Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

J’Nai Bridges on the past, present and future of music

Critically acclaimed and Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges has graced the world’s top opera stages and venues. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bridges emerged as a leading figure in conversations surrounding inclusion and racial justice in the arts. J’Nai Bridges Unamplified, directed by Christine Turner, captures Bridges in this pivotal moment, preparing for her solo in “A Knee on the Neck,” a choral tribute to George Floyd.

In this conversation with American Masters, Bridges shared songs which represent the past, present and future of music for her.

Past: What is a song that helped inspire you to become the artist you are today?

A song that’s helped to inspire me to become the artist I am today is actually a prayer, and it’s “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is sung often in the church. And I grew up singing this song from a really young age. I actually opened just about every recital that I sing with “The Lord’s Prayer,” a classical arrangement of it.

I’ve been singing that since I was a little girl before, you know, before I knew I even loved to sing. So it’s something that I always draw back toward. And I listen to the words and it inspires me to live out my full potential.

Present: What is a contemporary song from outside of opera that has excited you?

Oh, gosh, there are so many. But I grew up on Motown and Marvin Gaye is and was one of the ultimate artists for me. And the song “What’s Going On,” it’s just so relevant and I feel like it always is, always has been. And also the music has such an accessible beat, the rhythm and the harmonies and the harmonics.

It’s such a good song, and it inspires me, not to sound cheesy, but to do my part in healing this crazy world and asking those questions, you know, like, what’s going on?

Future: Is there a song that you think represents where opera could be headed into the future?

I can’t really think of a song that I think is necessarily going to represent what opera is going to be in the future, because I just don’t know. But what I do think opera could benefit from in the future is collaborating with different genres, cross-genre collaboration. I’m very much interested in that and I’m looking forward to my tour recitals on the West Coast with my friend Ulysses Owens and his trio; he’s a jazz drummer.

So I think that cross-genre collaboration is definitely something that should be a part of the future of opera sound, whatever that may be.

Subscribe to the American Masters Newsletter


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.