It’s been hard to find high points in the midst of a global pandemic during the past four months, but Tracee Ellis Ross had a major one when her film, The High Note, was released on May 29. Not only was it a big deal for the actress to star in the feature, but she also recorded the soundtrack album for the musical film which was a bit of an adventure personally and professionally.
“I started with one vocal coach and I ended up switching to another because she was all about technique and making me sound a certain way and I wasn’t interested in that,” the 47-year-old shared. “I wanted my truth to come out. So I went back to an old friend of mine, Tamara, and really her technique as a vocal coach is about allowing the truth to come forward, like getting out of your way so it was great.”
Getting out of her own way is literally what Ross had to do in order to step into the character of legendary R&B singer Grace Davis.
“For me, the acting part of it was the most glorious, delicious thing, but there were two pieces to Grace Davis — there was the singing and then it was the ease on stage. I felt like I’m really comfortable on stage but when I host I can hide behind comedy. Grace Davis doesn’t hide behind nothing on stage and I almost feel like Grace Davis is more at home on stage than she is in her own skin. So I didn’t know how to find that.”
Ross said she watched everyone from Celine Dion to Whitney Houston, Madonna and Mariah Carey to study their relationship with their microphone which is part of what the comedic actress said was new for her. It was Rihanna’s Victoria Secret Fashion Show performance though that particlarly stuck out to her. “She’s not even in her element, but she’s holding that space so that was really interesting to me because I’m like, Tracee is not in her element , but she’s going to have to pretend she’s in her element, so how do you do that seamlessly?”
Figuring that out, of course, led to a case of what I called nervousness, but Ross told me it was so much more.
“Listen to me, Brande, you said nervousness, I was terrified. It was a monster. It was a smoke and mirrors monster, but you couldn’t have told me that. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is I’m not somebody who gets scared while I’m doing something, it’s always after. I don’t get scared before. I don’t get scared during. I get scared after.”
Laughing about her tendency to run off of a cliff and ignore the fact that she could’ve taken another route such as the stairs, an elevator, or a ladder even, Ross said it was after committing to the role that her fear set in.
“I was very terrified and I think some of it was I’ve always wanted to sing, some of it was I don’t know when I decided to put that on the back burner, if it was conscious or unconscious, but knowing the possibility of great comparison to my mother. We live in cancel culture. I’m not a dummy, I was like, ‘They gone take me out. Girl stay on the screen. What are you doing? Stop, stop, stop!’
Obviously, Ross was far from cancelled when she made her singing debut. And not only that, she learned something new about her ability to push past fear.
“What I discovered on the other side was that I got to walk through a fear towards a dream and what I got on the other side was unbridled freedom. The sense that something can feel irrationally that scary and you can still walk through. That it wasn’t about the absence of fear, it was about doing it anyway.”
The High Note is available to own on digital now and on Blu-ray & DVD August 11.
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