The natural Trinidadian born Jazz singer who performed at the home of Louis Armstrong in Corona, Queens, decided that if she wanted to celebrate herself as a natural, black Caribbean woman, she should not be afraid of ANY look.
Hello Vaughnette, thank you for doing this interview. Can you please introduce yourself for the people who are not familiar with you? Where did you grow up and go to school?
Hey, it’s fabulous being here and sharing a bit about me with you all. I am Vaughnette Bigford, I am a born and bred Caribbean girl (Trinidad and Tobago) to be exact. I work as a Health and Safety Practitioner for our National Oil Company and I am also a professional Jazz musician (Vocalist). I attended College at home in Trinidad and more recently completed a stint at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass.
Was music part of your upbringing?
Music was always played in my house. My mother played the piano, I took a bit of piano lessons and my grandparents always listened to music (American Songbook material, jazz and a bit of calypso). I was always involved in music and theatre through all of my school life as well, winning school calypso competitions and several awards for drama at different festivals. I’ve always known that I would be an artist in some way or the other.
When did you know you wanted to sing professionally?
I was the most celebrated bathroom singer (I think) until the day my husband suggested that I do something more focused with my voice. I sought out some voice trainers, got started and knew that there was no turning back. That was in the year 2003.
So how did you get into it professionally? What was your first big gig?
I put together a demo CD and delivered it to a gentleman (Rudy Thomas) who worked for the same company that I did and also sat on the committee of a local jazz festival. He passed my demo onto one of the local jazz bands and I started singing with them the month after.
My first big gig was at the STEELPAN AND JAZZ FESTIVAL (Pan Royale) in 2004. I was the featured vocalist and performed with the PHASE II Pan Groove Steel Orchestra. I was terrified but it went well.
Why Jazz? How does a Trinidadian girl/woman gets into Jazz when the national music is Soca?
Such a great question. I love my country and culture a lot. Calypso and Soca are both beautiful expressions of our culture and who we are as a people. It was not my experience though. I grew up with grandparents who were relatively strict and a bit old-fashioned, they never really listened to local stuff, there was not very much of it in the house and I did not go out much. I grew up listening to jazz and ballads and even though I rebelled a bit in my teenage years (I was a rocker), it’s the music that I just came back to when I decided to sing. Now that I am older I try to listen a lot more to more local music and believe me, our music is beautiful here and I try to incorporate it into the stuff that I do.
You absolutely rock a short natural. How, why and when did you go natural?
Well thanks a lot. The decision to go natural was not a very tough one. I think cutting my permed hair off was just an outward expression of what I had been dealing with on a spiritual level. I always struggled as a teenager with my look and my skin colour and its amazing that even in the Caribbean where a lot of people looking like me, we still struggle with the issues of being “blacker than”. I remember people telling me that I was a good looking girl, just too dark and those things stay with you.
The process of maturing and becoming the woman that I wanted to be took several twists and turns. More appreciation for self came along the way. Interaction with really strong black individuals who were so proud of themselves and their blackness had a direct impact on me as well. I remember the decision to cut my hair off was made at the airport in Puerto Rico on my way home from a trip to Boston. By the next day it was all gone.
A short natural is so scary for a lot of Black women. Were you scared to cut your hair low and if you were how did you overcome it?
I have never been afraid of short hair, I wore short permed hair for a long time, but almost bald and natural was slightly different. It took a bit of thought (about two hours) of it. I decided that if I wanted to celebrate myself as a natural, black Caribbean woman, I should not be afraid of ANY look. The economics played a big part as well. I knew I would save a LOT of money by not having to visit the stylist as often and I was about to take one year off of work to study music, so I needed to save some money (smile).
Can I ask how your husband responded when you went natural? Did he like your natural?
Honestly, I know that he prefers that I grow my hair even if it’s natural, he never comments about it though and he never pressures me about anything related to my personal sense of style.
Is natural hair an issue in Trinidad? Are most women wearing natural hair or is it like elsewhere mainly relaxers and weaves?
Relaxers and weaves are the order of the day here just like most other places. I don’t think natural hair is an issue in this country as much as I perceive it to be in the US. There are women who rock the locks and the fros and more of them are going natural everyday.
What is the best thing about singing? And is there a worst part?
For me the best thing about what I do is being able to communicate with my audience through song. It’s so beautiful to see people being moved by what you do or what you say. I try to share a piece of me and my experience with the audience each time and I feel is one person is touched…………..it’s beautiful. The worst thing about singing for me is that I cannot take my instrument out of a box and pack it away for safe keeping. My instrument is affected by everything I eat or don’t eat, if I am physically well, my emotional condition etc. As such I feel I have a lot more work to do to protect it.
What was your best performance up until now and why was it your best?
July,2010, I had the opportunity to perform at the home of Louis Armstrong in Corona, Queens on the occasion of his birthday. Such a beautiful gig with fabulous musicians and great energy. I think I was just awestruck that I was at his home, looking at his instruments, changing in his guest room (smile). I just felt so happy to be able to pay tribute to one of the true exponents of the artform. It meant the world to me.
Who inspires you? Who are your roll models?
I am inspired by a lot. People, Moments, Experiences etc. These days I am most inspired by musicians who try to be their best and not settle for mediocrity. Role Models……………too many to mention. You are one of them though. I really admire what you do providing this forum for interaction. It’s appreciated.
What is your goal in music?
I just want to be heard………………..that’s it. I want to be able to play my music, touch people with it………….and play some more.
What are you working on right now? Can we expect a cd any time soon?
Yes, this year will be spent finalizing songs and arrangements for the first cd project. I am happy and excited about it.
Where can people see you perform?
For the Trinidad and Tobago nationals, at local festivals and functions. For the people who are not in Trinidad, you can check my website for updates on where I will be. I come to the US pretty often so we shall soon meet and interact.