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Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs

Violinist Karen “Lady in Red” Briggs was born in New York City on August 12, 1963, and grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia. At an early age, Briggs displayed a natural talent for the violin and began playing many pieces by ear. While in high school, she received her first paying job, performing at a wedding for twenty dollars.

After graduating from high school in 1981, Briggs attended Norfolk State College where she majored in music education and mass media. In 1983, during her sophomore year in college, she began playing with the Virginia Symphony where she performed for four years. She returned to New York City where she won three Amateur Nights at The Apollo Theater. After getting married in 1988 and moving to Los Angeles, California, Briggs began performing regularly at the jazz club Marla’s Memory Lane. In 1989, Briggs embarked on her first professional tour with Soul II Soul, performing throughout America and Japan. In 1991, Briggs successfully auditioned for Yanni, the Greek-American new age keyboard composer. Briggs most notable performance was during Yanni Live: At the Acropolis wearing the now infamous red dress. Following this performance, she spent the next thirteen years touring and recording with Yanni, in Tribute which was performed both at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and in the Forbidden City, in China.

Briggs made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1994, performing with pianist Dave Gruisin. She has also performed with a number of other artists over the years, including Stanley Clarke, the Wu Tang Clan, En Vogue and Chaka Khan. At the time of the interview, some of her current projects included recording with Hidden Beach Records and performing with the Unrapped Band.

Karen Briggs was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 4, 2004.

Accession Number

A2004.191

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/4/2004

Last Name

Briggs

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Cleveland Elementary School

Brighton Elementary School

Craddock Middle School

Norfolk State University

Woodrow Wilson High

First Name

Karen

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

BRI03

Favorite Season

August

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Favorite Quote

Mr. or Mrs. Right Is Someone Whose Faults You Can Tolerate.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

8/12/1963

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Yaka Mein

Short Description

Violinist Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs (1963 - ) is most known for her 1993 performance during Yanni's 'Live at the Acropolis.' She has also performed with Soul II Soul, the Wu Tang Clan, En Vogue and Chaka Khan.

Employment

Virginia Symphony Orchestra

Soul II Soul (Musical group)

Yanni

Sounds of Brazil

Hidden Beach

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs traces her paternal ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her paternal family's Pentecostal background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about her father's musical background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs recalls jokes shared at her paternal family reunions

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her earliest childhood memories in Englewood, New Jersey

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs tell the story of how she began playing violin

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs explains how playing violin helped her cope with racial discrimination she experienced from her peers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs recalls her elementary school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs remembers her experience at Alford J. Mapp Junior High School in Portsmouth, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her first jazz violin performances

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about her father's musical career

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about attending Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth, Virginia during the last stage of school integration

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her high school personality

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes obstacles to playing jazz violin at Norfolk State College in Norfolk, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs remembers playing in the Virginia Symphony Orchestra

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs explains her decision to leave the Virginia Symphony Orchestra to focus on jazz violin

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs remembers her time as a jazz violinist in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs shares a story about her return to playing jazz violin

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs recalls her return to jazz violin performance in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs remembers touring the United States and Japan with Soul II Soul

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs remembers touring Bulgaria with the Sofia Symphonic Orchestra

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about Yanni and his music

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs remembers her early years of touring with Yanni

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about her conflicts with Yanni

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes the impact of Yanni's 'Live at the Acropolis' PBS special on her life

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about the aftermath of Yanni's 'Live at the Acropolis'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs remembers the circumstances of her daughter's birth

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs remembers moving to Takoma Park, Maryland and forming the band Vertu in 1999

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs explains the break-up of jazz fusion group Vertu

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her recent and upcoming recordings and performances

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs reflects on her musical career

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs recalls the disappearance of her eponymous red dress from 'Live at the Acropolis'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs explains her philosophies regarding music and the music industry

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about her musical career's impact on her family members

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes some of the string instruments in her collection

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs plays a tune on her violin

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

5$5

DATitle
Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs talks about the aftermath of Yanni's 'Live at the Acropolis'
Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs recalls the disappearance of her eponymous red dress from 'Live at the Acropolis'
Transcript
Yanni toured on that. I'd walk out in front of these audiences, seventeen, eighteen thousand people. And it was just like--"WAH!" And it was amazing, you know, just the energy of that, all these people. And at the same time, I was trying to balance all of this response against his ego (laughter). It's like, "Okay, you're just supposed to be a side person on this gig. So, just be cool. You know, don't overdo it." You know, how could I not overdo it? I was the only person with a red dress on. And you know, I just, I never backed him up against the wall about anything. I just went along with whatever he wanted to do, and tried to make it the best I could. I had a steady job, whatever. Because as I told you, I needed that job when I got it. And now the job was taking off beyond anyone's wildest imagination. Eventually that video ['Live at the Acropolis'] sold, I heard eight million copies, and it's still selling to this day. He's done others, but none of them have sold quite like that. And there were two standouts in that video besides Yanni. I can proudly say I was one of them, and the other one was the drummer that auditioned me, Charlie Adams. Charlie's been with Yanni a long time. But to me, those were the two standouts. Now he'll have five, six, or seven standouts, because no one or two people could ever have that much influence in his success again (laughter). And I really tried to work with him in the confines of his insecurities about that, but it didn't matter, it didn't matter. So, I stuck it out and stayed totally committed to that gig, forsaking all others--all other titles, all other genres of music. I was just known as Yanni's violinist, and I stuck it out for the better part of thirteen years, minus a four and a half year period that he took a hiatus. He broke up with his girlfriend, and all kind of drama happened in his life. I broke up with my guy and, you know, I just, so I just--$$Has it been that long, thirteen years with Yanni?$$From '91 [1991] to June of this year was my last tour.$$Thirteen years with Yanni?$$Yeah. So, you know, in that experience, there were a lot of things. Most of my traveling came out of that experience. So, let's see, I've been to Greece, I've been to China, I've been to India, Puerto Rico, Canada, most of the European countries, many of them. And I've done the whole television thing, you know, the big time stuff associated with when you have success, that kind of promotion; I was involved in a lot of that. And '[The] Oprah Winfrey [Show],' '[The Tonight Show with] Jay Leno,' all that stuff came out of that. It also introduced me to other artists that made me visible to other artists. So, out of that came Diana Ross. That was actually who I did Oprah Winfrey with, Diana Ross. And I played on her last release, and I don't know, all the musicians in town who knew me about me--there were some people that called me out of the woodwork. I'd done an interview with Essence magazine, and things were happening that I never dreamed of, essentially. And my work picked up, my commodity value picked up. But I always stayed committed. Number one, I wouldn't do anything that interfered with Yanni. So, that thirteen year stint minus those four and a half years he took off, that was the number one priority; it became my life.$The other thing that I have to mention is when we finished the Acropolis ['Live at the Acropolis'], the actual performance [at the Herodes Atticus Theatre, Athens, Greece]--that red dress that I wore on stage mysteriously disappeared (laughter). It disappeared, and hasn't been found to this day.$$Have you performed in red since?$$We had the dress remade. The designer [Linda Stokes] refused to make an exact duplicate of any of her clothing; she just refused. So, I did get a couple of more red dresses. I even had the same dress made in black and in chocolate, too. But she would never duplicate the exact dress. So, the original dress is somewhere in Greece, I think. It just mysteriously disappeared, and not to be seen or heard from since (laughter), right after that performance.