve written, because it rings true to life. To have a love that deep it’s like you don’t know how to love shallowly. There are a lot of people out there who can relate to that.
Nia: I love that song too, along with “Choices” and “Billie Jean.” Yeah, “Billie Jean” is such a fun take on the original [laughs]. In today’s music scene, who would be considered a Billie Jean?
Shit, I feel like I was a Billie Jean at one point.
Nia: (Laughs) Really?
But not in the sense of having sex for money. I mean I made a lot of sacrifices to get this music shit. Sometimes it could have been doing a gig where I wouldn’t be getting paid enough. Everybody has a Billie Jean moment, but no one wants to admit it. If I wanted to call out someone else for being a Billie Jean, I’d have to go in my little black book and see what the fuck I was doing three or four years ago.
Nia: Blackheart was released in January after, like you said, a rough time in your life. How have you been doing emotionally, and how have you been able to work through those emotions with your art?
(Laughs) I don’t know how I’m feeling emotionally. I’ll let you know in about a year. I wish my dad didn’t have fucking cancer, and I miss you best friend—my [grandmother] Pat. I hope to have a relationship one day similar to the one my mom and her shared. So, I’ll let you know.
Nia: Well, we’re praying for your dad, and we miss Tee Pat so much. Her and my grandmother used to talk on the phone and take trips to the movies all the time.
Yeah, they were super close, and I love her for that.
Nia: She used to tell us when you’d be on TV and when to look out for you. She was just so proud of you and so are we, because you’re not letting these struggles stop you from doing what you love.
Of course not. That’s not how either of us were raised. We figure it out, that’s what we do in New Orleans. We dance at funerals, and when we fall, we figure out how to get back up, and we dance some more.
After the storming success of her latest album 'Blackheart' state side, Dawn Richard is set to put herself on the worldwide map as she signs to pioneers in music management SJ Media Group to represent her career on UK soil.
Richard started her career after auditioning for ‘Making the Band 3’ in 2004 then going on to become a member of American girl band Danity Kane. After linking up with label head Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and Kalenna Harper they formed the group Diddy-Dirty Money.
Two consecutive platinum number one albums under her belt with Danity Kane, a platinum album ‘Last Train to Paris’ alongside three platinum selling singles with Diddy-Dirty Money her flourishing solo career is now her focus.
With her fearless approach to music, Dawn produced and wrote her latest album ‘Blackheart’ alongside her writing partner Noisecastle III as well as fully releasing the project independently. To date it has received critical acclaim from Fact Magazine, New York Times, LA Times, and Billboard.
Upon the move to SJ Media Group, Dawn said, “I'm truly excited to join with SJ Media Group. I've been dreaming of sharing my art globally and collaborating with a team that can allow me to touch hearts all over the world. I finally can.”
Steve Mottershead, founder and MD said “I am absolutely delighted that Dawn has committed to working with us. The team here are very excited at the opportunity to introduce her unique and extraordinary talent to the UK public.
Dawns passion and desire for creating great music immediately stood out and we will give her the platform and support to do that in the UK"
Après le succès de son dernier album 'Blackheart ', Dawn Richard signe avec des pionniers en matière de gestion de musique SJ médias pour représenter sa carrière sur le sol britannique.
Avec son approche courageuse de la musique, Dawn a produit et écrit son dernier album 'Blackheart' au côté de son partenaire d'écriture Noisecastle III ainsi que la sortie complète du projet de façon indépendante. À ce jour, il a reçu des critiques élogieuses de Fact Magazine, New York Times, LA Times, et Billboard.
Après le passage à SJ Media Group, Dawn dit: «Je suis vraiment heureuse de rejoindre SJ Media Group. J'ai rêvé de partager mon art à l'échelle mondiale et de collaborer avec une équipe qui peut me permettre de toucher les Hearts partout dans le monde. C'est finalement possible ".
Steve Mottershead, fondateur et MD a déclaré: "Je suis absolument ravi que Dawn s'est engagé à travailler avec nous. L'équipe ici est très enthousiaste à l'occasion de présenter son talent unique et extraordinaire au public du Royaume-Uni."
La passion et le désir de Dawn pour la création de la grande musique se distinguent immédiatement et nous lui donnons la plate-forme et le soutien pour le faire au Royaume-Uni "