On a wintry February afternoon, a frightened little girl's mother tried to ignore an outraged passenger on a Queens, NY bus. Apparently the mother stepped on the passenger's foot by accident and an apology would not do. The five year old girl, trembling at the passenger's angry voice, clung to her mother's leg. The mother told her daughter “Just think happy thoughts until we get off the bus” and immediately the little girl started singing the chorus to Paula Ralph Birkett’s song Fearless "You ain't slowing me down. I got somewhere to be, I got somewhere to go”. Soon, not only did the outraged passenger stop mid-sentence, but the entire back of the bus turned to listen to the little girl encourage herself. It is for this reason Paula is a creative catalyst using music, spoken word, theatrical and workshop presentations as envelops of illustration.
Fearless, a soul jazz single independently released by Paula in 2010, was the precursor to her soon to be released debut EP #SomethingBetter. Paula doesn't claim to be the something better but hopes to stir something better in her listeners. "Most of my songs are very personal and illustrate the struggles and stresses of living. But also the hope life can bring, if we choose it.”
The start of #SomethingBetter
The stirrings of something better began in Hempstead, Long Island in her mother’s basement. She vividly remembers singing the R&B slow jam “This Time I’ll be Sweeter” as her mother, in the midst of a divorce from Paula’s father, laid in the dark, on a green well worn couch listening to every word. After the last note, silence hung in the air until her mother whispered “Sing it again baby.” That’s when the spark was lit to use her gift for others.
Paula began her professional career in musical theater working in regional theaters throughout the New York Tri-State area. She developed her songwriting ability writing R&B and Gospel, and expanded her vocal production ability thru Dance/House music, including the James Preston Jr. joint Ain’t No Runnin’ Away, produced by Willy Washington. She also sang as a featured vocalist in international gospel ensembles that toured Europe. Paula has performed and written dramatic presentations and spoken word pieces in the New York Metro area and has played in music venues big and small, such as the Schomburg Library for Black Culture, The Greene Space at WNYC, the United Nations, and the Dwyer Cultural Center. She is currently the featured vocalist in the progressive jazz group Tyrone Birkett | Emancipation. Although she shines her gift on their current recording Postmodern Spirituals - The Promised Land, the idea of #SomethingBetter would not leave her alone.
Elements of #SomgthingBetter
Paula Ralph Birkett’s music is a journey thru Rachelle Farrell soul, Dianne Reeves sound, and Bill Withers sincerity. Although the EP was originally titled Sweet Life, having written all the songs on #SomethingBetter, Paula wanted the name to hint at songs that could actually add something better to life, even if for just 3 or 5 minutes. For example, Sweet Life a bright soul-pop tune was birthed as Paula and her husband Tyrone Birkett were coming home from the laundromat. Whiffs of freshly cleanedclothes couldn't break the putrid smell of frustration that hangs in the air when life doesn't work out the way you planned. But when she considered the life they had already built and shared, like a boom of thunder she heard the chorus Sweet Life/ Lovely Life/ I GET to live. It’s moments of decision like this that she hopes to give her listeners.
These are songs Paula has not only written and sung with her heart, but lived with her life. Choose to Live, a soulful R&B joint, is about a colleague Paula knew whose husband had left her after 17 years of marriage. Her teenage daughter tried to commit suicide because she thought she was the reason her father left. Paula remembers this women saying with tears welling in her eyes “I gotta keep living. I gotta live for my daughter.” The revelation that choosing to live is a powerful 'decision' inspired Paula to create the piece.
Though the EP deals with the battles of real life there is always an element of optimism. Gotta Open Up Your Eyes, Paula’s take on ‘70’s jazz fusion, is her rebuttal to the argument that love is blind. She says “I believe God is Love and that He wants to show us Himself. But Love can be hard to see thru tough circumstances.” Her heart can be heard in the lyrics Awake to what you seek/ Fear is putting you to sleep/ Darkness is telling Lies/ Love hurt the last time/ But devotion is not blind/ To clearly see what can be/ you Gotta Open Up Your Eyes. Heroes, a dramatic singer/songwriter tune, shines a light on the fact that everyday ordinary people Could be brave/ Maybe save the day/ And help someone hold their head high. And the inspiration for the title tune Something Better, with its unintended Latin feel and much intended funk, came as Paula restlessly sat at a corporate job.
Under the hum of florescent lights with defeat whispering sour nothings in her ear, a co-worker rushed by and interrupted her thoughts. Just beneath the woman’s breath Paula heard her say “There’s got to be something better than this.” That’s when she was reminded that others needed the same impetus as she did to follow long forgotten dreams left on the shelf.
Although Paula wrote this music for folks going through some kind of transition - building a business, recovering from a loss, creating a family, getting healthy, becoming an adult - she believes everyone has a champion inside that could use a little reinforcement. She says, “Every superhero needs a soundtrack to win. And #SomethingBetter is that soundtrack.”
She is currently booking and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Bandcamp. Visit her website www.singpaula.com so you can stir up the #SomethingBetter in you.