Karen Briggs (musician)

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Karen Briggs
Karen Briggs by Carol Hoy.jpg
Background information
Also known asLady in Red
Born (1963-08-12) August 12, 1963 (age 56)
Manhattan, New York City, United States
GenresJazz, contemporary instrumental
Years active1983–present
Associated actsYanni, Vertú

Karen Briggs (born August 12, 1963), also known as the "Lady in Red", is an American violinist. Born in Manhattan to a family of musicians, Briggs took up the violin at age 12 and committed to playing professionally at age 15. Briggs joined the Virginia Symphony Orchestra while still in college, but grew discontented with performing classical music and left the orchestra after four years. Since then, she has performed predominantly in the jazz and contemporary instrumental genres.

Best known for spending thirteen years on tour with contemporary instrumental musician Yanni, Briggs received the "Lady in Red" moniker while featuring as a soloist on Yanni's Live at the Acropolis tour. After parting with Yanni in 2004, she toured with other groups including the short-lived jazz fusion group Vertú. Briggs has performed at such locations as Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and has performed or collaborated with Dave Grusin, Diana Ross, the Wu Tang Clan, En Vogue, and Chaka Khan.

Early life[edit]

Briggs was born in Manhattan, New York City on August 12, 1963, to Frank Briggs, Jr. and Ruthie Powell. Her father played saxophone and sang in a Doo-wop group, her grandfather played trumpet and piano, and many other members of her family were either musicians or singers. The family lived in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood and Englewood, New Jersey before moving to Portsmouth, Virginia, where Karen grew up. Briggs began taking violin lessons at twelve years old, and as a child had a talent for playing violin pieces by ear.[1][2]

Briggs was the head of her class orchestra as a teenager and performed at a competition at Woodrow Wilson High School. She also played alongside her father and his colleagues, and at their encouragement she made the decision at age 15 to become a professional jazz violinist.[1] After graduating high school in 1981, she went to Norfolk State College where she majored in music education and mass media studies.[3] She was the first member of her family to attend college.[1]

Music career[edit]

In 1983, while still studying at Norfolk State College, Briggs began performing at the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Briggs found classical music restricting, and after four years at the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Briggs left for New York in 1987 seeking to play jazz instead. During her brief stay in New York, she won several amateur night competitions at the Apollo Theater. In 1988 Briggs married and moved to Los Angeles, California, where she became a frequent performer at the jazz club Marla's Memory Lane. Briggs' first professional tour was with the 100 piece ensemble group Soul II Soul; she toured the United States and Japan with the group in 1989.[1][3]

In 1991 Briggs auditioned with contemporary instrumental musician Yanni. She was able to secure a role in his upcoming tour by playing over a performance of his piece Within Attraction. Linda Evans, then in a relationship with Yanni, pushed for Briggs to be a featured soloist in Yanni's Live at the Acropolis tour. Briggs' performances during the tour gained her broad recognition and the moniker "Lady in Red".[1][2] This acclaim lead to Briggs playing at Carnegie Hall alongside pianist Dave Grusin, an appearance with Diana Ross on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Her performance with Gruisin at Carnegie Hall was later incorporated into the movie Music of the Heart.[1][3][4][5] Briggs toured with Yanni for thirteen years, including the Live at the Acropolis, Tribute, and Ethnicity tours.[3][6] In a 2004 interview with The HistoryMakers, Briggs reminisced that she might have been more commercially successful if she had parted with Yanni after Live at the Acropolis to pursue her solo career.[1]

Following her time with Yanni, Briggs joined Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Richie Kotzen, and Rachel Z to form the jazz fusion group Vertú. The group was short lived, releasing one album, in 1999.[1][7] She has performed at the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2001, 2004, and 2007, and performed at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club in 2010.[8][9] Her performance in the KC Jazz Club was in support of the album Soulchestral Groove, which Briggs independently released in 2009. It is Briggs' third album, after Karen released in 1992 and Amazing Grace released in 1996.[2][9] Briggs has since joined the Lao Tizer Jazz Quartet, and also performs with the all-women group Jazz in Pink.[4][10] Other artists that Briggs has played alongside include the Wu Tang Clan, En Vogue, and Chaka Khan.[3]



  • Karen (1992)
  • Amazing Grace (1996)
  • Soulchestral Groove (2009)

With Vertú


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Finding Aid to The HistoryMakers® Video Oral History with Karen "Lady in Red" Briggs" (PDF). The HistoryMakers. 4 October 2004. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Bekheet, Diaa (10 February 2012). "Karen Briggs, the Queen of Violin". Voice of America. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Karen Briggs". Divas Simply Singing. DIVA Foundation. Archived from the original on 28 February 2007. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  4. ^ a b "The Tizer Jazz Quartet heat up the Centenary Stage with Karen Briggs". The Hunterdon County Democrat. nj.com. 8 January 2014. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Karen Briggs". Women in Jazz South Florida. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  6. ^ "Ethnicity – Yanni | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  7. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Vertú". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  8. ^ "12th Annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival". The Kennedy Center. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. 2007. Retrieved 24 October 2015.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ a b Gopal, Sriram (12 October 2010). "DCist Review: Karen Briggs @ KC Jazz Club". DCist. Gothamist. Archived from the original on 27 June 2017. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  10. ^ "Lao Tizer featuring Karen Briggs and Chieli Minucci". Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. Retrieved 24 October 2015.

External links[edit]