“She’s good. She’s damned good.” When a music legend like Sting says that about you — as he once did of Atlanta singer Diane Durrett — you can consider yourself bona fide. Known for her soulful and bluesy voice, Durrett is a fixture on the local music scene. She has also branched into the business side of music as a producer, and she recently joined the board of governors of the Atlanta chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
Her own music, however, remains her focus, and on Saturday — alongside Caroline Aiken and Donna Hopkins in the trio Women of Rock — Durrett will play the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s 11th annual Back to the Chattahoochee River Race and Festival.
ArtsATL caught up with Durrett during a break in her fast-paced schedule to talk about the multiple plates she has spinning in the music business, her appreciation for the Chattahoochee River and her love for the unique music of the South.
ArtsATL: Congratulations on your election to the NARAS board of governors. How did that come about for you, and how does the honor feel?
Diane Durrett: Thank you. I’ve been a member of NARAS for several years. I’ve always been interested in helping promote the Georgia music scene. When we were looking for the board of governors, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. And yes, it’s definitely a big honor to be voted in by your colleagues and peers.
ArtsATL: Can you tell us a little about NARAS and what it does?
Durrett: NARAS is associated with the Grammy Awards. It does a lot of work to ensure that artists get paid for their copyrights, which is ever so important. We focus on protecting artists, especially in light of all the changing technology with the Internet.
Recently another focus has been on the movie scene in Georgia. Many of the leaders in NARAS spearheaded changing the law to get a tax break [that] has been instrumental in getting Georgia music into the movies here. Overall, NARAS does a lot of great things for artists. I’m hoping my association with it will help Georgia music and Georgia musicians.
ArtsATL: Speaking of Georgia music, how did your musical roots begin here?
Durrett: Oh, right up on Peachtree Street, in a big church, where my mother was the choir director and I was in the choir. I was five years old. Yeah, that’s how it began [chuckles].
ArtsATL: You’re often described as bluesy, soulful. From where in you does that stem?
Durrett: I have to say my mom was so influential with that, too. Because of her, I was trained in technical opera, which led me to the soulful. This became my way to express my soul. But I must also say I truly feel the influence of having been raised in Georgia — the blues, the soulful, seeped into me. There’s something special about the South and the music that comes out of Georgia. There’s this earthy quality here that you just can’t find anywhere else in the world. I was just lucky enough to be born here. I really love Gladys Knight, Otis Redding — there are just so many incredible Georgia roots people.
ArtsATL: You’re a busy lady in the music industry. Other than playing with Women of Rock, what are some of the other things you’re involved with?
Durrett: I definitely do several things. I have a band called Soulsugar — it’s a fun band. I’m also in a duo with [Melissa] “Junebug” [Massey], a great percussionist. About 50 percent of the time I produce other artists through my company, Blooming Tunes Music. We focus on artist development. That is, we teach artists how to record in the studio, or if they don’t need that, then we go straight to helping them produce their album.
ArtsATL: How long have you been a producer, and what does it mean, exactly, to produce an album?
Durrett: I’ve been in the recording industry, producing, since 1993. When I’m helping an artist produce an album, it is an all-encompassing venture. I help them with who is going to be playing on it, the artwork and artist for their album, how we are going to get it out and get it heard. I help show them how to budget their money — when and where they should spend it. I really try to help with every facet of the making of and the success of their album.
ArtsATL: You play at a lot of outdoor festivals and venues. Is that more by chance or design?
Durrett: The more I can play outdoors, the better. I’m an outdoorsy person for sure. The music just falls on the air when you’re outdoors. When the music gets going, you can feel the wind and the trees moving. It can really be a wonderful experience outside. It’s like the world church. Something’s special — even if it rains, everbody’s dancin’ in the rain. Of course, lightning is a different thing [chuckles].
ArtsATL: What’s the hardest thing about being a woman in the music business?
Durrett: It used to be just the fact that you were a woman. But that has changed. It’s gotten much, much better. Like ads for guitars will have women in them now — playing. And women are learning more music, more instruments. It used to be that a woman was either a singer or a piano player.
ArtsATL: Or she could play the tambourine?
Durrett: Exactly [laughs]. Thankfully, women are continuing to grow in every way in this business.
ArtsATL: What things make the trio Women of Rock work well together onstage?
Durrett: Caroline and Donna and I are all friends who have been playing together for years, and it just clicks. We have beautiful harmonies. Our roots blend. We’re all different at the same time that the harmonies fit. The harmonies are organic with us. We have a way of falling into the harmonies like sisters, and we know instinctually how and where to jump in with one another, which is something a lot of people actually have to practice [chuckles]. We all write, but all of us bring individual songs to the table. We’re able to allow each other to be different and blossom and, of course, rock. It’s a collective effort.
ArtsATL: Do you think you serve as role models for other women in this business?
Durrett: All three of us have stood the test of time. We continue to be performers who keep working on our craft. Hopefully, you’re getting better if you’re not standing still, and we’re not standing still. We want to be an inspiration to other women and encourage them to try to find a good place mentally in finding their voice and being great performers. We sure hope we’re helping.
ArtsATL: Since you’re a native of Atlanta and also love the outdoors, have you any special feelings about playing the Back to the Chattahoochee River Race and Festival this Saturday?
Durrett: Most definitely. I remember the old Chattahoochee River Races in the ‘70s. And then there were years where you couldn’t enjoy the river; it was so polluted. I’m so appreciative for organizations like the Riverkeeper for keeping watch of the river. People need to know this is so important. I’m so glad to see the community be able to enjoy our river again. It’s bigger than just the recreational piece, though that’s nice also. This is our drinking water and we also can enjoy the river again. We have our river back.
ArtsATL: I must ask, did you skip school growing up and shoot the Hooch?
Durrett: Of course! I floated down on a tube with my feet hanging out.