Another Great Voice is Gone…
By Dawn! E. Robinson
Feb. 28, 2005
You know, we watch, read or hear about so much bad news on a regular basis, we are almost immune to it. The sun still rises and life goes on and we continue to go through the same old routine. But then, one day, the phone rings and someone tells you something that makes you stop and wonder what in the world – how in the world… I got that phone call last week when a musician-friend told me that DC-area vocalist PAM BRICKER had committed suicide.
PAM BRICKER???!!! She WHAT?!?!? That CAN’T be right!!! PAM BRICKER, in addition to being one of the greatest singers I had ever heard in my life, always seemed to be one of the happiest, focused, well-adjusted people I’d ever met. My naive side wondered why in the world someone with a voice as good as hers would want to commit suicide. I immediately thought back ten years or so to r&b star Phyllis Hyman who had chosen the same route of departure. I had wondered the same thing about her back then. Over the last week, I have gotten small bits and pieces of a still un-finished puzzle. Pam had apparently battled clinical depression for most of her life, but only those in her closest circle of family, friends and band mates, knew about it. While that information made it a little easier to take than thinking she just, out of the blue, decided to end it all, the fact remains that another great voice is gone.
Of course there’s more to her story – far more than I know and more than can be addressed on a website about singing. For our purposes here, I will focus on what I do know about PAM BRICKER. Her voice…
I think there are certain singers who embody what a real singer is; what a great singer is. For me, PAM BRICKER is… was… IS one of those singers. Pam is a singer’s singer - the kind of singer that singers love to listen to. Hearing Pam sing is like getting a free voice lesson. Pam is a versatile singer – an endangered species in this time of cookie-cutter, package-heavy, sound-alike, look-alike, vocal lightweights who are focused more on image than vocal ability. Pam has a wide voice range with a full, warm, rich tone. She completely knows her voice and is in total control of it – whether singing straight tones or using vibrato. I never heard her sing a bad note! She is infuriating (smile). Pam can sing ANYTHING and make it look easy! Her voice can rock, swing, flow, soar or shout. Her tone can be sassy, brassy and edgy or subtle, hushed and lilting. Pam has a great ear and she can jump octaves and scat like Sarah Vaughan. Her voice can be smooth and lyrical or sharp and rhythmic. As a listener, you can tell that she understands what a song is about and her improvisations emphasize the lyrics – they are never just empty vocal acrobatics; they help tell the story. She can belt Broadway-style or croon a ballad. Pam can also serve cabaret chanteuse on a platter. She can sing in foreign languages with impeccable diction. Her voice is a natural fit for whatever genre she sings. She sounds comfortable singing straight ahead, blues, contemporary jazz, techno, Brazilian jazz, songs by Steely Dan or Stevie Wonder, you name it – she can sing it and sing it well. I never heard her sing opera, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she ever did. PAM BRICKER is truly a vocal virtuoso.
I met Pam in the late 80s on a studio gig for a commercial jingle. I was a recent college grad and had only been back in DC about a year. Pam was one of several other singers on the session. They all knew each other and I was the new kid in the room just trying not to be in the way. The writer/producer had heard a tape of my singing prior to the session and when he assigned harmonies, he paired me with Pam. Our voices blended perfectly and we had big fun singing together.
At some point in the song, Pam sang a solo part and I was immediately impressed. Her voice had a familiarity to it which I couldn’t figure out at first. During a break in the session, I found out she had sung on a commercial jingle for Manhattan Auto in the DC area that had a 40s swing feel and voices in close jazz harmonies. In the middle of the song was a solo line that went “Come see why we are” and the group sang “The first name in imported cars.” That solo line was sung by PAM BRICKER. I remembered that as a kid, whenever I had heard that jingle, I used to try to mimic the voice on that solo line. Now, here I was, singing with that voice in the studio.
Over the years since, Pam and I would run into each other here and there – at a studio session, CD release party or gig. We sang together live a few times, totally impromptu, and had a blast. Between 1996 and 2001, Pam and I were nominated for Washington Area Music Awards (WAMMIEs) in the Best Contemporary Jazz Vocalist category. She beat me… often (smile). But I didn’t really mind losing to her because she was so great! In fact the one time I did win that category – in 1998 – she had not been nominated.
As I’ve worked on writing this piece, I’ve been listening to three of Pam’s recordings: the 1994 CD Looking Good – The Songs of David Frishberg, “Anjo Do Amor (Angel of Love)” from Al Williams’ 1996 CD Never Too Late and 2000’s Utopia. As good as she sings on these CDs, none really exhibits all of the special qualities one would hear when she sang live – and that’s sad. It also makes me regret not making more of an effort to go down the street to Utopia on Sunday evenings to hear her.
I wasn’t close enough to Pam to know about the depression she had dealt with, especially in the last few months, weeks and days that led her to take her own life. Whenever I saw her, she always looked happy – she was smiling, laughing, big blue eyes sparkling, and she was always, always, ALWAYS singing her face off! It is an especially tragic and terrifying thought that, with a voice as inspiring and therapeutic as hers, she was so deep in an emotional place where her own singing could not calm her “demons”. Until recently, I had no way of knowing how long she had suffered or how hard she had tried to get help during her last days. But even without knowing the details, Pam’s exit from this life screams volumes about the lack of affordable healthcare in this country. It speaks to what recourse musicians and other artists who are not making the superstar bucks have in seeking and receiving medical care they need and the complete and full treatment their problems require - especially in the area of mental illness.
The saddest thing for me about Pam’s death is that another great singer is gone forever and it’s not like we’ve got a surplus of great singers out here. Great singers are far and very few between. And now, we are minus one more. If Pam really had to go, she should have done so with a huge discography, critical acclaim and countless national and international music awards left behind. But today’s music industry does not know what to do with great singers like PAM BRICKER. Maybe the recognition she so truly deserved would have made a difference and maybe it wouldn’t. Now, we’ll never know for sure.
For more about the career of PAM BRICKER, visit www.pambricker.com
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