In the 2013 documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, renowned background vocalists living just shy of the spotlight shared their experiences after decades in the music industry. But for every person interviewed in that film there are dozens more just like them–artists with accomplished careers in the business but without all the fame and notoriety. Terry Dexter is unquestionably one of those artists. With a resume that spans over 20 years and an impressive list of credits that include major label deals–the original Legally Blonde soundtrack and the house band on TBS’s “Lopez Tonight”–Terry Dexter is one of those names known by everyone in the industry, just not everyone in the household.
You’re somewhat of an industry veteran. How did you first get into the music business?
“I first started in the music business at a professional level at 10 years old by being discovered by my mentor, Cynthia Girty, while performing with my group/live band Tri Star. She honed me as a solo artist but also would have me do background studio sessions for international bands such as Simply Red and also recording my own solo demo/records. These early recordings led me to getting my first major label record deal at 13.”
Who were some of your earliest influences?
“My father is a huge music lover, so I grew up listening to all his favorites who became my favorites such as Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Stephanie Mills, [and] most of the Motown greats and country music artists such as Johnny Cash, Reba Mcentire, and Shania Twain. I was also influenced by artists such as Prince and MJ and even Mariah Carey, but I also grew up singing in the Baptist church and performed in church throughout most of my childhood. So a huge early influence musically for me was Detroit Gospel.”
Describe your musical style. How has your style evolved?
“I would describe my style as a hybrid of ‘Detroit Soul and Pop.’ My Detroit roots again are the foundation of it all but there is an extension of other genre elements mixed in as well. My style definitely has evolved. My earlier music works are what I would describe as more polished with innocence. This was due to my youth and limited life experience at the time, but it still had a pinch of grit. My style has evolved over time due to maturity and let’s just say if I’m singing about love today, myself and the listener can definitely feel it a lot deeper, and it’s more gritty and less polished. My style today though, still soulful, has embraced more of my love for country and electronic music as well.”
You’re known for the utmost professionalism in the studio. How do you approach recording sessions? Do you have a specific strategy or mindset?
“I learned so much about recording in the studio from my first mentor Cynthia Girty–how to highly respect the process and the wonderful, magical, and intimate place where music is created and to be shared with the world. I believe the recording process is two parts: ‘Technical’ and the ‘Magic Moment,’ and how combining these two elements can be a challenge, but if all parties involved are focused equally on making music together, then the music outcome is always great from my experience. I use the same blueprint for recording sessions, arriving a bit early to settle in, working with the engineer to set sound which is specific to me, not doing too many takes and trusting my gift to lead the way through the vocals and arrangements and bringing the song to life authentically. Patience. [Be] patient enough to listen and take breathers. I also usually record all of my own backgrounds on everything. I record and use a method that has served me well and that is recording each note/take solo by muting all other vocals so each time it’s as if each background note take/stack is a solo lead. I learned this method as a child from trusted greats and still believe in it today.”
Was a there a specific moment or project where you felt you truly grew as an artist?
“Yes, my Listen project. Right before starting the recording of Listen, my songwriting partner and dear friend [and] mentor, Sami Mckinney, passed away very suddenly. A month later I was in the studio with producer and co-writer, Jamey Jaz, beginning the project. For the first time in years I did not have the guidance of Sami physically, but he was there surely spiritually and it was a huge turn for me as a person and artist.”
How do you feel your multicultural background has informed your music?
“Because of my mixed race heritage I have always been, in a sense, misunderstood as a person and in my music. My parents have always instilled ‘truth’ in me and that being different is a great thing, so this has flowed into my music and vision. Having a multicultural background has inspired me to live and create authentic music outside of others expectations or opinions. I believe that we are all different and original in our own ways and what I did with my differences is embraced the curiosity from people, which allowed them to want to hear or know more about me, and in turn gave me a bigger and broader platform to showcase my music and message. The phrase I heard my whole life as a singer was ‘You don’t look like you sound,’ but I always questioned that because human beings can see whatever they want to see as long as they listen first. The music and sounds of life will paint the picture for you and only you. That is again the power of music.”
You’re also an accomplished actress. How do you feel acting has influenced your music, or vice versa?
“Music certainly has influenced my acting in many ways. Acting, for one, takes on a rhythm that music has been the foundation of, and assisted with in the roles I’ve played. As a singer/songwriter, my channels are open constantly in order to allow my music gift to flow out and thrive and so these same channels in a sense are also opened and used in my acting and my approach to roles as well.”
What do you feel has been a highlight of your career?
“There have been many highlights which I am grateful for but one that I will share is meeting and singing for Maya Angelou in N.Y.C. after a film premiere at a small cafe. [It was] just us, ‘us’ being Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Sami Mckinney, Patti Labelle, Maya Angelou, and me. The company right! Patti told Ms. Angelou about me and asked me to sing for her and so I of course stood up beyond honored and sung a song to her and she then in turn recited her amazing poem, ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ for me. Not just a career highlight but a life highlight.”
What do you feel has been a struggle in your career?
“My biggest struggle has been trying to maintain a high level of musicality as a signed recording artist. I’d get the excitement and support and sign the major label deals based on my vocal style and talent, but soonafter most of the objective from the business side became about making money and selling records and their belief that to do so was to diminish my talent and the musicality that got me signed in the first place.”
Tell us about what you’re working on next.
“I’m really grateful and excited about everything that I’m working on and have coming. I have a few Electro-Soul releases coming out in the coming months. I have two songs featured on the Juan Hoerni Say It project, including the single ‘Say It’ and aligning video coming in August. My feature with DJ/producer Marco Corvino, ‘Drip Drop,’ just got released and out now. I am currently also promoting the soulful Preston Glass/Narada produced duet single ‘I Remember’ with Johnny Manuel. I’m also completing my hybrid country/soul/pop project titled Teresa Clark. I’m also [in a] feature film I completed and is coming out soon called The Choir Director. I’m acting and singing in this one. Nothing could be better”
Hear more of Terry’s work on her official site: www.terrydexter.com
Follow Terry on Instagram @terrydexter
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