Durand Bernarr Reflects on His 20-Year Musical Journey and Usher's Influence

From working behind the scenes to captivating audiences worldwide, Durand Bernarr shares his career milestones, musical versatility, and admiration for Usher's enduring legacy.

Durand Bernarr’s journey with music started at 16 when he joined his father, an audio engineer, on tour for Earth, Wind & Fire as a production assistant. His interest in music was further nurtured by the gospel music he heard at church, where his mother was a music director. 

“My career has been pulling me in every direction. Like the demand is demanding and it's been almost 20 years. As a matter of fact, when Rihanna came out is when I started on the road. So, next year we will have had 20 years of ‘Pon De Replay’ as well as me getting my start,” the Cleveland-born singer tells BET.

In 2010, Bernarr released his second EP, 8ight: The Stepson of Erykah Badu, a compilation of Badu covers and medleys. Shortly after, Badu messaged him on Twitter, and a year later, she hired him on tour as a background vocalist for her band Nedda Stella. Bernarr says that he learned a lot from the “Tyrone” hitmaker.

He adds, “I was making a lot of mental notes about what I would like for my show, what I would like to do, how I would like to conduct myself, you know? Making sure that, we all know our stuff so we can have fun on stage, you know? 'Cause when you're enjoying yourself, the audience will enjoy themselves. Yeah. And so that's something that has been kind of just implemented into how I move.”

BET Awards 2024: Usher to be Honored With Lifetime Achievement BET Award

In May of 2024, Bernarr released a visual EP titled En Route. It is a genre-bending compilation of his musical influences and is a transitional bridge between his second studio album, Wanderlust, and forthcoming solo and collaborative releases. He describes the eight-track project as an open road of adventure.

“I just wanted to, first and foremost, do some more upbeat records. I wanted to just see how quickly I could piece together a story about a road trip. And the road trip was from the last project, which was Wanderlust to the next body of work and bringing friends along, telling stories, seeing what that looks like, what that sounds like. And I really have fun doing it,” he says. “To be able to pull that together within a week with the right people around, I could only imagine what I could put together in like a few months.”

Last year, the singer went viral for his Tiny Desk performance, in which he and his band paid homage to Disney Channel's beloved TV show, “The Proud Family.” 

“I feel like my creative director had some foresight with that because I was gonna do Popeye and I was gonna do Uncle Bobby in Atlanta the next day. And she was like, ‘We need to do Proud Family, and really do it because this is gonna be documented forever.’ Also, the ‘Proud family’ had a reboot, you know, so it just made perfect sense. And, I'm Uncle Bobby all day. Anytime they even mention a live action ‘Proud Family,’ I better be in that number,” Bernarr says.

Most people would label him as an R&B singer, but Bernarr wants to be viewed as more than just R&B. “I've never labeled myself an R&B artist. Okay, I'm fluent in R&B, I'm a lover of it and all its nuances and evolutions,” he says. “But to say that's the only genre that I am or that label takes away from all the other possibilities and influences that I have.  

He continues, “My tiny desk specifically was to show people, yes, I am fluent in this, but I can also give you opera, I can give you rock, I can give you country. If you think that I'm going to just do this one thing, you're gonna be disappointed.”

The 35-year-old also speaks on the impact Usher, who will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2024 BET Awards on Sunday, June 30, has made with the music industry. “He has had multiple primes, which is so fascinating to see,” Bernarr says of the R&B legend. “And also, I don't wanna put any emphasis on the fact that he's in his mid 40s and he's still doing handstands. But babes, if you've been doing that, then you're gonna be able to do it regardless of age,” he says. “He is more than deserving of this award cause he has been putting in the work and still is.”

Bernarr, who identifies as queer, says LGBTQ representation when he began his career made him feel like he had a noose around his neck from other people's ideas or perspectives on how he should live his life. “Because I'm not, as we say ‘unclockable,’ there was resistance or pushback when I first was kind of gearing up and trying to figure out what my direction was, or what my sound was,” he began. “Some people weren't comfortable associating themselves with me for whatever reason. Or always inquiring about, well what does he look like, what does he do? And I just sang my face off. So, was that not enough? 

He adds, “I came in right around the time when there was a shift taking place and I feel like I was on the tail end of the ‘oh, it's not cool to do that, or you need to not showcase that.’ We were at the frontline targets on our heads just for being ourselves. But now it's cool to dress how you want. You know, you have the rappers painting their nails and wearing kilts, you know? But clothes are just clothes now and that’s fine.”

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