Born in 1961 in Berwyn, PA. Education: Attended Berklee School of Music. Addresses: Record company--The Blue Note Labels, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, 35th Flr., New York, NY, 10104.

Rachelle Ferrell began performing professionally when she was a teenager--writing much of her own material, accompanying herself on piano, singing both popular and jazz styles with equal ease. In her late twenties she secured a record deal. Since the release of her first album in 1990, her reputation has spread slowly but steadily. She has toured Europe and the United states, performing to rave reviews at both pop concerts and jazz festivals. Said Washington Post contributor Mike Joyce of Ferrell, "More than a natural singer, Ferrell is a natural wonder.... [She is] capable of singing anything and everything.... Few, if any, singers on the pop scene can match Ferrell's dynamic, octave-leaping range, bordered by low, resonating chest tones that imbue her ballads with a sultry allure, and ear-splitting falsetto flourishes."

Ferrell, raised near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was surrounded by music as a child; her father was an amateur jazz musician, and she heard jazz, gospel, and classical music around the house. She studied violin at school and piano at home. She told USA Today, "I consider myself an instrumentalist first." At 13 Ferrell began singing professionally when she was asked to be a last-minute substitute for another singer. From then on, she sang every chance she got--"from funerals to dog fights," she joked to the San Francisco Chronicle's Lee Hildegrand.

After attending the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, Ferrell returned to the Philadelphia area. For the next decade she continued to sing in a variety of venues, from bars to gospel choirs, from opera companies to recording studios as backup for singers like Lou Rawls, Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Williams, and George Duke. In her solo performances she frequently sang her own pop songs in addition to jazz standards. During those years she developed a devoted following. She told the San Francisco Chronicle that her Philadelphia-area audiences frequently knew the songs she'd written almost as well as she did. "I don't [always] have background singers" she explained. "[The audience members] will take it upon themselves to sing all the background parts and will be in tune, too. It's quite a surprise." Despite this local success, though, Ferrell could not secure a recording contract. She characterized her problem to USA Today, saying, "I'd get letters from record companies saying 'Dear Rachelle. You're wonderful. Unfortunately, we've filled our roster for black female vocalists.'"

But by the late 1980s Ferrell's luck had changed. She sent a demo tape of her own compositions to Blue Note Records' Bruce Lundvall, who was impressed enough to catch her live. While the demo she'd sent Lundvall included only pop songs, the performance he saw was strictly of jazz material. Lundvall found Ferrell's command of both styles compelling, so he signed her to a contract that allowed for one pop record and one jazz record. She recorded the jazz album, Somethin' Else, first, but for commercial reasons Blue Note only released it in Japan and Europe, where jazz has greater mainstream acceptance than in the U.S. This was fine with Ferrell, who noted in USA Today, "I didn't want to be pigeon-holed. [Singer] Dianne Reeves would tell me horror stores. Her first album was jazz, and no matter what kind of album she puts out now, it'll be in the jazz bin." Coinciding with the release of this album, Ferrell began a lengthy tour of both Europe and Japan.

Ferrell's second album, consisting strictly of popular music, was released in the United States in 1992. She wrote ten of the 13 songs represented and played piano on three cuts. One song, "Too Late," was written for her father, with whom she has had a troubled relationship. "It was born out of excruciating pain," she confided in USA Today." Ferrell worked with producers George Duke and Michael J. Powell on the album, which took two years to complete. It was recorded almost fully live, which is unusual in an industry where synthesized instruments, layered vocals, and electronic correction of mistakes is the norm. "I wanted something ... that somebody can put on and change their mood, and something I would be proud of ten years down the road," Ferrell asserted in USA Today.

The self-titled album received excellent reviews; its commercial success, however, was limited, partly because the record received scant radio play. Ferrell was disappointed by Blue Note's promotional efforts. "It did not get the attention from the record company it deserved," Ferrell told The San Francisco Chronicle. "It's lasted a year as kind of an orphan child." Part of the problem, she pointed out in USA Today, is that the music market is geared towards young artists and a young audience. Expressing the concerns of many an artist, Ferrell said, "We've honed our art for years, but right now, the trend is toward the very young and the immediate dollar."

In an unusual turnaround, Capitol Records, parent company of Blue Note, decided to put some muscle behind the album--two years after its premiere. As Ferrell continued her extensive performance tours in America, the label began to blitz each city on her itinerary with heavy sales promotions just before and after her concerts. The company also produced a promotional concert video for local broadcasts to coincide with area appearances. In August of 1994, a fourth single, "With Open Arms," was released to radio. Sales of Rachelle Ferrell steadily increased with these renewed efforts.

As she has released further albums and her fame has spread, Ferrell has steadfastly resisted the efforts of some in the industry to force her to narrow her musical range to just jazz or pop. She summed up her struggle in The San Francisco Chronicle: "After close to 20 years of being accepted for who I am ... and having diversity being a moniker for my sound, to have to deal with the constant pressure from the record company, as well as the media, to have to choose or splinter myself in order to accommodate their structures is a bit much after a while.... My major focus and goal right now, if I am to remain in this industry, is to be able to find some type of way to strike a balance in my life and in my career and to be able to retain my integrity. If I can't do that, the cost is gonna be too much and I'm not willing to pay it."

In fact, Ferrell seems to have no choice but to work in both the pop and jazz idioms. She told The San Francisco Chronicle that when asked "'Rachelle, if you had to choose between jazz and pop, which would you chose?'" she responds with, "If you have to choose between your right leg and your left leg...." Fortunately, her adoring fans do not seem to want her to make such a choice.

by Robin Armstrong

Rachelle Ferrell's Career

Made professional debut, c. 1974; performed in clubs in Philadelphia area and sang backup for Lou Rawls, Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Williams, and George Duke, 1975-90; signed to Blue Note Records; released debut album, Somethin' Else, 1990; toured Japan and Europe, 1990-92, and U.S., 1992-94; appeared at Montreux Jazz Festival, 1990, and Newport, Martinique, and Santa Lucia jazz festivals, 1994.

Famous Works

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 2 years ago

I was searching youtube for a different type of music when I ran across Rachelle. Instantly I knew she was the missing sound for which I was searching. So deeply rooted in gospel, jazz, and r&b. I was instantly hooked. Found myself listening to her music & falling in love again with myself. Her music was the inner whisper I needed to hear. So giving, so soothing, and so talented. No pretence and no forced runs. Sister you are truly blessed. Thank you!

over 3 years ago

Rachelle Ferrell is a timeless artist. I live in the DC area and since moving here in 2003, I have only missed one performance by Rachelle, no matter where she is; Blues Alley, Birchmere,or Warner Theater. Every time seems to be like the very first time at Blues Alley in Oct. 2003. She mezmerized my husband and I. The kicker is that she don't have to have anything new featured, with her instrumental vocals, she creates the atmosphere for her music - forreal!!! As she always says, and I quote - " Everybody ain't able." Rachelle, use your gifted-talent to it's fullest extent, and continue to give God the glory as you do, He will continue to shower down blessings upon you.

over 3 years ago

I am a die hard fan! I have never in my life heard an artist sing as Rachelle Ferrell! In my humble opinion, I think she is by far the best pure singer in the world hands down & I've heard some great singers! It's sad that singers like her get under-rated in the music industry compared to some of the crap that's out now & these young artist that have to have background dancers, props, tricks on stage, & voice enhancements, & lets not forget sell sex to be successful!Older artist get discriminated against for their age & have to deal with being put in one set genre of music! The music industry & the world needs to hear more of Rachelle Ferrell! Whenever she starts touring again, I'll be there!Kudos to you! You are a true, rare, raw, pure, gifted singer. God can only bless you with that! Your vocal abilities are out of this world! You are clearly ahead of your time & the music industry needs to catch up with you!

over 3 years ago

I first heard your music in the late 90’s and have loved you ever since. You truly are amazingly talented, and your voice range and the lyrics you write are simply awesome. As I am someone who grew up and sang in the church, I will say you are totally blessed with a voice of an angel. I told my sister she had to listen to you because you had a voice we refer to as “old school.” When she found you would be performing at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, she surprised me with tickets to see you perform live. We had an entourage of 10, and we all left the theatre electrified by your performance which we still talk about to this day. I also want to say you were just incredible at the Soul Train Awards honoring Anita Baker. My sister and I are trying to get the group together again to see you in L.A. at the Catalina Bar & Grill. Many Blessings. Shlynn & Sondi

about 4 years ago

I think Rachelle is just awesome. I wish I could see more of her. I would love to see her doing more concerts. She is not out there enough for me. No one will ever match her in singing. She is just awesome. I would love to see her do a special on TV1 or MTV. Let's see more of her. I love to hear her sing.

about 4 years ago

Peace and blessing, art has no limit so as an artist we have a lot to look forward to and share life is for the living it is not a spectator sport, the more participation the more joy...much love to all.

over 4 years ago

I cannot find the right words to express how blessed I was to FEEL her share her soul.I've sang all of my life with a passion that came from the pit of me.I sat it down,until now.I have a renewed passion, not just from hearing her vocals,but from her words of wisdom.Rachelle I thank you and when the alignments align I look forward to hearing from you.God Bless

over 4 years ago

The Jacksonville community is waiting anxiously for the beautiful, vivacious soulful vocalist Rachelle Ferrell to return and light up the Ritz Theatre stage February 13,2010.

over 4 years ago

Hi Rachelle, I really feel like nobody in this world loves you more than I do, but I know some would beg to differ! I have followed you for years and you will never know just how much inspiration you have been in my life. The most recent experience I had with you was this past September @ the Jazz Festival in Orange County. It was my birthday & OMG! You sang happy birthday to the September people who gave their names and I was one of'em..all I could do was cry and say WOW! Me and another fan of yours met you on stage during your exit, & tried to hug & kiss you too death! lol. That was the best birthday I ever had in my life! I hope to get the opportunity to engage again soon. I will be coming to your next concert in LA in March! You are 'unexplainable' but for now I will sum it up to AMAZING! I Love You so much Rachelle. Always..Cym LaJoy

over 4 years ago

love ya, love ya, especially love it when nope, can say when I heard you sing Thank You; I love to hear your voice peroid whatever you're singing. I must say though I felt that song soooooooooooooooo deeply, though.

over 4 years ago

I first heard Rachelle on George Duke song "no rhyme no reason". I looked for everything I could find of her afterward. In the later 90's I told my teenage daughter to see her every time she was in Houston,Tx. My daughter was attending the High School of Performing and Visual Arts in Houston at the time. It had a huge impact on her, her vocals, and idea of what was possible. A small number of humans have unique gifts and Rachelle Ferrell has IT. Humanity must celebrate artist like Rachelle because she is teaching us about ourselves.

almost 5 years ago

Ms. Ferrell, you are such a unbelieveable songtress. I love you. You are so spiritually uplifting. God Blessed you wonderfully... Be Blessed.

almost 5 years ago

RACHELLE FERRELL YOU ARE JUST UNIQUE AND BLESSED.

almost 5 years ago

I really enjoy your vocals, can't wait to hear more from you in the near future. Your voice is an unbelieveable instrument. I just left your concert in Country Club Hills,Il,August 2009. It was the second one for me. Your were spirtually uplifting as well, of course I wanted more. Thank you for your expressions of your faith. I also lost a little wager, I thought your were younger than you actually are, you look great.

about 5 years ago

One of the best voices....ever, from a former professional singer.

about 5 years ago

Rachelle, First and foremost I realize that you are involved in a business ... one with many nuances of which I probably don't have a clue. But please realize that you have thousands of loving and devoted fans (and I'm at the head of that line) that know every word to every song that you have recorded thus far. We are literally begging for you to come out with a new recording ... it's been years ... please think about it!

over 5 years ago

I've been a fan of yours since I saw you on Showtime at the Apollo '92. I wish you would come to Atlanta soon. Be blessed and keep on singing. Fan4life.

over 5 years ago

I think that she is the best singer I have ever heard. I once was a singer and I lost my feeling for doing it but listening to Rachell has really let me know what I stopped developing. I loved singing at one time and felt the music in the same way that she does but I lost it and I enjoy hearing Rachell because she is great, talented and untouchable. I wish evertime I hear Rachell that I didn't stop and my voice is nothing like it use to be so I find pleasure listening to Rachell to bring back goooood memories. Thanks Rachell for your gift to the world and keep on singing forever. Bye for now (smile) Amber Kelly

almost 6 years ago

Rachelle I think you are the greatest and every time you are here in Los Angeles, CA I make it a point to see you. I think you voice is the most beautiful and you have such great ranges. I love your spirit, your soul and the love you give to the people every time you sing is just the best and it makes me have such a wonderful feeling and commection when I am at your concert. Keep up the wonderderful God given talent/gift that he has given to you. You make beautiful music,sound, connections, expressions,feeling you make the world a happy place to be in when at a session with you. Your voice is one of a kind, it is unique. Always treasure this gift that God has given to you, you are One Of A Kind. May success contine for you, you deserve much more and it is coming. Love you a little, a lot, much, very, very much. Linda Lee-Tucker In Los Angeles, CA p.s. please let me know when you are coming to L.A.