Durand Bernarr is Revitalizing Black Music with His Latest EP


June 11, 2024

He’s bringing that old thing back to music–authenticity, innovative collaboration, and fun!

Durand Bernarr isn’t your average R&B artist. He’s a vocalist with a powerhouse voice, a songwriter with a knack for witty lyrics, and a producer with a keen ear for crafting infectious hooks. June is both Black Music Month and Pride Month, and Bernarr perfectly embodies the spirit of both. Just as Black music has a rich history of innovation and pushing boundaries, Durand isn’t afraid to experiment.

His sound, described as “Gangster Musical Theatre,” blends soul, R&B, and theatrical antics, resulting in music that’s infectious, soulful, and undeniably entertaining. A burgeoning artist with a huge underground following, he has already “had the opportunity to sit under, collaborate [with], and learn from some of music’s leading legends and contributors such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Producer Yonni ([his] first cousin on his father’s side) The Internet, Anderson .Paak, Sam Sparro, J*DaVeY, Teedra Moses, Adam Blackstone, Tweet, comedian Rickey Smiley & Erykah Badu,” according to his website.


Because of Them We Can recently had the opportunity to chat with our self-dubbed “favorite cousin on [our] Daddy’s side” about the release of his latest EP, the unconventional inspiration for his music, and why staying true to himself is important in this industry. Bernarr’s new EP, “En Route,” is described as “an auditory adventure,” a road trip-themed project drawing influences from a wide range of genres, including funk, neo-soul, rock, and even a touch of Spanish flair.

“There’s a little bit of “at night, I think of you!” He jokingly sang the lyrics of “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs, hinting at the playful and unexpected elements listeners will hear. “It’s really fun. We’re on a road trip. We’re sharing things that we’ve experienced. We’re telling stories along the way, so it’s meant to be fun.”


This playful spirit is a motif of his discography, bringing a light-heartedness that’s often missing in modern R&B.

“Everybody’s always talking about either love, or getting hurt, or turning up…talking about all of the things that they have. It leaves me so much room to talk about all these other things, you know. We could [have a song about] doing dishes…doing our chores. ‘What are we tackling first?’ or ‘What song am I playing?’ We don’t talk about those things anymore. It doesn’t always have to be serious. It doesn’t always have to be hurt. Yes, we need to express those things, but there are so many other things..the little in-betweens. If you’re just functioning adults, then you’ll be able to relate.”

That philosophy of spotlighting life’s nuances is perfectly encapsulated in his recent single, “Fist Bump,” an amazing yet humorous tune that addresses the relatable frustration of an acquaintance getting makeup on your clothes.


“Getting makeup on your clothes because someone wasn’t conscious of the space…it’s just like, ‘nah babes, I’ve learned my lesson. You get a fist bump. You’re getting air kisses, everybody.”

As for his influences, Bernarr’s list is as diverse as his music. “Do we have the time? James Brown, Erykah Badu, Little Richard, Chaka Khan, Freddie Mercury, Quincy Jones, Alanis Morissette, Lenny Kravitz, Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar. Rihanna–and she’s six months older than me, an ’88 baby–Dave Chapelle, Katt Williams, Sheryl Underwood…Yes, there’s also comedians. Jim Carrey.”

He credits his musical approach to his upbringing in a theater household.


“First and foremost, I’m a theater kid, so I grew up doing a lot of that. My mother is a full-on thespian. Both of my parents are musicians, you know, they sing as well. So being in an environment where there’s music all over the place, I kind of had a predisposition for music. That’s kind of where that encompasses the theatrics of it. Think of me like the grandson of Jenifer Lewis…we project. We use our outside voice even when we’re inside sometimes,” said Bernarr

This theatricality is a core element of his unique sound and the ethos undergirding his self-proclaimed gangster theater music.

“Gangster musical theater is just that, like, it’s the aspect of theater, the theatrics, and then you have like the thump…the knock that goes with that,” he explained his dichotomy and the inspiration behind the song “Mango Butter,” from his 2022 album “Wanderlust.”


Still, Bernarr’s love for drama didn’t necessarily translate to a love for traditional Broadway, though. “I’m not a huge fan of Broadway musicals. Of course, I love Disney, but I would say my favorite would be Little Shop of Horrors. And not only that…That is probably one of three productions that could get me to go on Broadway because Broadway is a lifestyle change.”

He previously made the decision to pass up on what most would consider the “opportunity of a lifetime,” performing as an unnamed musical great on Broadway due to the strenuous work and sacrifice required.

“That is your life. Eight shows a week, doing the exact same thing. There’s no deterring from that, and so I want to make sure that if I do that, it is something that I absolutely love,” explained Bernarr.


“I want to do roles that take me outside of what my normal zhuzh is. Of course, I can play a funny person. I can play the ‘all over the place’ person, but I would like to play something that definitely has me studying and getting into a character rather than just showing up as an iteration of myself,” he continued.

While on the subject of loving what you do, Bernarr also spoke candidly about the business side of music and the necessity of balancing artistic integrity with commercial success and trying new things.

“I feel like it’s important that we understand the business aspect of it. But also, make sure that there’s some portions in there that we love and that we’re proud of.”


“However, I am now open to singing songs that I don’t like. The reason I say that is because a lot of the major hits that some of these artists have had, they didn’t like them songs! Patti Labelle didn’t like ‘New Attitude,’ Tina Turner was not feeling ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’ when she heard it. Toni Braxton said, ‘Unbreak my WHAT?’ and Coko Clemons from SWV don’t like none of the songs that they sing, but she sings them like she wrote them. She sings them like she lived that. I need two records that I’m like, ‘I could have gone without this,’ but also, it’s bigger than me. I’m also flexible in that area, but the rest of the music, I’ve got to love.”

It’s that openness to explore, discover, and the immense value he places on collaboration that contributes to Bernarr’s success in the industry.

“One of the main things is, in this journey that we’re going on, we can’t do it by ourselves. I think it’s important for us to cross-promote, collaborate, dip into these other worlds that we don’t normally find ourselves in, and see what we can take from that where we are, and what we can bring [into] the space as well.” He also emphasized the importance of being in the same room with collaborators, sharing the creative energy and spontaneity that can’t be replicated through remote exchanges.


“That was the first time that I got a chance to do that, when I recorded [“Fist Bump”] with the Free Nationals. That song is over two years old now. I think I did that in 2021,” he shared. “When we started picking songs for the EP, this song was the one that we did first, so we had to build songs around it…so it wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb…We had to complement that, which worked out fine. I’m glad we were able to build around that.”

Looking ahead, Bernarr has a plethora of aspirations beyond just music. “I’d love to do voiceover work…for cartoons, for sure. I’d like to have my own show, whatever that looks like. It would more than likely be a variety show.” He also dreams of performing with a full orchestra and at the Sydney Opera House as a headliner, and opening businesses that cater to adults who want to reconnect with their inner child. “I’m definitely a big kid. I need to make a space for those of us that are in touch with our inner children.”

This Pride Month and Black Music Month, Durand Bernarr–a proudly Black queer singer–will be taking his show on the road, with performances at Bonnaroo and Kansas City Pride, among others. His dedication to authenticity has breathed new life into the music industry, making him an artist to watch and a true embodiment of the spirit of this month’s celebrations.


Cover photo: Durand Bernarr is Revitalizing Black Music with His Latest EP / Credit: Durand Bernarr via Facebook

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