In 1984, the American vocalist Denice Brooks came to Berlin. For fourteen years, she gave countless Soul and Funk concerts in Germany, France, Spain and other countries on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. After spending a long time back home in Austin, Texas, she will be moving to Berlin, for the second time in her life, later this year.
Berlin, March 29th, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — In West Berlin, at the corner of Kurfürstendamm and Joachimsthaler Strasse, there used to be a smoke-filled venue called ‘Joe am Kudamm’. According to accounts by contemporaries who remember the place, it was more of a tourist spot than a hip place for the in-crowd. But there was one aspect that made ‘Joe am Kudamm’ unique, namely its concerts. The Soul singer Denice Brooks from Austin hit the stage there many times.
But her very first gig in Germany took place at the legendary ‘Quasimodo’ which still is one of Berlin’s venues for quality music concerts today. She would perform there all the time. But she also filled Hamburg’s ‘Grosse Freiheit 36’ in the city’s ‘Kiez’ neighborhood on a regular basis. In the sold out club, 2,000 fans danced to her energetic Funk tunes, and they loved her deep Soul ballads just as much. The same applied to her audiences all over Germany in France and Spain.
Yes, Denice Brooks’ performances were breathtaking, as the author of these lines witnessed many times, in the 1980s, when he was in the crowd at ‘Grosse Freiheit 36’. And yes, it was her unbelievable voice that mesmerized people, but also her stage presence and the shows she put on. They involved her late brother Jason who was a professional dancer. He was the one who made Denice Brooks come to Berlin in the first place.
In early 1984, Jason Brooks was in the U.S. Army, which stationed him in West Berlin. He called and told Denice she needed to come over. She lived in New York City at the time. “When I did not have another show on the horizon, I did not really know where my next dinner was coming from, quite frankly”, she says today. “So, I thought ‘hmmm’, this might be a good time to go to Germany.” It was.
“When I first got there, the Berlin Wall was still up. I don’t know what it feels like now, but I remember that the culture was always very hip, very musical. The folks were friendly, they enjoyed my shows.” What was supposed to be a short visit became 14-year stay. And shows were not the only thing that mattered: “I am an avid bike rider. Jason and I would get on our bikes on weekends on which we weren’t performing and just go, without a destination in mind. And we would bike for hours. When the Wall was already gone, we would sometimes end up in some cute village in Brandenburg.”
Not only did Denice Brooks raise roofs of countless venues all over the place with her own band, but she also took part in musical productions. With fellow artists such as Dr. Alban and Jennifer Rush, she toured Europe and Africa. Prince gave her permission to cover his hit ‘Purple Rain’, which she also recorded. When he came to Berlin for a concert, he made her sing the third verse on stage, in front of tens of thousands of people who cheered like crazy.
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Today, 24 years after Denice Brooks returned to Texas, she still speaks German: “Ich verstehe ein bisschen Deutsch, vielleicht auch viel. Es geht manchmal gut, aber es ist eine lange Zeit. Ich habe früher jeden Tag Deutsch gesprochen”, she told the author in an interview. She still understood some German, or possibly even a lot, she said. It had been a long time since she had used the language. Back then, she had spoken German every day. As it turns out, Denice Brooks also likes the ‘Berlin cuisine’, including Currywurst.
Picky and Brilliant
Her long stay in Berlin, from 1984 to 1998, was not her first in Germany. Her father was in the U.S. Army. When he was sent to Bavaria, his family followed him. There she was, Denice Brooks, at age 7, learning German at an American school in Augsburg. Later, she became an athlete, she was Miss Black Texas, and her love for music made her choose the career of a singer.
In the late summer of 2022, Denice Brooks will be moving back to Berlin. She is already working on new music projects in the German capital, even though she is still some 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) away. “I don’t want to give away any secrets, but yeah, I plan to come back and I’d like to put together an amazing group of musicians who have the same vibe and the same love for music and perfection on stage as I do”, she said in the interview. “I am one of those really picky singers.” Yes, she is. But she is also brilliant and very active, both with her own groups and as a backing vocalist. Denice Brooks just came out of a studio in San Antonio in which she took part in an extended recording session with Gloria Estefan.
Note: The author of this feature just became involved in Denice Brooks’ promotion and booking efforts. He also built her website.