Had singer Mary Ann Redmond started recording in the ‘60s or ‘70s instead of the ‘90s, it's quite possible that she would have gone down in history as one of the major soul stars of the Baby Boomer era. A gritty, rugged, big-voiced belter whose primary influences range from Ike & Tina Turner to Etta James and Aretha Franklin, Redmond would have been perfect for the gospel-influenced soul climate of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Perhaps she could appeal to the urban contemporary market of the 21st century if she had more of a hip-hop-ish neo-soul approach à la Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, or Jaguar Wright, but Redmond's R&B is untouched by the high-tech, hip-hop-influenced urban contemporary sounds of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s -- she is, for the most part, a gutsy, hard-edged soul singer in the classic sense (although with a definite rock edge most of the time), and Redmond's fans love the fact that she is unapologetically retro in her outlook. Some have described Redmond as a blues singer, which often happens when artists favor classic soul over urban contemporary; these days, the blues bins are full of CDs that are really more soul than blues. But even though Redmond can easily handle 12-bar blues (as well as rock and jazz), soul is really her main focus, at least on her CDs.
Born and raised in Richmond, VA, Redmond grew up listening to a variety of R&B, rock, and pop. Redmond's interest in music was encouraged by her mother (who sang, although not professionally) and her two brothers (one of whom taught her to play the guitar). As a teenager, she learned to play "House of the Rising Sun" on the guitar, but singing -- not guitar playing -- would become Redmond's primary focus. After graduating from high school, Redmond majored in voice at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and studied operatic classical singing. But at night, she performed in various rock and jazz bands on and around the VCU campus. Although the faculty at VCU felt that Redmond had great potential as a classical singer, she decided that a classical career wasn't for her and opted to concentrate on rock, R&B, and jazz instead. After moving to the Washington, DC area in the early ‘90s, Redmond was hired as a featured vocalist for the soul/funk-oriented band that saxman/flutist Al Williams led in DC and its suburbs. Eventually, the singer left Williams' employ and formed her own band, which performed a combination of covers and Redmond originals. As a solo artist, Redmond developed a small but enthusiastic following in the Washington DC area, and along the way, she won quite a few Wammie awards. Held by the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA), the Wammies are the local DC equivalent of the Grammies, and in the ‘90s and early 2000s, Redmond won a total of 14 Wammies (including awards for "Best Rock-Pop Vocalist," "Best Female Jazz Singer," "Best Roots Rock/Traditional R&B Vocalist," "Best Urban Contemporary Vocalist," and "Best Female Blues Vocalist"). Locally, Redmond created enough of a buzz to open for major soul veterans when they passed through DC, including the O'Jays, the Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Ashford & Simpson, and the Neville Brothers.
Also in the DC area, one of Redmond's strongest supporters has been singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, who invited Redmond to go on tour with her in 1999 as a background vocalist. Another DC resident who was an enthusiastic Redmond supporter was her friend Eva Cassidy, an eclectic, hard-to-categorize singer who was only 33 when she died of cancer in 1996. Redmond's solo albums have included, Prisoner of the Heart, 1997's Live!, and 2000's Here I Am, all of which she released on her own Spellbound label. In 2002, Prisoner of the Heart was re-released by the independent Q&W Music Group. ~ Alex Henderson