Brenda Lee Eager Turns Out to Be Prince’s ‘Somebody': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
We often imagine the artist singing to us as the narrator of their every song. And often, they are. Prince certainly wasn't a stranger to autobiographical songs, but when he sang his loneliness and desire for companionship on "Somebody's Somebody," which you can watch above, off 1996's Emancipation, he inhabits a character written by Brenda Lee Eager, a soul singer, songwriter and musical theatre performer.
Eager, whose early career involved singing for civil rights, traveling the country with Jesse Jackson in the hopes of helping to getting black officials elected, had scored a handful of hit duets in the early '70s with Jerry Butler, including "Ain't Understanding Mellow" and "Close to You."
"I've worked with several people, but not too many, because I'm real cautious, real passionate about writing, so whoever I write with has to be someone who's really compatible with me in their thought process, and in their musical taste and in their spirit," she says in the second episode of a series by Jammcard called "How I Got the Gig," which you can watch in full below. She also discusses several of her collaborations, including how she came to write "Somebody's Somebody" for Prince, which was the second American single off of Emancipation.
“I had it written, I’d already written it, and he was producing another girlfriend of mine, Mavis Staples. Mavis called me one day and asked me to send her some songs, so I sent some to her. She didn’t use them, but about a year later she called me. And she was whispering, she says, ‘Prince is in his office and he’s reading your lyrics. And Brenda, he says you’re one of the best writers that he knows. He wants you to send more lyrics.’ I said, ‘Oh, OK!’ She said, ‘Don’t send music, he wants to put music to your lyrics.’ No problem! So I did, and later he got in touch with me and said that he had recorded one of my songs, and he said, ‘Do you approve of this?’ He asked for my approval! I wouldn’t have cared what it sounded like ... it was Prince! And that turned out to be a double-platinum record.”
She shared writing credits for the song with Prince and Hilliard Wilson, and the three also collaborated on "Hide the Bone," off of Prince's Crystal Ball in 1998.
Eager has written and sung with and for an all-star cast of musicians like Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, and so many more. And while she enjoyed these partnerships and life on the road, she says, "There's nothing like writing a song, and hearing somebody sing your song. To hear Prince, and Aretha Franklin, and to hear Ray Charles sing my song, that's beyond ecstasy, that's beyond enthusiastic. That's just crazy!," she says. "But I never stay too long, because I got a song to write, I got a play to write, I got stuff over here, too."
Eager appreciates the success she's garnered, but feels the true reward is getting to do what she's always loved. Even at age 17, she lied about her age so that she could start singing in Chicago clubs because it's what moved her.
"I don't have to be at the top of the charts. That's success to me, doing what I love. Hey, gets the rent paid? I'm good. I wish that happiness for everybody. Find your passion. Find whatever that is. And when you go for it, the universe will support you. It will hold you up and it will guide you through it. But you gotta know what you want to do ... the success will happen because you're doing your purpose."