A five-inch screen is not the most ideal method by which to enjoy a performance by St. Louis singer-songwriter Be.Be, but when she's off making a name for herself in New York and you're home in St. Louis, it'll have to do.
Brianna Elise "Be.Be" Brown had been posting for more than a month about a February performance at the legendary SOB's music venue in NYC. If social media is to be believed, she spent the day of the event hanging out with friends, taking picturesque photos with nostalgic filters and generally enjoying all that New York City has to offer.
But when it came time for her performance, Be.BE brought the house down. Dressed in a white off-shoulder top and matching bell-bottom pants, she took to the venue's small stage to deliver a performance that was utterly captivating, even through a tiny phone screen.
And to think, this was the career that might not have happened.
Born in New York but raised in St. Louis, Brown was a child who always knew she could sing. She loved performing miniature talent shows for herself at her own birthday parties and for anyone who was around. Once she expressed a desire to be a singer, Brown's mother placed her into piano lessons.
"I started taking piano lessons when I was eight," she says. "I was always doing the music stuff in school. I found out about my high school, Central Visual Performing Arts, through my piano teacher."
Brown's path to music has been a series of highs and lows, with the lows ultimately leading her in the direction that would bring future success. When it was time to go to college, for example, she auditioned at several schools for musical theater tracks, only to be denied each one. But at Webster University, Brown was given a scholarship to attend and study jazz. It was a fit that proved that when one door doesn't open, it's best to keep knocking.
And that's been the theme of Brown's musical career. Her mother initially didn't want her to be just a singer — hence the piano lessons. But Brown found herself sneaking into choir classes and joining chorus groups. It's not quite the storyline of Lauryn Hill's character Rita in Sister Act II, but in any case, Brown found a way to get her voice heard. And now, even Mom has come around.
"My mom is my biggest supporter," Brown says with a big smile. "All of that turned around in high school when she came to a concert and saw me singing in the choir." After that, Brown says, her mother began managing her budding career, even taking free music management courses — proving she was all in.
By the time Brown graduated high school, she'd gained the connections she needed to release her first project, which led to her creating a band and further developing her sound. Be.Be's music has all the influences of jazz, funk, soul and R&B. She has a powerful voice that is equal parts bodacious and sugary sweet. It's a sound that's reminiscent of Chrisette Michelle's earlier years, but it's also a style that's all her own.
Brown says being featured on a track with local favorite KVtheWriter was the turning point that convinced her to put out a proper project.
"I started pulling together old songs that I knew I wanted to record that I hadn't put out yet," she says. "The songs followed me through a season of finding myself in and out of a relationship."
The result is a six-track EP titled Is That Alright? It's funky. It's soulful. It's current, with just enough nostalgia, primarily delivered through the cover art and Brown's sense of style and aesthetic. Accompanying the project is a gorgeous music video for the single "I Wantcha." It features a stunning Be.Be at the roller rink clad in warm hues, with friends in similarly retro clothing — big hair, disco vibes and fringe all accounted for.
After garnering buzz in the city for her work with artists including TreG and TLT Productions, along with performances at weddings and teaching music to young students, Brown had a question.
"At the beginning of 2019, I put a post on Facebook that said, 'I'm interested in doing a show at the Dark Room. How would one do that?'" she says.
The post received dozens of responses, and Chris Hansen, executive director at the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, was tagged in the post by a commenter. He was interested in Brown's music and moved forward with getting her booked for a show. When it came time for a new class of applicants for the Kranzberg Foundation's Music Artists in Residence program, Brown applied and got in.
Through the successes and failures, Brown says it's most important for her to hold on to the dreams she had as a child.
"My whole point in doing what I'm doing is this whole dream I've followed since I was a kid," she says. "Holding on to that and following through with that is very important to me. Don't let any kind of perception or what anyone else thinks stray you away from that. If you feel it, do it and dig in."
Fighting for her chance to sing was a struggle that keeps Brown's dreams alive. It's what continues to fuel her passion as a vocalist and pianist, and it's what keeps her motivated. She wants to remember the girl who snuck into choir classes against others' advice.
"I want to shout out my dad," Brown says with a grin. "He's in New York, and has always been instrumental, and sent love from however far."
As she begins to travel and take her music beyond St. Louis, reaching the masses is something Brown doesn't take for granted. She's fascinated with connecting with the audience at her shows. It's a far cry from being shut out from collegiate programs that wouldn't allow students to perform outside of the university.
Most of all, Be.Be's journey proves that if you want something, all you have to do is ask.