How songwriter Ruth B. brings tears to Tyler Perry’s eyes
In Jim Crow South in the 1930s and 40s, in poor rural Georgia, forbidden love struggles through the brambles. Teens Bayou and Leanne realize that the only way they can be together is in the middle of the night, signaling each other with paper airplanes. After receiving the message, they make their way to their place – a tree away from prying eyes.
“You’re the song I want to hear again / You’re the light I’m always looking for,” a velvety young woman’s voice sings after the story ends: “And I’ll spend my life / Sending paper airplanes to the moon.” / I pray they reach you.”
The film is Tyler Perry’s A Jazzman’s Blues; the song is “Paper Airplanes” by Canadian singer-songwriter Ruth B.
“Tyler really wanted there to be paper airplanes in it, so I reworked that idea — which is funny, that’s how I used to write: I’d pick a word and paraphrase it,” she says, laughing. “I mean, I hadn’t done it in years, but it was cool to go back to that process.”
The 27-year-old daughter of Ethiopian immigrants to Alberta (birth name Ruth Berhe) has co-written with veteran composer Terence Blanchard a wistful, jazzy, soulful ballad of longing about sending impossible messages, knowing full well that she… will probably never come down. It’s one of the most beautiful songs from a movie this year.
“I love the image of Bayou lying on a roof trying to send planes to her – as he gets older and at different stages in his life just hoping they catch up.”
In the song, Ruth sings, “Even though it’s been a while / I still think about your smile / Every night before I fall asleep / I find you in my dreams / Somewhere in the trees.”
You can’t blame the musician for being surprised to get the chance to write the song. As she puts it, “They had a little trouble figuring it out before me. They gave me a chance because I’m definitely not a well-established writer. I’m from Canada, not many people know me. So entrusting me with something that he is so passionate about – for example, it was his dream film, his passion project – meant a lot to me. They confirmed me. That’s really cool.”
And how did Perry react to the song? “He was so cute. He said the first time he heard it, it brought tears to his eyes. It was the song he wanted.”
Ruth B. grew up in Alberta, in a home where her father made it a habit to speak only English, while her mother was diligent in speaking only the Ethiopian dialect, Amharic.
“Both speak English. It was a conscious decision,” says the songwriter. “So my brother and I kept it [both languages]. Much of my growing up revolved around family, friends, music, faith—all the things that make a rich childhood.
“It was just me, my father, my brother and my mother, the four of us. We were a small team doing everything together exploring life in western Canada. Just great.”
She competed in “every sport imaginable” and became a voracious consumer of fantasy novels – Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Fire and Ice books were among her favorites – but My Heart was always with music. My mother says I sang as soon as I was born.”
In 2017 she released the album “Safe Haven”. It has accumulated more than 1.3 billion Spotify streams. She has garnered six Juno nominations (a kind of Canadian Grammys) and won once as a Breakthrough Artist.
She not only listens to artists of her time; she counts Lauryn Hill and Paul McCartney among her most momentous influences, “Blackbird” by the Beatles perhaps her favorite song. She did, however, rely on Blanchard’s help to steer Paper Airplanes into the film’s ’40s era (although it doesn’t sound like an artifact of that era, its orchestration restrained, almost atmospheric).
“It’s really his world and not for me at all,” she says, “so he was able to give me references and artists to listen to and point me in the direction of the song. From those Zoom calls, I was able to translate that into the music.”
The singer’s timbre doesn’t evoke the wistfulness of Billie Holiday, but when one thinks of singers or songs of the era that might compare to “Paper Airplanes,” Lady Day’s lushly romantic “Tenderly” or her achingly wistful “Solitude” come to mind. to mind.
“It’s funny,” says Ruth B., “we shot the music video at Tyler Perry Studios just a week ago and we made a lot of references to Billie Holiday in it.”
It’s not hard to imagine Christmas carols like, “And if the world stops spinning / Even then I’ll sing / Of you, of you / And if my heart stops / Even then I’ll dream / Of you, of to you.”
“I thought that’s what captured the film,” Ruth B. says of the bridge to her song, “that unconditional love you feel for someone every now and then. I have a feeling that is the case.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-11-15/ruth-b-tyler-perry-paper-airplanes How songwriter Ruth B. brings tears to Tyler Perry’s eyes