pratibha and brenda

The Beauty & Grace of Brenda Russell

Monday June 6th, our last days’ shoot in Los Angeles started out with a fascinating interview with Steven Spielberg at Dreamworks (more on that next time) and ended with the most charming of interviews with Grammy and Tony nominated singer songwriter, Brenda Russell

Brenda is part of the amazing trio of Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, who wrote the score for the Broadway musical of The Color Purple. Brenda’s grace, beauty and soul are a rare and wondrous combination. Looking absolutely splendid, she spoke to us about her musical journey with an infectious passion. Her assistant Melanie Holmes welcomed us with the most beautiful of smiles and offers of fruit and water.

I was struck by Brenda’s family stories about her great-grandmother, Christina Platt, a former slave who migrated from Marion S.C. to Waterbury, MA, after Emancipation.  This amazing, courageous woman has influenced Brenda as much as her mother and father who are both musicians. Music is what Brenda grew up with so its’ no wonder her many hit songs have been nominated for numerous Grammy Awards.


Surrounded by Multiple Awards & The Grand Piano

Brenda’s great-grandmother had 11 children and she put each one of them through University. The photograph below of her takes pride of place in the hallway as you enter Brenda’s house. It was taken for a local newspaper in Massachusetts, when they did a story on her. She was clearly a woman who didn’t suffer fools so when asked to go to a specific location to be photographed she said ‘if they want to photograph me, they can come here where I am weeding in my garden.’ And they did!  She lived to be 101 years old. What a wonderful inspirational story of a feisty woman with exemplary courage and fortitude despite seemingly impossible odds.

Brenda's Great-Grandmother - Christina Platt- A Freed Slave

One of my favourite songs written by Brenda is “If Only For One Night” as sung by Luther Vandross. Music & Lyrics by Brenda Russell

By the time we left Brenda’s beautiful home, the crew was smitten with her vivacious charm and sweet warmth.

A Smitten Crew! From left to right: Gale Tattersall(DOP) Brenda Russell, Claudia Katanagyia (Sound) Nathaniel Miller (AC) Shaheen Haq (Producer) Tania Hammidi ( Driver/Runner) and me, Pratibha. (Director)

Angels of Los Angeles

Our friend filmmaker Meena Nanji gave us a home from home.

The writer Ellen Gavin gave us refuge too and cooked a scrumptious dinner where the rather handsome Skylar Cooper turned up in a  fetching cowboy hat. (Given we are on a tight, tight budget with limited resources making it impossible to stay in hotels, both these women were absolute angels.)

Ofunee Obiamiwe, a good friend of Meena’s introduced us to her friend Gale Tattersall who I had read about but never imagined I would ever meet, let alone work with.

Gale Tattersall is a DOP extraordinaire with an impeccable sense of professional commitment, a magician of light and a true gentleman who stepped in at the last minute. Wow we struck gold with Gale. He has shot tons of features, including one of my fave’s The Commitments as well as Tank Girl, The Addams Family, Ghost Ship and many more. Gale is also the DOP on House MD, the TV series with Hugh Laurie and that very cute, hugely talented actress Olivia Wilde

Thank you Angels !

Things I Would Like To Forget About Los Angeles

  • Driving on freeways without a GPS, in grid locked traffic worrying about not getting lost and getting to set on time.
  • The heavily chlorinated water which gave me lizard skin.
  • A couple of arrogant, sexist, racist men at one of our facility houses. They clearly hadn’t seen Asian women like us commanding a crew and equipment and 15 seater van.
  • The hassle, angst, uncertainty of unconfirmed DOP’s until the 11th hour.


Next Up New York!



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  1. Bob Lucas says:

    I saw you at the Blue Note last time. You were wonderful, and I’ll look forward to your future gigs here. I came upstairs to meet you briefly, and inadvertently, due to a little nervousness, walked off with your “In The Thick of It” without paying for it. You might have been distracted by the presence of your sister at that moment, or you would have said, “Hey, Buster. . . . .” I owe you one, Brenda. That is, the last one and hopefully something new next time.

    Spend more time here in New York, if you wish, where you have a special following. That gracious smile of yours on the CD is moved around my home here in Brooklyn and in the car as I drive to my place upstate. Then, I have a nice time listening carefully to your delivery. Remember, the listener can be as sensitive in receiving as you are in delivering. I especially am drawn to the positive quality of your writing. Even when you write of a love gone, you are invariably hopeful and positive. There is a sort of plaintive light in your voice that suggests strength of being and clarity of purpose. And, there are tiny, little inflections as you articulate your delivery that is sometimes a hair flat (hope that is okay to read) that makes for a very human sound. Not mechanical perfect at times, but always, as I said it, human. Your delivery induces real empathy from this listener. Yours is the talent of a truly gifted teller of little stories. I had been knocked out by the wonderfully hopeful “Get here” years ago when you recorded it, and then I lost contact with your music for years. I expect to enjoy your gift for a very long time. Sorry to have gone on like this. But I’ve meant it all. The best to you.

    • Pratibha Parmar says:

      Thanks Bob for your wonderful comments about Brenda Russell. We will make sure she sees them. Happy listening.

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