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MELBA MOORE 2011 SOUL MUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
RENEWED & REISSUED
Phone interview conducted February 25, 2011

With a Tony Award and a strings of R&B hits in hand, Melba Moore achieved the kind of versatile career that many artists only dream about. By April of this year, six of her previous albums will be reissued and available for the first time in over twenty years. In the midst of a full circle moment, where her past meets her present as she keeps a renewed focus on the future, Melba shared with Darnell Meyers-Johnson her memories of making those albums and how she has endured and survived in the ever-changing world of the music business…


Darnell Meyers-Johnson: Good day, everyone. This is Darnell Meyers-Johnson for SoulMusic.com. It is always a pleasure to speak to one of the greats, and today I’m about to do just that. She is a Tony Award-winning actress and a Grammy-nominated recording artist; her talents have graced the stage and screen since the 1970s, and she is not slowing down now. In the ‘80s she enjoyed great success and gave us hits like “Love’s Comin’ at Ya”, “Falling” and “A Little Bit More”, her number-one hit with Freddie Jackson. Many of her albums from that time period are now being reissued, and that’s what we want to talk about to her today. She is the one and only, the incredible Miss Melba Moore. Good day, Melba, how are you?

Melba Moore: How are you, Darnell? I’m very well, thank you. It’s great to be with you.

DMJ: I’m good thank you, and it is a pleasure to speak with you. I’m glad that you took time out to speak with us today, we do appreciate it. What are your thoughts when you hear that a lot of your older albums are being reissued?

MM: I’m very, very happy, because even as I do new music it’s a base on which I continue to build and have people compare what they hear now—or what they will be hearing now—from what I did before, and see if there’s any growth and see if I got any better—or at least see if I stayed the same. And of course, that they didn’t forget me.

DMJ: At the beginning of your career when you left your teaching job to pursue entertainment, what was your ultimate goal? What was the one thing that you wanted to accomplish?

MM: I was discovering that I had the heart of an artist, and I had to discover could I then learn how to make a living at it. Because being in a family of musicians, that’s the same thing as being in a family of dreamers. And being surrounded by people who were teachers, you were always actually really discouraged from doing anything that wasn’t stable and solid and secure and something that you could depend on and look forward to in the future and know that it was going to be there. Of course these days, we now know that nothing is stable. But during the time I was very frightened. I was very concerned that all the things I heard was, “Well, I tried being an artist and I wound up having to teach school,” or “I wound up coming back to it.” I heard a lot of stories of failure, so it was very frightening.

DMJ: At the beginning of your career… I don’t necessarily want to use the word luck, but it was very fortunate that your very first stage experience happened to be right there on Broadway. Did you feel that you were blessed in that regard and did that confirm for you that it was the right decision to leave the more secure teaching job to pursue something that was less secure?

MM: Absolutely. It certainly didn’t mean that it was secure, but it meant that I could do it: that although it might not be practical, it was possible. I didn’t know what I had, but obviously I had what it took. And what it showed me was that—I know now, especially looking back—that I didn’t start at the bottom, I started at the top. And so that is quite a blessing. It has its own inherent challenges, but then everything else does too. You could start at the bottom and never get to the top—there’s just no guarantees anywhere. But the main thing is that you could see, “Oh, my goodness, I can do something in this industry that’s an art, and I was right to take a chance.” Yes.

DMJ: One of the albums being reissued is your 1978 album, MELBA, and on that album it features “You Stepped Into My Life”, the Bee Gees song. How did you and that song come together?

MM: That was the first recording that actually was thought of and put together by my now ex-husband Charles Huggins. He went out and got Gene McFadden and John Whitehead from Philly International and arranged for us to get together to see if we could come up with a kind of concept that would be suitable for me. And I think it was Gene McFadden’s idea to look at the Bee Gees then-album, which every song on that album was a single hit. And so we took one of the songs that was the least popular, which was “You Stepped Into My Life”. And I think that was the beginning of trying to figure out what to do to have success. And of course, that just reminds me of how people may observe, and rightfully so, that they’ll hear similarity in a lot of the music. Well, because once you find that something that succeeds, then everybody finds that songwriter, that producer; and the producer is maybe even a sound for that era. As the Bee Gees had a sound that now kind of describes the disco era—or John Travolta, with their high sopranos and that kind of thing—and their style of music. But when you’re beginning, you try to find a bandwagon to jump on to get you going. And that’s how we came up with that concept. And then after that we had to keep looking to see, “Okay, well, what do we do next? That’s wonderful, but it’s the Bee Gees. Who are you?”

DMJ: One of the things I like about that album is that it has a consistent sound throughout it. Even though you’re going from dance material to dramatic ballads to things in-between, there’s still a consistent sound throughout it. Was that by design or was that just a lovely accident?

MM: No, no, nothing’s an accident. Now when you compile an album or a concept, you have to look at the pacing. You have to get people’s opinions before you actually release it to see how they’re responding to it. Is there continuity? Is the continuity boring—is it too much the same? No, you have to really research that and find out if it is really hanging together. But part of what happens is, you hear different types of music. You have ballads; you have modern, techno things; you have R&B soul-type of things; maybe more pop things, but you have the same arranger—producer. So that gives it the same personality feeling to connect it all.

DMJ: You once said that McFadden and Whitehead were, if not your favourite, one of your favourite producers to work with. What did you enjoy most about working with them?

MM: They seemed to fit me. They were very masculine, and I was very sweet and light and Broadway and pop, and the combination worked. Because it’s very hard to find out how you’re going to be relevant with whatever your personal sound is, and Gene and John gave that kind of nice, funky but still sophisticated feel to whatever the heck it is that I was. They have to give you a house to live in, in a way.

DMJ: I’m purposely not going into your beginnings, because you’ve talked about that a lot in other interviews and I’m just trying to keep it a little focused on these reissues that are coming out. But going back just a little bit, did you have a concern—coming from Broadway to now being in this mainstream pop world, that maybe you would be too theatrical?

MM: No, because I really didn’t start in theater. That was the nice “luck” or “accident”. I started in backup studio recordings with Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford. That’s how they started—as well as songwriters, but as studio singers—and we sang behind mainly R&B artists. So I was being groomed to be an R&B recording artist. But what happened was one of the recording sessions was for Galt MacDermot, who wrote the music for “Hair”. And all of the singers were invited to come in and audition for the director, Tom O’Horgan. I was the only one who said yes. But of course, “Hair” was an unusual situation in that it was one of the first, maybe the first, to take contemporary music and bring it to Broadway. So there was a marriage that was already being made there that I was able to fit into. So no, I wasn’t concerned. But what the concern turned out to be was that if you had a reputation for Broadway and you were black, there was nobody to manage you, there was no venues for you. You either had to be like Sammy Davis or Lola Falana or Eartha Kitt or Diahann Carroll—and of course they never worked any of the black venues. They always went to Vegas or the very upscale white venues, because the industry was very segregated. That’s the problem that we had. There was no infrastructure to handle your career. And certainly there was nothing in R&B music that would do that. So everybody would say, “Well, you’re Broadway—you can’t come here.” So that’s how our company, Hush Productions, was formed; because it was so segregated until I couldn’t find a manager.

DMJ: Hush Productions. I was going to ask you a little later about that, but since we’re talking about it…

MM: Well, it started with the meeting of my ex-husband, Charles Huggins, and me coming together, getting to know each other and thinking about how we were going to move my career forward; and discovering that there was this big gap, racially and culturally, in America—and of course it was reflected in the arts. And so we started to promote and develop my career and started to shop me to the recording companies. We developed relationships with Mercury Records, Buddah Records, Epic Records, Capitol Records; and around that, started to develop a management team to fill in the gaps and to go out and create situations for me—create showcases for me; continue my career in television and theater. That’s when I did “Timbuktu!” with Geoffrey Holder, and it came around the same time as the “You Stepped Into My Life” album. But we had to develop that because there was a cultural gap.

DMJ: Now the rest of these reissues that are coming out all seem to be from your work in the ‘80s. What was that time period like for you, in terms of your recording career?

MM: I was very prolific. We started with PEACH MELBA, “I Am His Lady”, which is very jazz fusion—very smooth jazz, or very quiet-storm kind of music; and we developed from there. And by the ‘80s we had found a niche for me, so we began to have songs like “Love’s Comin’ at Ya”, “Falling”… I can’t remember some of the others, but a bunch of other really nice things started to flow because we had an infrastructure then. We had been to a couple of different record companies and started to learn how to deal with the politics there—that’s a whole, unique set of business laws that you have to learn that goes far beyond just the music and the marketing of recorded music. For instance, everybody knows about the Grammys because it’s so highly marketed and there’s such a political infrastructure that exists. Not a lot of people know about the Tony Awards—more people know about it now, but not then. By the ‘80s, not only had we started to have a great deal of success with me, we had formulated our team so that we started to take on other artists like Meli’sa Morgan and Freddie Jackson and Najee and a bunch of other artists. The ‘80s were very prolific for me.

DMJ: In ‘81 you released WHAT A WOMAN NEEDS—and that’s another one of the reissues that are coming out. You can hear a distinct Kashif influence on that album, but that was still a McFadden-Whitehead production, right?

MM: There was some McFadden-Whitehead. That was pre-Kashif—that wasn’t Kashif yet. Those songs were primarily experimental things that I co-wrote with some of the keyboardists and songwriters that were also with Philly International that came along with Gene and John as part of that team; that stable.

DMJ: What is your opinion of that album, when you think back and recall how it was made?

MM: I think it showed that whenever I get a chance and I have the opportunity to get back to it, I’m going to be a good writer.

DMJ: Once again, I liked that album for the same reason that I liked the previous one we talked about. It has a consistent sound. And I wasn’t sure—to my ear, it sounds similar to the later stuff you did with Kashif, so I thought maybe he was involved in some respect.

MM: I think it does because what was happening during that time, it was the beginning of the synthesizer sound, and Kashif just took it to the epitome of its ability. He really blew it out of the water with the synth bass and the whole Synclav and the whole feel that he developed with Evelyn King and himself and Howard Johnson, which came along a little bit after that.

DMJ: You’ve made lots of albums throughout the years, so let me ask you, what’s the most difficult part of the recording process?

MM: To me, picking out the songs and trying to figure out what people are going to receive from you. And that continues to change in terms of new people coming into your cultural realm, and still holding onto who you are and what you are and not trying to jump on every new bandwagon—like they like to say, whatever the newest flavour of the week is. Because it’s such a fad and fashion-oriented thing, or it appears to be—it’s not always. So you have to look at that and then find out, well, what part of the neighbourhood do I live in, and is it time for me to move, or change apartments, or change clothes, or should I stay the same? You have to make those difficult decisions. And I think one of the things that helps is to continue to perform live and see what people’s response is to you directly and let them tell you. Because you can’t really tell, well, some people can—I can’t. I have to share people’s response. Some things I might think are fabulous; they’ll sit there and it’s like they weren’t there. So you know that ain’t working.

DMJ: [Laughs] Yeah: “I thought that was a great song!”—they’re not responding.

MM: Yeah, right—and it might have been great, maybe, but for somebody else. There’s a lot of different things that are subtle sometimes that you have to try to figure out and zero in on and discern what it is, and put these things together in something that is natural, that is organic, but is still relevant and contemporary.

DMJ: Being that your career has survived all of these trends—and then of course you add to that your own personal challenges and things that have happened throughout the years—how do you think you have managed to have this longevity when so many people have not?

MM: It’s a constant struggle, just as it is to stay healthy and to stay strong and to stay viable as you get older and as society around you changes. Some things, for instance that involve your integrity. People around you— especially younger people—might say, “Oh, that’s old-fashioned.” But you have to understand that some things should not change: certain things like truth and integrity cannot change, and sometimes that is very difficult. And sometimes, depending on what kind of political situation you find yourself in, you may lose everything. That happened to me. And so you have to somehow be willing to take the stigma, the shame, of starting over or understanding where you are and try to stay vital and positive in your life, and hope that maybe God has this in store for you. This is what He wants for you, so you will still have it. You won’t lose it. And that’s what’s happened to me. In other words I don’t say that I have an answer, but it’s a struggle of life, because your art is not separate from your life. It’s not all of you, and a job is not all of you, but it takes so much of your input and your focus and your energy. Sometimes you have to make the struggle to find who are you and what is life, and what part of it can I let die and let go away. And I guess it’s like the seasons come, and hopefully in the spring a new blossom will come out and we still have a root in the base of the plant. But you never know.

DMJ: That’s an interesting way of putting it. Getting back to the reissues, your 1982 album, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RAINBOW, is another one that’s coming out. You had a few big hits on that one: "Love's Comin' at Ya", "Underlove", "Mind Up Tonight". What are your memories about making that album?

MM: Well, I remember doing “The Other Side of the Rainbow” (the song) in an attempt to find something that would replace the kind of inspiration and range and style of a ballad that seemed to suit me so well in Van McCoy’s “Lean On Me”. And I remember working with Lillo on "Mind Up Tonight"—which he’s kind of a protégé of Kashif’s—and also Paul Lawrence, who wrote "Love's Comin' at Ya"—and once again trying to explore and trying to stay contemporary. I remember Paul Lawrence and Lillo worked very, very consistently together. They were like partners; they’d do a lot of things together. And Paul worked really tirelessly on what he wanted my vocals to sound like. He really took my vocal technique in recording contemporary music to another level of technical expertise. I was able to do some things. I think when you listen to the record, you don’t hear anything dramatically different, but I know that it was different. That’s one of the things I think that’s an uncanny mystery about popular music: it sounds like cute, fun things that anybody can get up and do, but it’s not.

DMJ: I recall an interview that Patti LaBelle gave, and she says something like, “People think they want to make an album, but you really don’t want to make an album because it’s very difficult.” So it’s a tedious process, right?

MM: Very tedious process. Getting into the studio and singing something that you heard, and then it’s not always what you thought it was going to be. And even when you do exactly what you intended to do, it still may not come out with that magic that you were hoping for. It’s an industry of a great deal of faith and hope and really working at these things to make them come to fruition sometimes; and sometimes it just comes together so easily. I think for some artists and for some songwriters, it comes like that too. Some people say, “Oh, I just heard it all in my head.” It never comes to me like that—never. I’m asking God, “Why you make it so hard for me?” But it doesn’t make any difference as long as it actually comes together in the end anyway, whatever it does. For some people it’s very difficult, and for some people it’s very easy.

DMJ: You mentioned “Lean On Me”, and on your 1983 album NEVER SAY NEVER you re-recorded that song. You had originally done it on an album in 1976, but you did a re-recorded version on this album. That song is a favourite of many of your fans of all the songs that you’ve done. Why do you think that song stands out for so many people?

MM: Church people would say it’s anointed, which means we really don’t understand, but there’s something about it. And I found it originally on the B-side of “Spanish Harlem”, recorded by Aretha Franklin. That’s what made me and my then-husband Charles go and find Van McCoy—outside of the fact that he was so popular for the disco Hustle and all that back in the ‘70s. I had an arrangement that I had done live, and I made Van do that arrangement because that one, I just knew. And when I say I knew, I didn’t know, but I knew that I had so much fervour and love for that song. And it turned out, even the first time that I performed it live without really knowing it all, the audience responded to it that way too. And it’s one of those things again. I’m coming along at a time when there were cultural schisms and gaps in the industry and the culture. And because of Broadway bringing me into certain realms that hadn’t meshed yet with certain other entertainment venues and realms, I did a lot of variety of types of audiences—and audiences very different from each other. They don’t like the same thing. But all of them loved “Lean On Me”.

DMJ: On “Lean On Me” and also the other song we were just speaking about a little moment ago, “The Other Side of the Rainbow”, your voice does these incredible things that are almost unheard-of on record. One of the things that has sort of become your trademark is your ability to hold that long note—and your audiences love that! So I’ve got ask you, how do you do that and what is your technique?

MM: Well again, it came from the fact that nothing seems to come easy for me. But I have this great hope and passion that ignites as you sing. Any artist, when they get in front of an audience or when they have the opportunity to do what they do, they just have this fervour and this energy and this fire. And this would always happen to me. Sometimes, especially during a performance, I would get so hyper and so into what I was doing I would jump up and try to find a note—as you are creating; I think it’s a creative energy that takes over you, too—and I would hit a note and it would just stay there. It came out of the fact, though, that I had very little vigour and very little strength and very little volume in my voice, and so I would be singing loud and trying to get stronger, and working on it and working on it. And one day, enough of the strength had accrued so that this note came out. I was so into what I was doing that it didn’t even sound like it came from me. It could have been the venue too, that it might have had a little reverb naturally in the room. So when it popped out it sounded like it was coming from across the room. I remember being cognizant of me hitting the note and nobody else was singing, but it sounded like it was coming from across the room. And I was singing it and trying to figure out where it was coming from. It was in a place that seemed never existed before in my voice where I was resting. It was easy for me so I started holding it to see how long it was going to stay there .

DMJ: And three days later you were still holding it.

MM: Yeah!

DMJ: Oh, man, that’s great. And you also do that on the song “Falling”, which is another fan favourite. Last question about the song “Lean On Me”: you mentioned that you found it as an Aretha Franklin B-side. Has she ever given you her opinion of your version of it?

MM: I was invited to sing it to her at her private birthday party a few years ago. She told me, “Melba, God is in the blessin’ business. I bet you one thing, you can sing.” She’s not very talky, you know? But I think that was an incredible thing for her to say to me.

DMJ: Another one of the reissues is your 1985 album, READ MY LIPS. And on that album you were nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Performance, or however they were phrasing it at the time. Were you surprised by that particular nomination in a rock category?

MM: I don’t remember being so surprised, only because I only paid a minimal amount of attention to the Grammys and the categories. I guess that’s because, once again, I’ve kind of been an itinerant singer: I’ve always had to move around and travel in order to have a total career. That’s just how my life has been. And I think mainly because I haven’t been the traditional urban /R&B sound and I’m really not the traditional Broadway sound, so I never quite knew what category I belonged in anyway. So that it belonged in rock I think had to do with the musical arrangement.

DMJ: On that same album, though, you did a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”—a very nice version of it, by the way. Whose idea was that to have you do that song?

MM: That was our then-A&R person. His name is Beau; he’s my ex-husband’s brother. It was a family company and he still has a wonderful ear for music; for listening to music and pairing it with artists. And he thought that might be a good song for me to sing.

DMJ: About READ MY LIPS, you once said that you and your team—basically were taking a chance on different sounds to see what would work and what wouldn’t work. When you think back on that album, do you think you were successful in creating a new sound for yourself at that time?

MM: No, because even though the music is good, you still have to fit into whatever store is selling your music, and mine was not the rock store. So it can’t just be good music; it has to be marketable music, because in the end your salespeople have to go out and sell it to your demographics—and if that’s not your demographics they can say, “It’s beautiful but that ain’t the kind of music I buy.”

DMJ: And it’s kind of unfortunate too that you have to consider that, and you just can’t go out and make the kind of music that you love and let that be that—that you have to consider being typed or being put in a certain category. Is that ever frustrating, as an artist?

MM: I never fit anywhere and it has been frustrating. But the great thing about longevity is you have succeeded and survived by going in all of these different areas, so now you’re an artist of versatility. Moving around and going around is something that’s comfortable for me; but I’m still trying to find a way to do something that I can present with the proper marketing team to mass media, so everybody sees me doing the same thing at the same time so I can unify my abilities now.

DMJ: One of the beautiful things about your career is the fact that you are very versatile. You can go from Cole Porter to club songs. It’s one of the things that I like about you that I don’t get from a lot of other artists. I know it may be frustrating that you’re not able to completely focus on that one thing that would be most marketable but fans like me, we love the fact that we kind of see you doing different things.

MM: I really appreciate that. I’m talking about fitting into a category, and you want to do that, but what I really love is that there’s still a way for you to fit into the industry. There’s a place here for me, and I think that’s the bottom line. I have a life and a career as an artist, and it’s a successful one. I still may have that mega-hit in a category where all these different factions see me doing the same thing and agree, like with “Lean On Me”.

DMJ: Best Country Performance or something, who knows, right?

MM: Who knows.

DMJ: But a year after you did READ MY LIPS you had your biggest success, probably, in the ‘80s with the following album, A LOT OF LOVE. On that album you finally were able to get not one but two number-one hits: the duet you did with Freddie that I mentioned in the intro, “A Little Bit More”, and of course the other song we mentioned earlier, “Falling”. What did it feel like to finally hit number one after recording so many albums?

MM: You know what comes to my mind now? Very few people knew that not until Luther Vandross’s last album that he actually crossed over and really hit number one.

DMJ: Right. With “Here and Now”, I think, right? Wasn’t that the song?

{Editorial Note: Melba was referring to Luther’s last album before his death, 2003’s DANCE WITH MY FATHER, which became his first and only album to reach number one on the pop charts. The 1989 single “Here and Now” became his first song to reach the top ten on the pop charts and the first song to earn him a Grammy Award.}

MM: You know how many records he had before that? How successful they were? It’s kind of hard to understand or believe. And I’m sure the way that we are taught to think about the music industry, you don’t feel like you’ve succeeded unless you’ve hit number one, or you’ve done certain things, or you’ve gotten a Grammy Award, or you’ve sold platinum or whatever; and yet you may have a very successful career and that hasn’t happened. But you always feel like, “Well, I wonder when I’m gonna make it?”

DMJ: The same thing was true of Phyllis Hyman. She didn’t get a number-one song until towards the end of her career, and all of those great songs.

MM: And can I say something? I think with her being so fragile and sensitive in that way, it’s what made her give up and commit suicide. She felt like she had failed. She had no idea of the importance of how many people adored and revered her as a great artist. It can do that to you, because these are the standards that are put at you so much—and that’s not wrong, but there has to be something in you that wants to live. That’s the difference between your art and you, because God might decide, “Well, I love you but I don’t want you to do this anymore.” And for some people it’s impossible to take.

DMJ: And people have walked away from the industry.

MM: Yes.

DMJ: I talked with Lillo a few months ago in regards to his current album that’s out, and I was asking him, “we haven’t really heard anything from you in twenty years, what happened?” And he was explaining that that’s what he ended up doing: he ended up walking away from the industry because he couldn’t find his place within it.

MM: And in addition to that, finding your place in it is a very tedious, hard, brutal daily fight. It can wear you out and wear you down. It can disillusion you. It can make you tired—too tired to keep getting up and trying again. It’s not an easy thing. And your self-confidence and esteem is tied up with that. You have to somehow find ways of getting stronger, because you can’t stay the same—not with a battle like that at you every day all day. And not everybody’s cut out to be at war all the time, just trying to survive.

DMJ: At this point today, the general public are more aware of how cutthroat the music industry can be. Why do you think so many people still want to be a star and be in this business and reach that pop stardom and that number one when they know that the road there is going to be difficult, it’s going to be shady; there are going to be backstabbers? Why do you think so many people still have that dream?

MM: It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s charismatic; it draws you. It’s the top, it’s not the bottom. It’s beautiful, it’s magnetic, and it’s good—it’s something to strive for. It’s not a bad thing. And I’ll tell you something: the fight for it, even if you walk away, makes you a stronger, better, more talented person—a smarter person for the experience. I think people know that and understand that. Not everybody is capable of fighting that warfare or developing their lives that way, but everybody can look at it and see that that’s a prize—that’s something worth having if you can give it a go; give it a shot. It’s just reeking with hope.

DMJ: When you look back on your career today, which part of it brings you the greatest satisfaction?

MM: There’s a couple of little points: first of all, the one that you mentioned where in the beginning, when you have really no clue, but somehow you had the courage to step out and take a chance. It makes me look at myself in a way that I see I’m a person of courage. I’m a kind of pioneer and something about my heart and spirit gives me a glimpse of what might really be possible when there’s no clue—no other evidence. That’s important in life. There’s lots of ways and I’ve made lots of mistakes, but I think I’ve become a person of integrity. That’s very important, because everything makes you seem as though you’ve got to give something of your soul away for this. You’ve heard of the casting couch? Well, fortunately for me, I wasn’t cute like that so I was spared.

DMJ: [Laughs]

MM: Nobody invited me to the casting couch. I had to try to develop a talent. But all of these tests… and you know, I’m laughing, but I really have a compassion for people who are physically beautiful or physically talented or physically bright because they have those challenges. Everybody wants to jump on them and take it. You can’t be somebody else, but we don’t know that. We see that and say, “Oh, I want that.” That’s not yours. I don’t even know where we get that from, but it’s one of those flaws of nature. You look at Halle Berry, you think you can go look like her. You can’t go look like her.

DMJ: Well, Melba, there’s a lot of talk, especially on these reality competition shows, about being the total package. You go back and you look at your career; you look at everything: you look at the album covers, you look at the performance, you listen to the voice, and you were the total package: you had the look—you still do—you have the look, you have the voice. So you were just fortunate that no one asked you over to the casting couch, but you were certainly cute enough.

MM: Aww, but when you don’t have that challenge you have others. But I was just saying, and I was bringing the listener’s attention to the fact that we look at people that are rich or talented or beautiful and think they have it all, and they have really terrible challenges that those of us who don’t have that, don’t have. We don’t understand what it’s like for somebody to be pulling at you and dragging you and really mistreating and abusing you, simply because you’re nice or you’re beautiful or you’re talented. I have had some situations where, because I’m a gentle person, people think that if you’re sweet and good that means you’re a red carpet for them. That’s been a challenge for me, and so you have to learn how to—with respect—hold your own ground and make people respect you, generally by respecting them. And you have to learn what that is, and that has to be something that you can articulate: it’s the way you dress, it’s the way you carry yourself, it’s the music you do—it is how you express yourself. And I’m sure everybody has to learn how to do that according to whatever your personality traits are and what your gifts are. You learn to do that.

DMJ: I just want to go back to your ‘80s work and ask you this final question about that: of all these albums that are being reissued, do you have a favourite among them?

MM: To be honest with you, I’m sorry, but I haven’t really thought about that because I have new projects. My whole, total attention right now is on a new project I have called LOVE IS because now we’re going through situations. I listened to my daughter, this was a reunion project with my ex-husband to bring the family back together again. And so we have all these issues to deal with, like “who are we now?” and “can you still hear?” and I’m trusting you to say this song is for me. But I’ve been out here on my own now for the last ten or fifteen years—I’ve been making the choices.. So we’re seeing how that’s going to work. One of the things that’s happening right now is, I’m starting to perform the song that we recorded live and it’s starting to take on its own life. What I did on the recording is wonderful and it’s beautiful, but what I do live is more me, and there’s more. I have my little high notes and long notes and my little expressions and stuff there, and it’s bringing people to tears. So we’re going through that whole process right now, so I’m not really thinking about the past; I apologize.

DMJ: Oh, no, it’s okay. I wasn’t going to let you get away without asking you about the new project that you’re working on. So since we’re there, tell me a little bit about when the public can actually expect for the new album to be done and ready for them to go out and buy.

MM: Well, right now we’re a little behind schedule. We have three songs that are up on the internet: the title cut, “Love Is”, which of course you can get at iTunes and all the electronic outlets; and we have also downloads on my website—and Facebook, I think?—of the other two cuts that are available now, which are “Can’t Stop the Rain” and “The Right Way”. They are two great, great, great songs. I think that my daughter is right—of course I’m hearing something from a whole other generation and a whole other ear—and also her view of me: she’s been with me all her life, so I’m not a new product to her except in this respect. So that’s done and it’s up and out now, so now we’re working on picking the rest of the songs for the album.

DMJ: Now I haven’t heard the other two, but I have heard “Love Is” and that’s a great song. As you guys are tinkering around with the concept for the new album, is it gonna be something a little more contemporary, or is it gonna be more like classic Melba?

MM: No classic—y’all got the classic in the re-releases. Y’all got that, okay?

DMJ: [Laughs]

MM: It’s time for me to for me to find out who I am today, and I’m not quite sure what that is but it’ll be contemporary. It’s not going to be anything far-out; it’s just that I haven’t had my mind there because I haven’t had the team or the ability to think, “Okay, if you could, what kind of music would you do now?” And so now it’s time for me to do that.

DMJ: Now I was also asked by one of my Facebook friends to ask you this question, and it’s about your gospel material. Will there be a new gospel album any time in the near future?

MM: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, Twinkie Clark is working on something for me, ’cause we just did a gospel concert at the Apollo a few months ago. And Ann Nesby, a dear friend of mine, told me when I produced my first gospel album I’M STILL HERE that the next time I did a gospel album she would like to executive-produce it. So she’ll be taking me under her wing and helping develop me as a gospel artist. I’m a born-again Christian, but the art form of gospel is new for me and she knows that. So she’ll say, “Melba, you should be singing like this”—and nobody knows any better than Ann Nesby.

DMJ: I know that’s right. But you know, your music has had gospel influences, I think, like “Lean On Me” that we talked about; and even “The Other Side of the Rainbow”—towards the end of that track there’s a gospel feel to it. So yeah, you have it—it’s there. I look forward to that. So tell me what’s coming up with you in regards to appearances. Are you going to be going around the area anywhere doing shows? Where can people catch you live these days?

MM: Right now I’m starting a tour with a wonderful little play called “Crowns”, which is written by a lovely playwright and actress by the name of Regina Taylor. So I’m going to be on tour with that; I’m also going to be touring with my own, one-woman play entitled “Still Standing: The Melba Moore Story”.

DMJ: Okay, so where can people go to get information about the play? Is there anywhere online—is there a website or anything?

MM: You can probably just go to my website, yes.

DMJ: And that’s MelbaMoore.com?

MM: Yes.

DMJ: Cool. And are you on Facebook or Twitter, do you do any of that stuff?

MM: Well, I have help. People help me do it.

DMJ: I hear ya.

MM: My daughter helps me do Twitter and respond to people that are connecting with me. So I do have Facebook and Twitter, yes.

DMJ: Okay, so can they get your Facebook and Twitter information from your website?

MM: Yes, they can. They can get everything from there.

DMJ:So Melba, listen, I know that you’ve had an amazing career, you’ve been through some amazing challenges. I purposely did not ask you about some of them because I wanted to have our conversation focused on the great music that you gave us, and all of the joy that you gave us. And hopefully, knowing that you do that, you will be encouraged to keep going forward and doing what it is that you do.

MM: I’m very much encouraged. And I think what you do is kind of pinpoint that I can finally have the privilege of moving on now. Not that I want to abandon anything; but when it’s finished and you have other things replacing it, then you know that’s fulfilled and now we can get on with the music and the things that hopefully will take up the attention and time of people who are interested in my life and career.

DMJ: Exactly. As we close, is there anything you want to mention or say that we haven’t talked about?

MM: You know, I think we’ve talked about everything. I just want to make sure everybody goes onto… oh, excuse me, I have another big, big hit in the cover song of King Floyd’s “Groove Me”. It’s the one that goes [sings]: Sookie, sookie now.

DMJ: Yeah, yeah, I know the song.

MM: [Sings]: Hey there, sugar darlin’/I know you’ve got something… I can just sing a little bit; everybody knows the song.

DMJ: Go ahead, keep singing.

MM: It’s burnin’ up the charts—I forgot about that.

DMJ: I guess they can find that on iTunes as well, right?

MM: Yes, and the instrumental guitarist—it’s also on somebody else’s project, his name is Nate Najar. It’s a big success all over the Internet radio and satellite radio stations.

DMJ: So they can go check out “Love Is” and “Groove Me”. All right, Melba, I do appreciate your time so much. It’s been a great time speaking with you, I do appreciate it. And blessings to you in everything that you do moving forward.

MM: I appreciate you too. I thank you.

DMJ: All right, take care.

MM: All righty, bye-bye.

About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report (www.TheMeyersMusicReport.Tumblr.com). Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for SoulMusic.com. When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on JazzOn2.org and iTunes.
  
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