It’s a testament to the long-running popularity of Michael Jackson that B~Free‘s first exposure to the King of Pop came not from a record or a video, but from a TV miniseries.
“When I was little they came out with that miniseries, The Jacksons: An American Dream, which was the story of Michael and his brothers and their lives,” B~Free says. “That was my first memory of seeing who those guys were.”
On Friday, April 13, at Turner Hall Ballroom, B~Free (a.k.a. Britney Freeman-Farr) will put her own spin on Jackson’s music with MJ-UNCOVERED, the latest installment in the UNCOVERED series that finds local artists reinterpreting the works of seminal musicians. Past installments have covered everyone from Quincy Jones and Prince to Stevie Wonder and A Tribe Called Quest.
Speaking of those four shows, B~Free has been a part of all of them. Milwaukee multi-threat Klassik originally chose Jackson for his 2017 UNCOVERED show in 2017, but eventually switched gears to take on Tribe. That move not only opened the door for B~Free to take on Jackson, but it gave her a chance to finally curate a show of her own.
“I was really trying to position myself to be able to curate one myself,” she says. “I’ve been in four UNCOVERED shows as a performer. My first one was with Klassik at the Quincy Jones show. Once I saw everything they were doing, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a really cool process. I think this is something I really want to be a part of and put together.’
“When I heard [Klassik] was doing Michael,” she continues, “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so awesome! Why didn’t I think of that!'”
Growing up in a musical family, B~Free says Jackson’s legacy was something hard-wired into her upbringing, and something that quickly went beyond a 1992 miniseries.
“I can’t remember a single point where I wasn’t referencing back to something Michael had done,” she says. “Everything he created, even though it was mostly before I got there, was so timeless. That’s what I really started to appreciate about it. There’s not a single age group that I can think of that can’t appreciate some facet or aspect of the work that he created during his time here. To me, that is the true definition and mark of a monumental artist.”
While B~Free admits the difference between performing in an UNCOVERED show and curating one is “night and day,” it’s a job she’s uniquely qualified for.
“It’s generally what I do already in my work,” she says. “I’m a music teacher. I teach K-8 choral and general music at Milwaukee Montessori schools. We put on five concerts a year. The bulk of my work is literally finding songs to curate for these kids to sing. Some of it involves me rearranging songs, changing the words, the keys, the style, and presenting them in a fashion that is doable for the kids. I feel like having done that for the last six years has given me some kind of prep for this.”
Joining B~Free in reimagining Jackson’s music will be an impressive roster of friends and fellow musicians—including her husband, Quinten Farr, who, along with Jay Anderson, Aram Feriants, Olen Franklin, Alan Harris, and Terry Harris Jr. make up the show’s rhythm section. Other contributing musicians include Klassik, Brian Dimetri, Cree Myles, Evan Lane, Jesse Weinberg, Jaleel Amir, Kyndal J., Lili K., Immortal Girlfriend, SistaStrings, Dailen Harris, Michaela Usher, Brit Nicole, Cedric Gardner, Vee Adams, and Christopher DeAngelo Gilbert.
Fitting such a deep roster of talent, classical arrangements, remixes, mash-ups, dance, and even poetry will all be utilized to redefine Jackson’s music.
“I like the idea of mashing up songs that you wouldn’t normally expect to be together, but they still fit somehow,” B~Free says. “It’s really just about giving people a platform and an opportunity to show what they can do.”
MJ-UNCOVERED has been in development for more than a year. In the end, B~Free is most looking forward to everything coming together and ending on a (surprise) high note.
“The finale is so exciting and so awesome and so big,” she says. “I’m not going to say what it is, but people can probably guess. I’m looking forward to it because I feel once that moment comes, not only is it going to be a high energy point for the audience, but for the crew as well. They’ll know that we made it.
“My hope and belief is that everything is going to come full circle on Friday, and everything will make it totally worthwhile.”