Bougie beats

Local artist Bridgette Graham talks life of a musician during COVID-19, current band, career ambitions

Making do: Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, local musician Bridgette Graham has participated in open mic nights hosted by Philly Impact Live. She also joined her dad in a virtual performance with the Greater Kensington String Band. Source: Bridgette Graham

Bridgette Graham, a native of Northeast Philadelphia’s Parkwood section, toyed with different career options over the years, including medical school. But one path, one that both of her parents chose once upon a time, stole her heart from childhood – music.

Currently, Graham is the lead vocalist and keyboardist of the cover band Bougie & the Beasts, which plays at bars, wineries and events throughout Bucks County, Philadelphia and New Jersey. But, with most performance opportunities either canceled or postponed, Graham has been forced to find creative ways to continue her craft and do what she loves most.

“While it’s been a difficult time for everyone, to say the least, I’ve still been fortunate to be able to do a little bit here and there,” she told The Times.

Over the last few months, Graham has sang virtually several times, participating in open mic nights hosted by Philly Local Impact Live. She also joined her dad in a virtual performance with the Greater Kensington String Band, learning a brand new instrument – the xylophone.

Additionally, as a music instructor at her alma mater Archbishop Ryan High School, she transitioned her voice and piano lessons to Zoom.

While Graham is grateful to still have work during these trying times, she sorely misses the thrill of being on stage, rather than her couch.

“Music is my life. There’s no better sense of euphoria that I feel than when I’m in front of a crowd with the lights on, having someone smile and stare up at the stage, dance and sing along. Just feeling the joy of the crowd is an amazing feeling and it’s something that I really do miss,” she said. “While I hope that everyone is OK that’s been affected by COVID, eventually I hope to go back and experience that euphoria again.”

For Graham, being in the spotlight is nothing new. Growing up, she tried her hand at everything from musical theater to singing commercial jingles. As a teenager, she performed on the Spirit of Philadelphia, and also appeared at the Bucks County Playhouse during its fall season of shows in 2010. Most recently, she joined her mom in New York in December for a Christmas performance with the original Broadway cast of Annie.

“It was really special to be in that with her. I got to stand next to my mom and sing ‘Tomorrow.’ I had my arm around her, she had her arm around me. I won’t forget that,” she said. “That was my favorite thing I ever got to do on a stage, was stand next to my mom and some of her childhood friends. Just to have that experience, I’ll carry that through my life.”

After deciding that her calling was music (not medical school), Graham set off for Boston, Massachusetts to attend Berklee College of Music, where she earned a degree in vocal performance.

“I immersed myself in a little bit of every genre because I didn’t really want to be stuck with one. I wanted to learn about everything,” she said. “I just enjoyed music so much, and I was eager to learn more.”

On her graduation night, Graham received the ultimate surprise.

“I was scouted by a company that was doing a musical theater production in China, and they asked if I would be interested. One of the main characters had a family emergency, and they needed someone rather quickly to hop on a plane to China and perform the show,” she recalled. “That was a pretty cool graduation present.”

Three days later, Graham packed her bags and flew to China, where she joined the international tour of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

Upon returning to the states, Graham considered moving to New York. But at that point, she realized yet another calling – music education – and took on the role of vocal director at Archbishop Ryan.

“I was excited to get out and teach,” she said. “From the time I was really young, I would play school with the neighborhood kids.”

But, of course, Graham’s journey wasn’t meant to stop in the classroom. Several years ago, while working at SugarHouse Casino, her dad met young musician Rob Leonhardt and suggested he collaborate with Graham.

“The two of us got connected. We started a duo and then he brought me into his band,” she said.

Bougie & the Beasts, which also features Evan Emerle and Zach Furguson, plays everything from “toe-tapping” music to high-energy tunes.

“We try to play things that will appeal to everyone, but mostly, we want to get everyone having a good time, singing and dancing,” Graham said. “We’ll play Beyonce, The Killers. Definitely some Lizzo to get the people up and dancing.”

The band (at this point) is set to perform at Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein, 9130 Academy Road, on Saturday, Aug. 1.

Looking ahead, Graham’s future ambitions are two-fold. In terms of education, she hopes to someday open her own studio for music lessons.

“I’d love to have a division with a music therapy focus for children with autism,” she said. “Music seems to really help them in a lot of different areas of life. It helps with their cognitive development, social skills. That’s something that’s just near and dear to my heart.”

As for performing live, Graham’s goal is simple – to do it as much as she can, and make new memories with her bandmates.

“I’d love to be able to play some bigger venues with the band, travel the world and share music with everyone,” she said. “When I’m up on the stage with the band, occasionally you’ll lock eyes with another bandmate. You’ll see someone enjoying themselves and you’ll realize, this is where I want to be. Those are the moments that I won’t forget.”

Visit bougieandthebeasts.com for more information.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com