National Portrait Gallery

Devotees

Des'ree (b.1968)

NPGx128871

Born in London on November 30 1968 to a Bajan father and Guyanese mother, Desiree Weekes was foremost a lover of words (and later changed the spelling of her name to reflect this). This preference was cultivated during her three years in Barbados - the ‘Little England’ of the Caribbean. By the time she’d returned to the UK as a teenager, Des’ree’s predilection for poetry was firmly entrenched, but in order to perform on the musical stage, to be the Gladys Knight she’d impersonated as a child, she knew she had to put her words to music and record a demo.

Twelve weeks after submitting a demo tape to Sony Records, 23 year-old Des’ree signed a recording contract and released her first single, Mind Adventures, a single that reflected her musical inheritance. The material would have its broadest appeal when stripped to its semi-acoustic, occasionally folksy, soulful core.

In-keeping with that approach, the single I Feel So High helped improve the fortunes of her second album, ‘I Ain’t Movin’ (1994). I Feel So High possessed an optimism and romanticism that would forever mark out Des’ree as a subtle, elegant, melody-maker. By the time its successor, ‘You Gotta Be’, was released, Des’ree was firmly entrenched within the commercial radio play list. She was awarded an Ivor Novello song-writing award in 1994.

A concert tour of the United States with Seal in 1995 coupled with the US release of ‘You Gotta Be’, helped Des’ree secure success in America. The self-help anthem remained in the US Billboard chart for more than 80 weeks (19 months) and its accompanying video became the most played on VH-1. The track was later included in a tribute compilation for Diana, Princess of Wales.

In 1995 Des’ree participated in the first secular concert for Pope John Paul II at The Vatican. Three years later, the album Supernatural was released, led by the single ‘Life’ which earned her a second Ivor Novello nomination. The success of the single led to her win at 1999’s World Music Awards (Top Selling British Artist Award) and Brit Awards (Best British Female Solo Artist).

Although You Gotta Be and Maze featured in separate Hollywood movies, the international success of I Ain’t Movin led to invitations for Des’ree to contribute to the soundtracks for noted films of the period: Spike Lee’s films Clockers (1995), F Gary Gray’s Set If Off (1996) and Baz Lurhman’s Romeo & Juliet (1996), the latter in which she made an appearance.

2000’s album, Endangered Species, teamed her with British jazz keyboardist Jason Rebello. Her last album proper, Dream Solider, was released in 2003. In 2005 Des’ree was named among the 100 Great Black Britons by the London Evening Standard. She currently does charitable work for UNICEF.

esmeefairbain foundation and inspire  program