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What Has Changed In America Since Carleen Anderson Left Twenty Years Ago? Apparently, Nothing.
As she geared up for an intimate, unplugged gig in Southend, Carleen Anderson spoke to Charles Thomson about American politics, the Trayvon Martin shooting and being James Brown's goddaughter .
Weds 11th April 2012, Yellow Advertiser

BRIT AWARD nominee Carleen Anderson debuted her new band in Leigh-On-Sea on Sunday night.

The singer-songwriter premiered her new jazz trio in an unplugged set at The Boatyard.

The gig was part of the 'Tongue and Groove' series, which sees established acts deliver intimate performances at the seaside restaurant.

Carleen, who shot to fame in the 1990s as the lead singer of the Young Disciples, battled flu for three weeks as she prepared for the show.

She got through her eight-song set on Sunday by drinking rum and sucking throat sweets.

Speaking before the show she said she could never cancel a gig.

“There are other people depending on you, like your band," she explained. "You don't work, they don't work.”

Carleen was surrounded by professional musicians as a child, who would perform in the face of all manner of setbacks.

She was raised by her paternal grandparents while her mother, singer Vicki Anderson, toured with James Brown. Her stepfather was Brown's co-vocalist on Sex Machine, Bobby Byrd, and the Godfather of Soul became her real-life godfather.

She joked: “You know how godfathers always give god children some money for ice cream or that sort of thing? Of course, his way of giving money was lots of money. He'd be giving me £1,000 and saying, 'You take your son out for ice cream'.”

It was a James Brown tribute tour in 1989 which gave Carleen her real start in the music industry. Her stepfather Bobby Byrd had taken her on the road while Brown was in jail for drugs and driving offences.

She has since been the lead singer of the Brand New Heavies, received a Brit Award nomination for her first solo album and collaborated with the likes of Jools Holland and Paul Weller - and yet, she almost never entered the industry at all.

"My grandfather was a strict, fundamentalist pastor," she recalled. "He didn't believe in the kind of music James Brown was doing. He thought it was the devil's music. He thought it would contaminate me.

“So when my mother would come to town, my grandmother would secretly arrange for me to go see my mother while my grandfather was in the pulpit, preaching. My mother would send a taxi and I would go to the concert. Then I would come back and my grandmother would be waiting outside for me with a bucket and a rag, to wash the sin off me.

“It was fascinating. It was exciting. But I preferred the gentile life of my grandparents. It was safe.”

Carleen joined the Young Disciples and moved to Britain in the early 1990s to escape the racism and violence in America.

She said: “This was just before the Rodney King incident, but the feeling was already in the air. I wanted to live in a place where there wasn't such incredible violence. In America, some people are allowed to carry around loaded guns - and the mentality of a lot of those people makes every step you take very precarious.”

Her biggest self-penned Young Disciples hit, Apparently Nothing, spoke of conflicts ruining mankind and accused the world of failing to learn from its history. Carleen closed Sunday night's show with the track.

Before the show, she claimed America had not changed much since she left.

"My sense of worth diminishes to almost zero every time I go back to the States," she said. "I don't like the way I feel over there. I don't like the atmosphere.

“I have a lot to thank America for, but the concept that America has moved on so much racially is just a façade. Clearly, we can see that with this Trayvon Martin case. He was killed on a whim and the amount of people this happens to is countless. It was happening when I was a child and it's still happening now - and that is just one aspect of the social problems that exist in America.”

Carleen is currently writing a one-woman musical show about her family history, including her slave ancestors.

“I've been wanting to do it for over 10 years," she said. "It's a huge undertaking to research all that history. I think it’s timely now I'm in my fifties. I'm now at a stage where I can see the circle of life.”

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Charles Thomson - Sky News