East Sussex-based Sarah Jane Morris' most “joyously life-affirming” album yet

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Soul, jazz and R&B singer-songwriter Sarah Jane Morris has released her most “joyously life-affirming” album yet – The Sisterhood.

A representation of Sarah Jane's roots, inspirations and love of contemporary music-making and its pioneers The Sisterhood celebrates ten female stars who dominated the singing and songwriting of the 20th century – Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Annie Lennox and Kate Bush.

Sarah Jane, who lives in St Leonards, said: “For more than 20 years I have been thinking about projects to celebrate women and our contribution to the history of song. This, at last, is it. These are my ten singers, my essential lodestars. With these stories I tell my own, acknowledge my musical tutelage and identify the women who mean so much to me. This album is dedicated to all my musical sisters, to those who went before and to those still making music. Thank you for blazing the trail, for fighting for us all with your irresistible talent and your passionate resolve.”

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The Sisterhood is Sarah Jane’s lock-down project. She and her husband Mark worked on the lyrical structures through months of isolation. As the repertoire came together, Sarah Jane and Tony Rémy, her co-writer/co-producer for the project, became convinced that the grooves and moods of the songs needed to sound “contemporary yet reflective of the styles that had guided the ears and choices of the original artists in their own times”, Sarah Jane says. They also knew that the pandemic had hollowed out their earnings, and that the ambitious project would have to be funded with little more than ingenuity and hope.

Sarah Jane Morris by Riccardo PiccirilloSarah Jane Morris by Riccardo Piccirillo
Sarah Jane Morris by Riccardo Piccirillo

With the lyrics to the ten songs completed, and the music and arrangements crafted by Sarah Jane and Tony Rémy, Sarah Jane set up residential song-writing and creative visual art weekends at home in Sussex to help the cause.

“It started out of the second lockdown as a way of keeping me sane! My husband is a visual artist and we both read to each other and I just said to him ‘Do you fancy doing a project?’ and I said what about the women in musical history who have done such important things but are not really being given their place in history for it. I chose about 50 singers to start with and I reduced it to ten and by the time I chose the ten in my head I was looking for those really that had passed the torch from generation to generation.

“And these are women that have been important on my own journey as well, women that have musically inspired me or politically inspired me. The two that are most notable within my work are Nina Simone and Janis Joplin but I feel that every one of these has been important to me. We were in lockdown at home and the only way I could get any books was Amazon and so we ordered autobiographies and biographies and my husband and I just saturated ourselves in their stories, learning about their journeys and just finding out more about them and exploring it all. We were reading to each other and we were going backwards and forwards.”