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Canadian singer Elise LeGrow reimagines the classic R&B of Chess Records

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Singer Elise LeGrow is from Toronto, but her grandfather was from Chicago where he worked as a jazz drummer.

So it’s somewhat fitting that her debut album is a tribute to the great music that was released by Chicago’s Chess record label. LeGrow’s album, titled “Playing Chess,” includes her covers of songs by Chess label greats including Chuck Berry, Etta James and Bo Diddley. LeGrow recently spoke with The Frame about her album and her influences.


Interview Highlights:

On what she likes about early R&B vocalists:

Listening to singers like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Martha Reeves — there are so many colors and textures to their voices and it means that years later, you're listening and it's still so compelling. 

On deciding which Chess recordings she wanted to cover:

It took us months of research and brainstorming. We spent hours just playing songs for each other — songs that we had found. There were certain songs — especially songs that were already very well-known — I felt there was no point in doing them unless we were going to do them radically different.

On her producer Steve Greenberg's rendition of Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell':

The melody in "You Never Can Tell" for example was actually written by Steve Greenberg decades ago before he had ever actually heard Chuck Berry's recording of that song. I think people don't often recognize that's even the song until 'c'est la vie' comes along.

On working with soul legend and producer, Betty Wright:

Meeting Betty Wright and having her involvement in the project was incredible. She was very involved in all of the vocal arranging. She was helping with things as big as all the background vocal production, which is a pretty big umbrella, down to when all of my Rs were sounding like Ws and she could give me little exercises to make that consonant come out right. 

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