Born in Mississippi, raised in Dallas and currently living in Atlanta, R&B vocalist Carmen Rodgers has no trouble sliding into places and scenes and instantly making herself at home.
But when it came time to shoot new videos for singles from her upcoming album, “Stargazer” (slated for a February release), she went back to the Lone Star State.
“That’s where, you know, I really got started,” she says, on the phone from Dallas. It’s in Dallas where Rodgers studied at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, sharing classroom space with such future stars as Erykah Badu, Norah Jones, N’Dambi (whom Rodgers toured with as a background singer) and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. “All of those people – we all grew up together. Some of us a few years behind others, but we all grew up together. So, I would say that’s really where my roots are. Those are the people that taught me a lot of what I know and inspired me to get in the business really, and pursue it.”
While Dallas gave her the inspiration and motivation to become a musical artist, moving to Atlanta four years ago made her immediately pick up a competitive spirit. “It’s actually competitive when you have so much talent (in the city),” she says. “So, it just makes you – I would think you should want to be better, so that you can call those people peers that you admire so much.”
Thankfully, Rodgers made a smooth transition from Dallas and Atlanta thanks to the previous trips she made to the city, performing and building relationships with several ATL-based artists. (One of her “Stargazer” singles is a duet with Atlanta singer/songwriter Anthony David.) But she’s also gotten chummy with performers right here in the Triangle. She did guest vocals on local alt-soul group The Foreign Exchange’s recent album, last year’s “Love in Flying Colors.” “(Foreign Exchange frontman) Phonte (Coleman) was a fan of (odgers’s 2004 debut) ‘Free,’ and I was a fan of his,” she says. “So, we were actually friends before we started working together.”
Collaborating with Coleman and the Exchange led to Rodgers performing on Exchange member Lorenzo “Zo!” Ferguson’s last solo effort, “ManMade.” Rodgers has gone on to do shows with Ferguson, like the upcoming New Year’s Eve show the Art of Cool Project will be having in Durham on Wednesday night.
For Rodgers, hanging and working with Coleman, Ferguson and the Exchange has given her a chance to delve into other soulful sounds. “Although we’re all fans of much of the same music, none of our records really sound the same,” she says. “You know, their sound is definitely a little more electronic, house-influenced. Mine is probably more soul, some R&B – in some cases, folk-influenced. And Zo!’s is definitely more classic soul and hip-hop influenced. So, it’s interesting that, although our individual sounds aren’t necessarily the same, we all appreciate music. We’re all professionals. We work well together and we kind of all see the big picture.”
For the soon-to-be-released “Stargazer,” Rodgers has invited other collaborators to help paint her big picture. S1, who has produced tracks for Jay-Z, Kanye West, Beyonce and Coleman as well, has done work on the album, along with Ernie G, who co-produced “Free” and her 2010 follow-up “The Bitter Suite,” and Justin Timberlake keyboardist (and fellow Booker T. Washington alum) Daniel Jones.
Ultimately, Carmen Rodgers wants audiences and future fans to recognize that, no matter where she calls home, she will continue to do music that makes her (and her listeners) feel comfortable. “I do want them to know that I am an artist, in my own right, and a singer and a songwriter who enjoys performing and creating music,” she says. “And I just look forward to sharing my sound and my style with everyone.”