Forget Her Nots: Patrice Rushen Compilation Captures Formative Elektra Years

Jul 18, 2019
Originally published on July 18, 2019 5:52 pm

From 1978 to 1984, Patrice Rushen recorded a series of hits for Elektra Records that helped define the sound of late-era disco and R&B. The Los Angeles singer and keyboard player's Elektra years were brief but prolific, generating such iconic jams as "Haven't You Heard" and "Forget Me Nots." Due out July 19, the compilation record Remind Me: The Classic Elektra Recordings 1978-1984 revisits that formative period in Rushen's industry-spanning musical career.

Rushen actually began her recording career not as a soul singer, but as a jazz piano prodigy. Her earliest albums, which were mostly fusion and straight-ahead jazz LPs made for Prestige Records, showcase her talents as a writer, keyboard player and arranger.

It was only when Rushen transitioned to Elektra in 1978 that she began to sing her own vocals. Her voice proved to be something of a secret power — one that had been previously hiding in plain sight.

Rushen sang in a way that easily complemented and furthered the dominant R&B style of the period. By the late '70s, R&B was deep into its quiet-storm era of softer, smoother ballads. Lighter, higher voices like Minnie Riperton's ruled the radio waves at the time. Rushen — with her youthful, lilting tone — fit right in.

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Much more than fitting in, though, Rushen's singing is representative of broader shifts in pop culture of the 1970s and '80s. Rushen's years with Elektra, as captured in the Remind Me anthology, spanned a crucial, transitional time in black popular music. The sound of soul that had dominated the beginning of the '70s had gradually gave way to funk, which, in turn, ushered in disco and any of Rushen's hits from the era reverberate with those dance-inspired influences.

By 1984, the year Rushen released her fifth and final Elektra album, Now, the rise of hip-hop had initiated another sea-change within R&B that largely sidelined the cadre of established stars like Rushen. Nonetheless, Rushen's stature in the music industry grew in other ways as she expanded her sights beyond performing. Since those years in the spotlight, Rushen has gone on to become a music director for the Grammys and Emmys, a composer for film and television and a music professor at USC.

In the grand arc of Rushen's career, the Elektra years were just one chapter. But as brief as they may seem in hindsight, those years generated so many iconic jams, fans don't really need much to remind them.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now we want to remind you about a musician who helped define the sound of late-era disco and R&B.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORGET ME NOTS")

PATRICE RUSHEN: (Singing) Sending you forget-me-nots.

CHANG: From 1978 through 1984, Los Angeles singer and keyboard player Patrice Rushen recorded a number of hits for Elektra Records. Rushen is doing different things these days, but Oliver Wang has a review of a new anthology that revisits those early years. It's called "Remind Me."

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: It's easy to forget that Patrice Rushen began her recording career not as a soul singer but as a jazz piano prodigy.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATRICE RUSHEN'S "SHORTIE'S PORTION")

WANG: Her earliest albums for Prestige Records were mostly fusion and straight-ahead jazz LPs showcasing her talents as a writer, keyboard player and arranger.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATRICE RUSHEN'S "SHORTIE'S PORTION")

WANG: When Rushen moved to Elektra in 1978, her vocals took the spotlight. And that seemed to unlock a secret power previously hidden in plain sight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I FOUND YOU")

RUSHEN: (Singing) I found love when I found you. Happiness lives in my heart today. And now I can feel togetherness so real 'cause I found love, baby, when I found you.

WANG: Rushen was never a power singer on par with Aretha, but by the late '70s, R&B into its quiet storm era of softer, smoother ballads. Lighter, higher voices such as those of Minnie Riperton dominated radio - and Rushen, with her youthful, lilting tone, fit right in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE THERE IS LOVE")

RUSHEN: (Singing) I'm holding in my hand all the gifts of love you gave me. But the wind will fall away like a tiny grain of sand. The rising of the sun begins the day of our learning. Love will never end, our hearts forever yearning. Where there is love, you'll always find somebody.

WANG: Rushen's Elektra years, captured in the new anthology "Remind Me," span a crucial, transitional time in black popular music. The sound of soul that dominated the beginning of the '70s had gradually given way to funk, then disco. And many of Rushen's hits from this time reverberate with those dance-inspired influences.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORGET ME NOTS")

RUSHEN: (Singing) Was it the simple things that made me so crazy about you? Was it your charm or your passion? It's not hard to believe. I love you, and I need you. So I'm sending you forget-me-nots to help me to remember.

WANG: By 1984, the year Rushen released her fifth and final Elektra album, the rise of hip-hop initiated another sea change within R&B, one that sidelined established stars like Rushen. But her stature in the music industry only grew as she became a music director for the Grammys and Emmys, a composer for film and television and a music professor at USC. In the grand arc of Patrice Rushen's career, the Elektra years were just one chapter. Yet, brief as they may seem in hindsight, those years generated so many iconic jams that fans don't really need much to remind them.

CHANG: Oliver Wang is a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and co-host of the podcast "Heat Rocks."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMIND ME")

RUSHEN: (Singing) In love with you darling. Remind me. Yeah, yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.