Born Des'ree Weekes in 1969,London, England. Addresses: Addresses: Record company-Sony 550 Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022.
In 1994, a singer/songwriter from England named Des'ree appear on the pop charts seemingly out of nowhere with the catchy, smooth "You Gotta Be," a paean to positive thought. The song's bridge highlighted Des'ree's astonishing voice, and it went all the way to number five on the charts. Yet it was far from the first flush of success for the 25-year-old, who had already enjoyed acclaim in Europe with a 1991 debut record. Her record company also believed it would not be her last, and gave her a leisurely four years to produce a 1998 follow-up. "We're not in the business of manufacturing cornflakes," a 550 Music executive told Billboard 's Paul Sexton about Des'ree. "Artists have their own time frame."
At the height of her newfound fame in 1995, People termed Des'ree "the reigning queen of New-Age cheer." At the time, Des'ree shared a home in London, where she grew up, with her mother, Annette Norma, and sister. In the late 1970s, her parents, both West Indian by birth, took their daughters from the familiarity of their south London surroundings to a new home in Barbados so that they might learn about their heritage. Des'ree lived on the island from the age of ten until thirteen, and during that time, she was exposed to dub, calypso, and other indigenous musical genres of the Caribbean. She has said that she grew up singing, and loved Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight and the Pips as a child. As a teenager, however, Des'ree grew shy, and turned to writing to express herself. She penned poetry and then songs, some of which later wound up on her first album.
When she was16, Des'ree dropped off a demo tape at a record company, and someone called her at home before she'd even arrived back. But she felt "the time wasn't right," as she explained to People, and again trusted her instinct when six years later she "woke up one morning and said [to her then boyfriend-manager], you have to take this tape to Sony Music.'" He did, and it fell into the hands of the same executive who discovered Terence Trent D'Arby, and a contract was inked with Sony's British arm. Des'ree had never been in a professional recording studio before, and immediately set to learning the business of making records. She auditioned arrangers for her songs, and did her own publicity and management work, which she continued to do for some years. After the tracks were finished, Sony put her out as opening act for Simply Red, and released "Feel So High" as a single. "Feel So High" achieved great success in Europe in 1991.
Sony/Epic signed Des'ree in 1992 and released Mind Adventures that same year. Though an article in Billboard spoke of her great promise as a performing artist-reporter Michael Gonzales wrote that she "expresses a wisdom and sensitivity that reach beyond her age"-the album barely made a dent in the charts and she remained an unknown in the U.S. As Des'ree explained rather diplomatically to Essence writer Deborah Gregory a few years later, back in 1992 Sony/Epic "was promoting projects from established artists such as Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross, so I had to take a back seat. My music ... got lost in the shuffle." Still, she remained a moderately successful abroad; in 1993 she cut a single with Terence Trent D'Arby, "Delicate," that charted in Britain
It was not until the planned release of I Ain't Movin' in 1994 that everything seemed to fall into place for Des'ree. Sony decided to include the track "Feel So High" on this album, as it was not included on Mind Adventures. But it was the video for the first single chosen from I Ain't Movin,' "You Gotta Be," that gave the chanteuse her first meaningful American exposure. Working with director Paul Boyd, the two created a stunning black and white video that managed to showcase both the singer's good looks and haunting voice. The clip began airing on the video music channel VH1 and was an immediate success in the late summer of 1994. The song, with its positive-focused lyrics, received almost no airplay on urban R&B stations despite having a decidedly soulful feel, but it was picked up by pop radio stations, further increasing Des'ree's exposure.
The inspiration for the title track from I Ain't Movin' came during a visit to Barbados. As Des'ree explained to Rolling Stone writer Marie Elsie St. Leger, "I thought to myself, `The most beautiful parts of the world are where my people come from-Africa, the Caribbean, the Antilles.' And I said, `I ain't moving from my place, from my race, from my history.'" St. Leger termed the LP "a catchy blend of Caribbean rhythms, American R&B and English cool." Village Voice writer Lisa Kennedy wrote that I Ain't Movin' "inspires hope, and not just because of her humanism and well-grounded voice. In 'You Gotta Be,' she combines an earned optimism with an I-will-survive candor; its an edge that if sharpened could cut through some of her softer sentiments to the heart of the matter."
Sony/Epic put Des'ree on tour with Seal while "You Gotta Be" sat on various charts for 44 weeks. Even four years later, the song was still heard occasionally on the radio. Its video remained in rotation on VH1 longer than any other clip from an artist in the music channel's history. Des'ree then took a break after earning her gold record for I Ain't Movin', and recorded duets with Steve Winwood and Babyface before moving on to her next effort. She had virtually created a new niche called "urban alternative" in the music business single-handedly, but the subtle barriers circling artists, genres, and demographics in America still baffled her. "It wasn't until I was in the States that I realized how segregated the industry was," Des'ree told Sexton. "I was disappointed that I wasn't considered `black enough' for urban radio.... That's something I could never understand." Evidence of her influence was made apparent in an odd way: her music publisher, Sony Music Publishing, initiated legal proceedings against Janet Jackson in 1998 which resulted in a sizeable settlement due to the significant resemblance between "Feel So High" and Jackson's "Got `Til It's Gone."
Sexton noted that there were two other cases of copyright infringement for Des'ree's first hit in Europe seven years back, a song relatively unheard of in the U.S., in the summer of 1998. But Des'ree, positive-minded as always, was more focused on the future: her third album, Supernatural, was released to excellent reviews that same summer. J. D. Considine, writing for Entertainment Weekly, termed it a furtherance of the qualities that made "You Gotta Be" such a success, "strong melodies, engaging grooves, powerfully understated singing.... Des'ree conveys a depth and complexity that go well beyond what's on the lyric sheet."
by Carol Brennan
Worked in a health-food store in London in the early 1990s; signed to Sony U.K., 1991; signed to Sony/Epic (U.S.), 1992; made American debut with the LP, Mind Adventures, Sony/Epic Records, 1992; released I Ain't Movin, 550 Music, 1994; single from second album, 1994's " I Ain't Movin", reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1995; released Supernatural, 550 Music, 1998..
Earned gold record for I Ain't Movin'.
- Selected discography
- Mind Adventures , Epic/Sony, 1992.
- I Ain't Movin' , 550 Music, 1994.
- Supernatural , 550 Music, 1998.
- Billboard , September 12, 1992; September 24, 1994; January 28, 1995; June 13, 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly , August 21, 1998.
- Essence , August 1995.
- People , May 8, 1995.
- Rolling Stone , December 1, 1994.
- Village Voice , April 25, 1995.