Bili Redd Thedford was born in Los Angeles in July 5th, 1942. His mother died a month after delivering him. He and his sister Carol, who is a year and half older than him, were handed to a series of foster families in early years of their lives.
“My father dropped us off at daycare when I was two or three of years old and never came back,” Thedford recalls.Thedford often visited a neighbor who had a piano. He taught himself a few chords and sang what he heard in his new home. In 1957, his family relocated in Pacoima, where he ran into a partner from his high school in LA, named Leonard, and met other friends. The boys formed a vocal group. They sang under streetlights and serenaded at their girlfriends’ houses.“In 1959 we met Johnny Otis and he took us to studios in Los Angeles and recorded us,” he says. “The company bought us suits and took us in the road with all the grown-up singers. We were just kids and we got to go out with professionals every night. They taught us how to deal with people and how to handle a crowd. It was great training that is hardly found today.”
The first two singers that Thedford “really adored” were Billy Eckstine and Louis Jordan. “Eckstine was the greatest thing I’d ever heard: a guy with this big baritone voice, who made women swoon and they loved him. I thought: ‘Probably when I grow up I’d look like him, which I kind of did.”
I had the opportunity to sit down with Two time Grammy Winner Bili Redd at H.O.M.E Music & Entertainment in Beverly Hills. I started with the mind set 10 min. interview but it turn out to be about 40 mins. From singing with Audre Crouch to backing up Minnie Riperton, Melissa Manchester, and getting inspiration on bass playing from Al McKibbons and to top it off Billy Higgins is his uncle. Enjoy this conversation with vocalist and a 2015 Honoree Jazz Living Legend Bili Redd.
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