Dee Dee Bridgewater Covers the Staple Singers' 'Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)': Exclusive Premiere

Joe Martinez
Dee Dee Bridgewater

Grammy and Tony Award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater returns home to Memphis for her latest album Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready. The jazz icon exclusively premieres one of the album’s tracks, the Staple Singers’ “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad),” on Billboard today (Aug. 9).

The classic is one of the 13 Memphis-associated songs that Bridgewater covers on the new album, set for release Sept. 15 via DDB Records/Okeh/Sony Masterworks. Recorded last fall in Memphis at Willie Mitchell’s (Al Green) renowned Royal Studios, the set was produced by Bridgewater in tandem with Grammy-winning musician Kirk Whalum, Mitchell’s Grammy-winning son Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell and Bridgewater’s daughter/manager Tulani Bridgewater. Its playlist also includes such gems as B.B. King’s “The Thrills Is Gone,” Green’s “I Can’t Get Next to You,” and Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.”

Listen to Bridgewater’s modern, soulful take on the Staples Singers’ classic here:

Originally released in 1966, “Why?” was written by the Staple Singers’ frontman/patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples. He penned the song in response to the mistreatment of the Little Rock Nine (nine black teenaged students) during their integration of the city’s all-white Central High School in 1957.

“I chose ‘Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)’ because of the reference it makes to the social and civil unrest of the ‘50s and ‘60s and the similar unrest we're experiencing today,” Bridgewater tells Billboard. “The ‘60s were a time of protest, so it was only logical to include a song of protest from that period for inclusion on the album. I love the close harmony of the Staple Singers, and Mavis Staples’ voice was and is a beacon of light.”

The inspiration for Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready dates back to Bridgewater’s early childhood in her birth city before relocating with her family to Flint, Michigan. Her trumpet player father Matthew Garrett was also a DJ on Memphis’ top radio station WDIA, going by the moniker “Matt the Platter Cat.” Even while growing up in neighboring Flint, Bridgewater stayed in touch with her Memphis roots through late-night radio tune-in sessions.

“With the exception of Al Green’s song and ‘(Take My Hand) Precious Lord,’ all of the songs I selected for the album are songs I heard on WDIA during the mid- to late ‘60s,” explains Bridgewater. “They had special significance to me as they stemmed from something I did secretly, listening to WDIA—which I could only catch after 11:00 p.m. at night.”

The new album (whose cover features Bridgewater as a toddler) marks another chapter in Bridgewater’s search for her familial roots and musical influences. That journey includes her 2007 album Red Earth recorded in Mali, West Africa, home to her descendants from the Peul tribe and the Fulani of Nigeria. The most recent of her three Grammy wins includes best jazz vocal album for her 2010 Billie Holiday tribute, Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee.

Adds Bridgewater of her journey back to Memphis, “I want to honor Memphis, which we call Soulsville and which has brought so much joy to so many people around the world.”

The recipient of an NEA Jazz Masters Fellows Award in April and a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, Bridgewater is currently on tour worldwide in support of Memphis … Yes I’m Ready.

The album’s track listing:

 1. Yes, I'm Ready

 2. Giving Up

 3. I Can't Get Next to You

 4. Going Down Slow

 5. Why?  (Am I Treated So Bad)

 6. B.A.B.Y.

 7. The Thrill Is Gone

 8. The Sweeter He Is

 9.  Can't Stand the Rain

10. Don't Be Cruel

11. Hound Dog

12. Try a Little Tenderness

13. (Take My Hand) Precious Lord