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Surprising Facts About Southern Singer-Songwriter Edie Brickell

She hit it big with "What I Am" in 1988, but she's no one-hit wonder!

In the late ’80s, many of the biggest songs on the pop charts were filled with synthesizers and glossy production. It was something of a surprise, then, when Edie Brickell & New Bohemians’ “What I Am” cracked the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

With its laidback guitar strums and thoughtful lyrics, the song was a breath of fresh air, and stood out from the majority of what was on MTV at the time. Many critics and fans have since praised it for how it predicted the sound of the ’90s.

Edie Brickell in 1990
Edie Brickell in 1990Getty

Years later, “What I Am” was ranked as one of VH1’s top one-hit wonders of the ’80s, but Edie Brickell has proven to be way more than just a flash in the pan, and the Texas-born musician is still active today, with many fascinating projects. Here’s what to know about one of the most underrated singer-songwriters around.

1. Her signature hit was inspired by a college religion class

“What I Am,” is a catchy, breezy song with unexpectedly strange lyrics like “Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box/Religion is the smile on a dog.” In an interview, Brickell said the lines were inspired by a college World Religions class in which she was questioning what her fellow students were saying and what she believed.

As she put it, “What is more expressive and sweet than that smile on a dog? And I felt that in terms of religion, some people see it, some people don’t see it.”

2. She’s part of a musical power couple

Brickell has been married to Paul Simon since 1992. The talented couple have three kids, Adrian, Lulu and Gabriel, all of whom are now musicians themselves.

Paul Simon and Edie Brickell in 2016
Paul Simon and Edie Brickell in 2016Getty

Brickell and Simon had a meet-cute when she was performing “What I Am” on a 1988 episode of Saturday Night Live. Simon was standing by the cameraman watching her perform, and they felt an immediate connection.

“He made me mess the song up when I looked at him,” she said. “We can show the kids the tape and say, ‘Look, that’s when we first laid eyes on each other.”’

While they haven’t made an album together, they have performed together on various occasions.

3. A hippie icon wanted to start a band with her

Brickell’s boho musicianship caught the eye of none other than Jerry Garcia, the frontman of the legendary band the Grateful Dead. They played together in the early ’90s, and Garcia was so impressed by her that he planned to put together a band with her and play shows of fully improvised songs. Unfortunately, the band never materialized and Garcia passed away in 1995.

4. Edie Brickell did a duet with Willie Nelson

Brickell and outlaw country icon Willie Nelson collaborated on the song “Sing to Me, Willie” in 2020. Brickell called Nelson “My dear friend,” and said, “My father and Texas are my biggest connections to Willie. I never hear his voice without loving memories of people and places back home. If only my dad could have heard this song.”

5. Edie Brickell and Steve Martin have made albums together

An eclectic folk singer and a beloved comedian may sound like an odd couple, but Edie Brickell and Steve Martin have made two albums together, Love Has Come for You (2013) and So Familiar (2015).

In addition to being one of the funniest people around, Martin is also a talented banjo player. He and Brickell met through mutual connections and bonded over their love of bluegrass music. They then collaborated on their albums of charming Americana, with Martin playing banjo and Brickell providing vocals.

6. She’s written two musicals

Brickell and Martin wrote a 2016 Broadway musical, Bright Star, centered on a woman who meets a soldier who has just returned from fighting in World War II. The show was nominated for multiple Tony Awards.

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell on 'Bright Star' opening night 2016
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell at Bright Star‘s opening night (2016)Getty

In 2022, she wrote another musical, 38 Minutes, based on her experience of living through the 2018 false alarm nuclear missile alert in Hawaii.

7. Edie Brickell has a new album coming soon

Brickell’s latest project, but surely not her last, is the band Heavy Makeup, a trio she formed with jazz musicians Trever Hagen and CJ Camerieri. Their second album, Here It Comes, will be out on June 28.

Whether she’s topping the pop charts, collaborating with a cultural icon, or trying out another musical style entirely, Brickell’s creativity and versatility always inspires.

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