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Debbie Duncan – The First Lady of Song

She’s Superb on funky upbeat workouts, tender ballads and all kinds of jazz numbers… she energizes the ordinary and puts her stamp on everything she does.

Debbie Duncan may be considered the upper Midwest’s “best-kept-musical secret”

but she has become a local legend and treasure in her home of Minneapolis. Her personality, vitality, and versatility all contribute to that fact. She is a terrific entertainer, and this is certainly part of her appeal. Most importantly, however, “she’s a superb vocalist, probably the finest in the area/” [Bob Protzman, St. Paul Pioneer Press]

Debbie was raised in Detroit by parents steeped in jazz, and was surrounded by the vibrant sound of Motown that was sweeping the country. She also has a strong love of folk, classical, and gospel music. The combination of these influences has given her the ability to blue the lines between jazz and popular music, and to sing with a rare level of emotional conviction that draws the audience into the heart of a song. She can move from a whisper to a fever pitch in the breath of a phrase and testigy in a way that commands the listeners rapt attention. Her choice of songs reflects her background. It ranges from jazz standards by great American composers to obscure bluesy sounds [bu Oscar Brown, Jr.] to popular music [by writers like Carol King]. Always, the treatment is Debbie’s alone.

Debbie hones her skills through years of experience. She studied classical voice for 14 years, including 4 years at Wayne State University. In Detroit she recorded back-up vocals for Mitch Ryder and Bob Seger. She then spent several years in the Los Angeles music scene recording back-up vocals for various artists and performing with her own jazz groups in popular nightclub settings.

Originally brought to Minneapolis by Rupert’s Nightclub. This ambitious and widely popular new club featured only the strongest performers and a crack 10-piece band. Jon Bream of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune raved: “Duncan is quite simply the star of the show… she’s superb on funky upbeat workouts, tender ballads and all kinds of jazz numbers; she energizes the ordinary and puts her stamp on everything she does.”

She soon got noticed by the rest of the Twin Cities music community and began working extensively with her own trio. Composed of master pianist Don Stille, bassist Gary Raynor [formerly in Sammy Davis Jr’s trio] and Phil Hey [one of the finest bop drummers in the Midwest], they found themselves in constant demand. Debbie has since then surrounded herself with some of the Twin Cities finest musicians creating many different sound, colors, and textures.

She started collecting awards; Best Female Jazz Vocalist, Best Jazz Vocalist, Best Female Performer, Best Jazz Group, Best Jazz CD: Minnesota Music Awards; Best Female Jazz Vocalist: Minnesota Black Music Awards.

As her reputation grew, touring musicians began to learn about her and inviting her to sit in on their performances.

Debbie has sung with Bobby Watson and Horizon, Roy Hargrove, Bobby Lyle, Jack McDuff, John Hendricks, Mark Murphy, Chicago’s legendary Von Freeman, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Rececca Paris. She received rave reviews opening for greats such as Herbie Hancock, Stephan Grapelli, Miles Davis, Lou Rawls and Joe Henderson. She also sang on Jimmy McGriff’s CD, “In a Blue Meed”, where her track of Dr. Feelgood was the most-played tune on that CD.

Debbie has now expanded her musical horizons nationally to such places as the legendary “Snug Harbor” in New Orleans, “The Green Mill” in Chicago, “Bay Fest Blues Festival” in Mobile Alabama, “Alabama Blues and Jazz Federation” in Montgomery, “Black Hills Jazz Festival” in Black Hills South Dakota, the “Sioux Falls Jazz Festival” in South Dakota and the “KBEM Jazz Festival” in Minneapolis Minnesota.

Let’s not leave out the Eastern area. Debbie has performed at the Baltimore Museum of Arts, Montpelier Art Museum in Laural Maryland, Studio 57 in Washington D.C., and at “Don’t Tell Mama” in New York city. We certainly can’t forget her being invited back two years in a row to the Latitudes Hotel in Paris, 1996-1997. Debbie performed at the Du Maurier Jazz Festival, and various other jazz cenus in Vancouver, B.C.

Duncan is a very civic-minded, conscientious person often donating her time and talents to organizations geared to helping others. She’s often seen performing in benefits for AIDS, Women’s Abuse, Black College Funds, Alzheimers, Senior Citizens and book giving programs for kids. She’s been featured on complication discs benefiting organizations such as Camp Heartland for Kids with AIDS, and Memory Moments for Alzheimers. For the past five years she has been an instructor at Music Tech College teaching a Vocal performance workshop, helping young, upcoming performers to hone their talents.

Debbie an entertainer constantly evolving in her craft, continues to grow in her artistry. her 1995 CD release and holiday concert, performed at the renowned Guthrie Theater “proved that she just keeps getting better”, Bret Robson, Star-Tribune Music Review. Her CD “Live at the Dakota” has and still is drawing much deserved attention nationally. She is also the featured vocalist on Adi Yeshaya’s big band CD [Nice one for Boo]. She recently released a wonderful new CD “travelin’ at the Speed of Love”. Duncan is always pressing forward, digging deep into her creative energies, ever moving towards her destiny.

As word spreads even more about this talented and versatile performer, she is poised to become a major voice in American music. And she deserves to be, for she has earned the praise of those who have heard her with a constant commitment to her art. Critical phrases like “Stole the Show”, “Star of the Show”, “Blew away the crowd”. and “No such thing as a sub par performance by the versatile Duncan” are common in her reviews.

They are responding to a rare combination on personality and vocal talent that promises to build an expanding base of renown wherever she sings.

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