Few entertainers have ever commanded such depth of artistry in every medium. Fewer still have been rewarded with Broadway’s coveted Tony Award (Best Featured Actress in a Musical The Wiz), nominated for the London theater’s West End equivalent, the Laurence Oliver Award (Best Actress in a Musical Lady Day), won two Grammy® Awards (1998’s Best Jazz Vocal Performance and Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal for Cottontail Slide Hampton, arranger Dear Ella ), and France’s 1998 top honor Victoire de la Musique (Best Jazz Vocal Album).
Denise Grant was born in Memphis on May 27, 1950. Her father Matthew was a trumpeteer and teacher; he exposed young Denise to his love of jazz at an early age. The youngster enjoyed the many records her father played her, especially those of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley. By the age of 16 she was in a vocal trio that specialized in R&B and rock cover versions. The family had relocated to Clinton, Michigan and naturally an audition with nearby Motown was inevitable. But the label turned her down, not for her lack of talent, but because of the groups’ young age. When Denise was 18 years old, she attended Michigan State University and joined saxophonist Andy Courtridge's group. Then in 1969, she transferred to the University of Illinois, where she was noticed by John Garvey, the University's Jazz Band Director who hired her for a tour. In 1970, Denise met and married Cecil Bridgewater. After their marriage they moved to New York so Cecil could play in Horace Silver's band. Around this time Denise became known as Dee Dee.