Having provided the lead vocals to a string of seminal anthems such as “Finally”, “Home” and “Diamond Life”, her back catalogue is a true testament to her artistic abilities.
Ahead of her appearance at Ministry of Sound on 25th March, we caught up with Julie to talk 80s LA and her love of London.
You were born in Pennsylvania – the same place that bore greats such as Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Eddie Lang, and Stan Getz. What was the music scene like there while you were growing up?
I was born in Pennsylvania but I was actually raised in Memphis, TN. I lived there from age 5 to 16. After that, I moved to Los Angeles. Memphis has strong roots within the music industry and I was blessed to have been influenced by the different genres there. From Al Green to Elvis Presley.
You’ve mentioned in the past that your music is heavily influenced by your mother, Saundra Brooks, who was a singer also – right? In what way did she influence you?
My mother has influenced me a great deal. She is what is known as a “flat foot” singer. She can just stand there, open her mouth and belt out anything! I came from a family, on both sides, filled with singers and musicians.
Your family relocated to LA in the 80s, while you were still pretty young – how did you find the move?
Honestly, I was not happy about the move. I was a southern girl and Los Angeles is a whole different beast. Eventually, I found my place.
Did you find LA more or less receptive to your singing?
LA helped teach me the business of music. You are just another crab in the bucket and there’s a singer around every corner. LA, and my mentors there, taught me to hone my craft.
While in LA, your father welcomed a lot of people into your home – what was this like?
I thought it was fabulous! We shared our home with everyone from kings to the homeless. My parents never turned anyone away. Even without additional visitors there were 12 of us living there. From my grandparents, to aunts, uncles, cousins, my siblings and adopted siblings, it was a true village. I was blessed.
Do you think it had an impact on you as a musician?
Absolutely! There were so many different types of people in my home. All with their own musical preferences. I learned to appreciate all genres.
You’ve said that London was the first place that you really experienced success as an artist – why do you think this was?
The UK (and Europe in general) has always had such an open mind about music and artists. In the states, I was put into a box. I had to either do R&B or gospel. Although House music was/is an art form that originated in the states, it was pushed in the mainstream. There were a few pioneers who pushed us through but not many. London has opened its arms to me from the beginning and I appreciate it so much.
Now ‘Finally’ has to be one of the biggest tunes to come out of the 00s. It really is one of those songs that never, ever dies… how did you come about making that track?
I was actually called into the studio by Sandy Rivera & Jay Sealee. They had the track but weren’t sure what direction they were going in. I happened to be visiting and we went into the studio and didn’t leave for days. It started as a demo. Jay submitted the track and they wanted it to stay as is. Thank God!
What was it like collaborating with Jay “Sinister” Sealee?
What many don’t know is that Jay is my cousin. His grandmother and my grandmother are sisters. It’s a family affair (smile). It’s always good when family can work together.
Aside from ‘Finally’, what song are you most proud of working on?
Wow, that’s a hard one. I honestly have to say that I’m proud of them all but if I had to choose, it would be my newest collaboration with an artist by the name of Kiko Navarro, “All because of you”. This is the first track that I’ve released that includes my brother, Victor Brooks and my son, Brian McKnight Jr. Again, my family.
Now we last spoke to you ahead of our 3rd birthday in 2012, when you listed a few of your top influencers as Gladys Knight, Al Green, Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. Is there anyone who’s come out in the past 5 years that has had a similar impact on you?
I afraid that my answer hasn’t changed much. I’m so stuck in the old school! Although that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the newer artist. I respect anyone doing what they love.
Now we’re beyond excited to have you back with us in March – what one track are you looking forward to performing for us?
I love them all but I must say that “Finally” is my favorite to perform. I love to hear everyone singing along. Such an amazing feeling. Very spiritual.