Mississippi recording artist Eden Brent knew early on that she had musical talent, but it was only after getting her college degree and learning the basics of performing from one of the Delta’s most-respected and loved bluesmen that she realized music would be her career.
“When I was in grade school, every morning we would say the Pledge of Allegiance, and then we would sing a song, like the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ or whatever,” said Brent, who grew up in Greenville, the daughter of a family that made a name for itself in the towboat business. “I was always asked to lead the singing. I didn’t volunteer — they would ask me. I guess that’s where it all started.”
Wanting a deeper, formal understanding of music, after graduating from high school Brent enrolled at the University of North Texas, eventually earning a degree in music theory. By that time, Brent was a veteran songwriter — she wrote her first song when she was only three years old — and she had performed for years both as a solo artist as well as in rock and jazz bands in and around Greenville. Still, she felt her education somehow just wasn’t complete.
Then, she met Abie “Boogaloo” Ames. Boogaloo was a self-taught, master blues pianist who had perfected his boogie-woogie playing style over nearly 50 years of performing before he met Brent. At first, Brent said she was like Boogaloo’s “groupie,” hanging around with him, listening to him play then going home to try it for herself — with mixed results. Eventually, she would ask Boogaloo to be her teacher and mentor.
The two would, over time, become the closest friends — Boogaloo even began referring to Brent as “Little Boogaloo” and PBS filmed a documentary in 1999 titled Boogaloo & Eden: Sustaining the Sound about their friendship — and it was this relationship that would launch Brent’s performing and recording career.
“When we did the PBS documentary, I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal then; just a normal part of my life in Greenville with Boogaloo,” Brent remembered. “Now, it means so much more to me, and it is so neat to go back and listen to what we said and did.
“I learned so much in college, but I didn’t know how to really apply what I knew. Boogaloo brought what I had in my mind down to my hands — he taught me technique and how to be an entertainer.”
Sadly, Boogaloo died in 2002 at the age of 82, but Brent took his lessons and began building a reputation as a must-see blues performer, offering her Boogaloo-inspired piano work and gutsy vocals. Then in 2005, Brent got her big break when she won the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
“I had been playing regionally until then and had some success, but winning the International Blues Challenge put me on the national map I guess,” Brent said. “The Blues Foundation is to the blues what the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (which offers the Grammy Awards) is to all the forms of music.”
In 2009, Brent’s place among performers was firmly cemented when she was nominated in four categories at the Blues Music Awards, winning both Acoustic Album of the Year (for her “Mississippi Number 1”) and Acoustic Artist of the Year. The next year, the Blues Foundation presented her with the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of The Year award.
Chip Eagle, publisher of Blues Revue, BluesWax and Dirty Linen, said “in Eden’s huge playing and singing you can hear the ghosts of Mississippi in a duet with the future of the blues.”
Brent has now recorded numerous records, including “Jigsaw Heart,” which was released just this year by her label, Yellow Dog Records.
She has also performed all over the world. Brent has played at the prestigious Kennedy Center, the 2000 Republican Convention and the 2005 presidential inauguration ceremony (where she shared the stage with the legendary bluesman B.B. King), the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel — even the British Embassy. With the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, she has performed along with musicians such as Marcia Ball and George Porter Jr., best known as the bassist and vocalist in the R&B group The Meters.
Through all of this, though, Brent has remained “true to her roots.” She still lives in Greenville, and she still leans the lessons she learned from Boogaloo — play it from the heart, work hard and stay true to yourself and the music.
“There was a time when I was younger when I thought I wanted to be a rock star, but I realize now I never wanted that lifestyle.” She added with a laugh, “Be careful what you wish for — it might come true!”
Brent also still values her education.
“Apprenticeships are way too undervalued, I think,” Eden said. “I value my college experience, but I would not be where I am today if not for what I learned as an apprentice under Boogaloo.”
Brent’s advice to others wanting a similar career is rather straightforward.
“You need to dream big, but accomplish that dream in steps. Shoot for the mountaintop first, then the clouds, then the moon, then the stars.
“And, be yourself. Don’t try to be me. Gosh, the world couldn’t handle more than one of me anyway.”