Jeannette Bayardelle, the leading role of Celie from the 2005-2008 production of “The Color Purple” on Broadway, and the daughter of two Haitian-born parents, started her musical career as a high school student at the School of Performing Arts in Newark. After obtaining her undergraduate degree in 2002, her performance career took her to Broadway, the recording studios of R&B labels and animated films like Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning.” Although Ms. Bayardelle continues to conquer new territory in the theater, the church is always a returning point for this singer.
In the Argo Tea Café on the Upper East Side, Jeannette talked to Carib News about being a professional singer in both the church and the theater. She says:
“Musical theater and gospel both involve storytelling. In musical theater, you tell a story that is scripted. In gospel, when you’re singing, you’re telling a different story – one that is more personal and one that comes from within.”
Jeannette elaborates, “I recently wrote a musical theater piece titled, “Shida,” and the story is based on my best friend from childhood and her struggles. I am telling her story and I’m somewhat connected to the story because some of the things she has experienced, I’ve experienced with her. But when I’m singing about God, I’m completely connected to the story because singing gospel is both a personal and spiritual experience.
“When I perform gospel, I feel like I have to rely on the spirit of God to provide the script. This can be a vulnerable place; especially when you are used to taking directions from a theater director. In gospel, a singer wants to perfect their gift but also leave room for the spirit of God and let him guide him or her through a song.”
In a theater setting, all directions are presented through visuals, verbal commands and cues that involve using the five senses. Listening to God as an instructor or a guide is a challenge because his direction required faith instead of the use the human senses. Ms. Bayardelle not only believes that God is present with her, but also that her voice can help bring listeners closer to him.
“I believe when you sing, the sound of the voice can be so heavenly; and it can bridge the natural and the spiritual world. The voice is a powerful instrument and I believe that when you sing, your resonance can tap into heaven. I know my voice is a God-given gift, and I know it is part of my destiny and purpose to sing people through their struggles and sing them closer to God.”
One might ask – how does a singer recognize that it is their destiny to sing for God? Firstly, Jeannette claims, “I never stopped singing for God.” Secondly, she claims her faith in God grew during what was perhaps the most trying period in her life. Jeannette talks about her experience with pulmonary embolism – a physical condition that could have been detrimental to her overall health.
“While I was going through it [pulmonary embolism], I didn’t understand the severity of the situation. In 2008, I was traveling on a plane from New York to Portland and my legs were hurting me. When I got to Portland, I realized the pain in my legs grew; then when I stopped off the plane, I couldn’t breathe.
“I went to get help and I was rushed to the hospital. The doctors found I had multiple clots in both my lungs. Usually, one clot would take someone out, and, as you can imagine, I thought to myself ‘what a miracle is it that I am still here!’ This experience made me realize that I am here for a reason and I have a purpose. I am determined to fulfill my purpose and destiny, and I know if God could bring me through that, he can bring me through any situation.”
In addition, this experience taught her to be more health conscious. She explains:
“I had to listen to my body, because if I didn’t, there is a possibility that I might not even be here. I trust in God and I know God to be a healer. He’s healed me from something that could’ve been so tragic, and I am grateful for that today.”
Although her faith in God strengthened during her battle with pulmonary embolism, Jeannette has felt God’s presence throughout her life and her accomplishments. One moment she recalls feeling this presence was during her performance as Celie in “The Color Purple.”
“When I was cast for the role, I remember what it felt like to get that call from my agent and hear “You are hired!” There is something so powerful about that – you spend your life trying to convince people of who you are and the gifts you have, and the vision you see and when you get that call you feel like ‘Finally, the world understands who I am.’ And also, after I finished my shows, I would have people come up to me and say that they’ve been touched. That for me is such a wonderful feeling because I feel God is using me and I am purpose-driven.”
Aside from validating her belief in God’s strength and healing power, Jeannette’s journey through life and the performance industry taught her the following lessons: “believe in your vision; never let ‘no’ stop you; and have a strong character.” These lessons are not only ones Jeannette’s learned from her experiences; but they are also advices that she has for any young performer who has a true love for singing and a drive to pursue it professionally.
“Believe in your vision,” begins Jeannette, “use it as a gage for when times get rough. This profession is a tough one and it requires a tough skin. Also, write your vision down so that you will never let no stop you. That’s my second lesson: never let ‘no’ stop you.
“When you find that people who are saying things that go against what you see for yourself, you can go back to your vision, and let that heal you.” And instead of reading ‘no’ as a discouraging remark, Jeannette claims that returning her vision has enabled anyone to “Let ‘no’ empower you to do the impossible.”
Finally Jeannette emphasizes that “Your gift will make room for you and you before great me, but character will keep you there, and that’s very important. Have standards, and respect everyone, not just the CEO but everyone that comes into your life. You never know when you’re entertaining angels.”