Arts & Events » Music

2017 Folk Fest Pick: Soulful Memphis Crooner Don Bryant Gets a Second Chance to Shine



Not every musician would be satisfied putting out two albums in 48 years.

Southern soul singer Don Bryant accepts it. Thrilled when “Precious Love” came out in 1969, he’s just as excited about “Don’t Give Up on Love” being released this summer via Fat Possum Records.

“I had a lot more knowledge, a lot more love and a lot more understanding to make this record,” he says by phone from his Tennessee home. “All that knowledge was being piled up and it finally got to a point where it had to break loose. But if it hadn’t broke loose, I’d still be content.”

The first song he ever sang at church was “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” and he says it made him feel happy that people liked it so much. After his childhood singing in church and harmonizing with his father’s gospel group, Bryant was signed to Hi Records, a soul and rockabilly record label in Memphis known for producing Al Green and Ann Peebles.

When the label’s focus turned to Green, Bryant shelved his own hopes of a solo career and instead used his impressive songwriting skills to write tunes for others, including Peebles, whom he married in 1974.

“I couldn’t pick the best part of being at Hi Records,” he says of those years. “I would put everything I had into my singing and then put a little extra into it to get some attention. But you know, just being a part of what was going on was special.”

The label closed in 1977, and while he continued to write for Peebles, Bryant’s only singing for decades was gospel.

He found his way back to Southern soul when he was asked to lend vocals to the Bo-Keys, a Memphis group made up of several former Hi Records session players. To Bryant, it seemed like a family reunion. Though he hadn’t recorded in years, all that gospel meant his voice was in fine form. Peebles joined him in the studio to add input, much the way he’d done for her.

As for touring again, Bryant can’t get enough of sharing his gift.

“I’ll pay attention to the crowd and if they’re getting off on what I’m doing, I can step it up and try different notes and things. If they’re enjoying it, I can get lost in singing.”

A lot of love is what he says people can expect from his performance.

“I’m trying to sing some things that people been through and show them not to give up on love,” he adds. “I haven’t.”

Don Bryant performs on Saturday, Oct. 14, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion and from 8:30 to 9:30 on the Altria Stage. He’ll also perform on Sunday, Oct. 15, from 1 to 1:45 on the Altria Stage.