Special to the Record
Considering her upbringing, it’s no surprise that Dawn Pemberton became a singer who distills various genres into her own style.
Growing up, she was surrounded by a family of multi-instrumentalists with different tastes.
“Because I was the youngest of a lot of kids and my parents were a lot older, we had so many different styles of music: Johnny Mathis, Glenn Miller,” the Vancouver singer says in a phone interview.
“My siblings were listening to punk and heavy metal and soul and R&B,” adds Pemberton, who will perform Jan. 26 at the Sid Williams Theatre.
“Also, my family is from the Caribbean, so we listened to Caribbean music. I loved it and I savour those moments, and the music was woven into my being.”
She recalls hearing her father singing while he shined shoes and falling to sleep while visiting the Caribbean listening to her grandfather play a saxophone on the patio.
Although her debut solo album Say Somethin’ demonstrates remarkable restraint, Pemberton assures potential audiences that she can bring it when she wants to.
“For a live setting, I think things get … a bit livelier.”
She credits the soulful restraint on Say Somethin’ (Urban Recording of the Year at the 2015 Western Canadian Music Awards) to maturity.
Recording that album in her 30s, she says, brought an “understanding that you don’t have to give it all the way all the time.”
Mentioning that her first CD covers a wide range that includes soul, R&B, jazz and funk, Pemberton reiterates she drew singing styles from many genres.
Pemberton, an in-demand vocalist and arranger for West Coast recording sessions, gets a lot of work for live performances. She’s shared the stage with saxman Maceo Parker (James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic), sweet New Orleans singer John Boutté and gospel trio The Sojourners among others.
Pemberton, who writes her own material, was involved in Covers for a Cause, a fundraiser for music therapy in which participants would sing songs written by other people.
“The job of a really good singer and a good performer is to … tell the story and convey the emotion and put yourself inside the story. Of course, when it’s your own song you have a more direct connection.
“When I do covers, I try to put some of myself in there to give them a new life.”
Pemberton is on the road again after a short break that followed a hectic schedule that included gigs in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and throughout B.C.
There were even some U.K. dates with frequent collaborators the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, a Vancouver-based blues duo, opening for Alabama soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
She also performed at festivals at Hornby Island, Powell River, Invermere, Vancouver, Burnaby and in Ontario at Kitchener and the Blue Mountains.
“Both are exciting,” she says of concert halls versus festivals.
“In a festival … people are … just floating on by and you get to meet people who have never heard of you before and just stumble upon you. Both are great and both are a way to introduce you to new audiences.”
Pemberton is no stranger to the Comox Valley, which she calls “a gorgeous part of B.C.” She sang at last year’s Filberg Festival and has played some shows here with the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer.
She promises a great show at the Sid with her keyboardist, guitarist, bassist and drummer bandmates.
“It will be a very soulful evening. It will be fun. It will be lively. There will be some thoughtful moments.”
Pemberton says she likes to give people permission to enjoy themselves, although she agrees it’s difficult to get up and dance when you’re sitting in a theatre.
Dawn Pemberton performs Jan. 26 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay. The 2017–2018 Blue Circle Series is proudly presented by Acheson Law. For concert details and tickets, visit sidwilliamstheatre.com, phone 250-338-2430 or visit 442 Cliffe Ave.