Dessy Di Lauro

by Carl Wiser

"Retro" is almost its own genre these days, and a very popular one. "Hotline Bling" sounds suspiciously like 1972, and "Can't Feel My Face" is really a modern take on '80s Michael Jackson. It takes a deft production touch, but blending old and new can create a fresh, vibrant sound. Dessy Di Lauro has found just such a sound, and she went back to the '30s to get it.

That hepcat Cab Calloway, the "hi-de-ho" man himself, is the biggest influence on Di Lauro, who along with producer Ric'key Pageot put his signature song "Minnie the Moocher" through the Star-On machine to arrive at "Go 'Head D," which you can hear on Soundcloud.

Di Lauro, whose track "Jump 'n' Jivin'" soundtracked ESPN's coverage of the 2013 women's basketball championship, has put together a stage show that recalls Calloway in look as well as sound. That sometimes means finding a good zoot suit.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): What is your musical background?

Dessy Di Lauro: I come from a church background. Grew up singing in the choir. My parents were vinyl collectors. They collected some very old vinyl and it was all stuff like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller albums. Mix that in with more jazz, lots of soul and R&B music and me growing up listening to hip-hop and the fusion of what my writing partner and producer Ric'key Pageot and I came up with is what we call Neo-Ragtime, Speakeasy Soul, Harlem Renaissance Funk.

Songfacts: Why did you decide to re-work "Minnie the Moocher"?

Dessy: We decided to re-work the song and use the "Minnie The Moocher" sample because Cab played a huge influence in my music and music career. He is my alter ego. And everyone knows this song. I feel like it's a time in music and history that is forgotten, and I wanted to flip it and do something that was totally me and bring it into today and have a positive message to it.

Songfacts: You've written a completely different story around the track. How did you approach that?

Dessy: Obviously Cab is singing about a woman but I decided to call-answer playfulness to the song's original with keeping the Hi-D-Hi D. We just took an approach of no matter what you are going through, you will come out of the heavy times on top. Stay positive and look to brighter days. The Almighty will see you through. That's the way I approached it. People have their different interpretations. It can mean something different to people.

Songfacts: What are some of the pros and cons of coming up with your own musical style?

Dessy: The pros to what we are doing is that it is something new: a fresh, unique sound that is all our own. It's a re-introduction to an era of music that people have forgotten: the Harlem Renaissance '30s era of stride piano and ragtime and we mix it in with today's contemporary sounds of R&B, soul, funk, and hip-hop. We stand out as far as what we are doing. People remember it.

The con is that whenever you are doing something different it is always harder to break into the market and music scene. It takes people a minute because they have nothing that they can relate it to. It's an all-new sound, but once people latch onto it, they are in. It's always harder to sell something original, but when it does, it flies.

Songfacts: Where do you find your inspiration?

Dessy: My partner Ric'key Pageot and I get our inspiration from Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller then we mix it in with Outkast, Dr. Dre, Sarah Vaughan, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu and our Neo-Ragtime, Speakeasy Soul, Harlem Renaissance Funk sound is what we come up with.

Songfacts: How do you approach the visual presentation?

Dessy: It's always a work in progress. I like to keep it edgy and fresh with the perfect mix of vintage-meets-today. I mix the zoot suit look, mixed with victorian, renaissance and then make it edgy and sexy for today. I like collars, feathers, baggy pants, tuxedo look, tail coat, peplum, exaggerated large puff-sleeve blouses, latex, the white and black spat-like shoes - I found high heels that are a take off of that style that I wear for my shoes. I also like bowler hats, fedoras, top hats.

If I had to describe it I would say it's Cab Calloway meets Lady Gaga. I prefer the male masculine edge from the '30s then add a female sexy edge of today and glam it up.

April 7, 2016.
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