The Lannie Garrett Story
By Jerry Roys
Published: September 7, 2007
Someone once said divas are female vocalists who have earned the title to be known by their first name. In Colorado, when a person hears the name Lannie, many people know they’re talking about local vocal legend Lannie Garrett. Lannie grew up near Chicago. While exploring the west on a road trip with her boyfriend in the mid-70s, they stopped in Colorado. While here, her boyfriend and a friend decided to go skydiving. At the last minute, Lannie gathered her courage and decided to get on the plane and do the jump, too.
"I jumped out of a plane in Colorado," Lannie said. "It’s a metaphor to starting my new happy life. If I could jump out of a plane, I decided I could leave my old life in Chicago and move on." Lannie also gathered her courage for other goals she wanted to accomplish. She didn’t start singing in front of people until she moved to Denver.
Lannie said she came into the world wanting to perform, dance and sing. However, none of that happened in her early years. Being raised with neglectful parents and in a violent household, surviving was the priority. Though she was paralyzing insecure about herself, Lannie
knew she would die inside if she didn’t force herself
to sing and perform. "Performing in some way was
all I ever wanted to do," Lannie said. "It was burning
inside me from the time I can remember anything.
" After moving to Denver, Lannie joined a band
fronted by R&B soul singer Ron Henry. He had a
vision for his backup singers, which was a white
female, Lannie, sandwiched by two black female
singers, Cheryl Barnes and Caroline Noble. "I stood between two of the most incredibly talented female singers ever," Lannie said. "Cheryl was classical trained, very regal and elegant, Caroline was more a church singer, raw and soulful. I’m still very close to Cheryl, who sang at my club last year. She’s a successful jazz singer in Los Angeles. Caroline quit the business to raise her grandkids." Lannie said she lied to get the gig, telling Henry she had stage experience. She had never sung in front of people before, and although she was hired as a
backup singer, she had no idea how to harmonize. Lannie looked at it as an amazing opportunity to be on stage with great musicians, inspiring singers and in a band that opened shows for Ray Charles, The Four Tops, Donny Hathaway and more. She watched and kept on learning.
Lannie has persevered in this very difficult field because she has had a one-track mind about it. With barely a high school education and no musical training, she plowed ahead and learned the profession as she went. "I learned that you had to actually do the business along with the singing and performing," Lannie said. "Slowly, I learned to be more organized and professional behind the
scenes."Lannie credits the Denver gay
community for encouraging and cheering
her on in the early stages of her career.
With her own band, she sang at a gay
cabaret called the Broadway. She became more relaxed on
stage and started to hone her craft adding comedy and coming into her own. "I owe them huge thanks for their love and support," Lannie said.
Lannie’s determination and ability to succeed in a business that few conquer has paid off. She has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. She worked with Ray Charles, one of her heroes, in the early 70s, and again in the early 90s. That was a great honor for her. She has also worked with BB King and Ramsey Lewis, and said both are very open and down to earth. She said Lewis was just all-out cool. Comedian/director David Steinberg was hands-down the most encouraging to her. She also worked with another great comedian.
"I worked with Bill Cosby several times. He’s a legend, an icon in comedy and a ground breaker historically," Lannie said. "Many women who met Bill Cosby back then have similar stories. I’ll keep my mouth shut on that one." When asked who her inspiration was, Lannie said it came from the words and deeds of Dr. Martin Luther King. He is her spiritual role model. Though she was just a young kid when the civil rights movement happened, it had a lasting effect on her and touched her deeply. "I loved everything Dr. King said and did," Lannie said. "He was real Christian. He walked the walk. He tried to teach us that it’s all about love. Christianity is supposed to be based on that, it’s that simple."
Taking that inspiration and gaining more confidence in her abilities, Lannie took acting classes briefly during the 80s and moved to LA. She landed two B-movie roles while there. One role was in a B-type scary movie as a stereo-typical streetwalker with a heart of gold. Lannie said she had a blast doing the movie. She got a major role in the movie "Destroyer," playing Anthony Perkins’ girlfriend, Sharon Fox, a washed up movie actress. She really looked up to Perkins and said that working with him was a wonderful experience and that he was very encouraging and a, "…lovely person in every way." In the
summer of 2002, Lannie landed a role in Eve
Ensler’s "The Vagina Monologues," which for
her was a great experience on many levels.
She worked with veteran New York stage
actresses Rhonda Ross and Glynis Bells. Ross
is the daughter of Berry Gordy and Diana Ross.
Lannie was star struck by the history of that heritage. Growing up listening to Motown and working with the child of the president and a major artist of Motown was surreal to her in many ways.
"Rhonda is great singer and actress," Lannie said. "Her mama raised her right. She’s a caring and loving person, beautiful inside and out."
After seeing the movie "This Is Spinal Tap," a spoof on a heavy metal band, she thought it would be fun to spoof the 50s and 60s country scene. She had recently been turned on to the Dame Edna phenomenon, so she sort of combined the two ideas. She said "The Patsy DeCline Show" wrote itself onstage.
"I just started talking in an accent and anytime I got a laugh, I’d put it in the show the next night," Lannie said. "It developed over time and ’She’ is my most successful idea. ’She’ gets lots of outside, corporate work." Lannie’s acting, stage, singing, comedic and creative abilities are most evident in "The Patsy DeCline Show." Being more right-brained than left, Lannie said she has always thought of herself as a creative person. "We are all creative beings," Lannie said. "That’s really all humans do when you really think about it.
We create." Another inspiration for her
shows came from her earliest memories
of all the classic MGM musicals she saw
on TV. She also watched The Ed Sullivan
show, which featured such jazz greats as Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. These childhood heroes and influences are still present today in her many different shows. "Screen Gems" takes music from a variety of movies and features songs from all styles of movies, dramas, comedies and musicals. The songs are as diverse as the movies they came from: "Alfie," "The Sandpiper," "BeatleJuice," "Cabin in the Sky," "Saturday Night Fever," Bob Seger’s "Old Time Rock n Roll" from the famous Tom Cruise scene in "Risky Business," and "Moon River" from "Breakfast at Tiffany’s." The show earned great revues over the summer when Lannie and her quintet, The Errand Boys of Rhythm, had a month-long run at her club, Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret. It also ran the previous year to sell out crowds. Lannie and the same band also perform a tribute to George Gershwin entitled "S’Wonderful," and she has a big band show, "AnySwing Goes".
Lannie has an immense talent for putting together revues.
"The Platforms and Polyester Disco Revue" features Lannie fronting an eight-piece band singing classic disco hits, funk and Motown. Her jazz and jump show, "A Slick Chick on the Mellow Side," features the redhead torch belting out tunes from the 40’s. "Under Paris Skies" is her gypsy-jazz influenced show in which Lannie and the band The Gypsy Swing Revue, a band she borrows to play music with, pay tribute to the music of Django Reihardt’s "Hot Club of France."
Lannie performs these shows at her own "hot club
," Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret, which she opened
in 2006 with writer/producer Jefferson Arca. Other
than her own shows, the club features national acts,
from Leon Redbone, The Mills Brothers, Luka
Bloom and Cab Calloway’s daughter, singer Chris Calloway, to some of the best entertainment in Colorado, including Sammy Mayfield, The Freddi-Henchi Band, Erica Brown and guitarist, Eddie Turner. Since its opening, the club has had rave revues in many publications. To check a schedule of Lannie’s club and her show schedule go to www.Lannies.com.
Adding to her many accomplishments, Lannie has also recorded six albums. Her first album, "Comes Love," is a tribute to all those smoky-voiced singers like Billie Holiday. "Just for a Thrill" is a collection of melodies from the 50’s. "Kick It!" is a collection of big band songs. "Slick Chick on the Mellow Side" is a live recording, as is "Horsin’ Around" which is a recording of Patsy DeCline songs. Her other album "Under Paris Skies" is a tribute to Django Reinhardt.
Lannie said her first album is the one that she is most proud of.
"I think ’Comes Love’ has a nice selection of songs," Lannie said. "And it’s the first time I had ever sung in a real studio. It was a labor of love."
With all that’s going on in her busy schedule, Lannie still finds time to give back to the community. She
volunteers with The Denver Kids,
a mentoring program operated by
the Denver school system. The first
child she mentored was 9-years-old
in 1993, and he has since gone on to
college on a scholarship. She served
on the board of Project Angel Heart, and she volunteers each year to sing at a fundraising event for Planned Parenthood.
Gathering her courage and taking the leap to improve her life every step of the way, Lannie has become a Colorado legend in attaining a high level of success in a business that eats up most people. She truly has earned the title DIVA.
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