All Photos: Alan Mercer Assistant: Psymon Imagery
Though best known for her 1970 R&B crossover smash hit 'Band of Gold,' Freda Payne has always first and foremost been a jazz singer, dating back to The Jimmy Wilkins Big Band at age 14. Her debut album, 'After The Lights Go Down Low And Much More!!!' was arranged by Manny Albam, while a more pop-oriented follow-up entitled 'How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore' was helmed by saxophonist/arranger Benny Golson. Freda performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem alongside Billy Eckstine backed by Quincy Jones and His Orchestra, comedian Redd Foxx and the dance team Coles & Atkins. She also graced the stage with Duke Ellington for two nights in Pittsburgh, after which he composed “Blue Piano” just for her. Freda Payne’s training and experience render her a rare vocal artist who is stylistically beyond category.
As iconic in 2015 for her timeless beauty and stage appeal as she is for her artistic versatility, Freda Payne remains among music’s and show business’ brightest shining star survivors. Her latest album, ‘Come Back To Me Love’ and her first for the Artistry Music imprint, marks not only a return to the big band and strings-laden classics from her mid-`60s beginnings with Impulse! but also marks a return to her hometown of Detroit.
“It’s a dream come true,” Freda enthuses with a smile, “Just like in 1968 when I was living in New York seeking my fame and fortune, and ran into Brian Holland of Holland-Dozier-Holland. He told me they had just left Motown and started their own company, Invictus. I flew back to Detroit, signed with them and a year later had a Top 5 record, ‘Band of Gold.’ So releasing this album on Mack Avenue’s Artistry Music imprint is truly serendipitous—a flashback to something really good happening for me at home in Detroit, my good luck charm.” Berry did write those three songs for me. However, they were never released.
In 2011 she was asked to record with Sir Cliff Richards when he did an all soul CD recorded mostly in Memphis, Tn. This all came about through her association with entrepreneur, David Gest. She was then booked to tour with Cliff Richards in his SOULICOUS TOUR in the UK playing all arena’s. Freda’s latest recording is now on the Artistry Music label for Mack Ave. records. It is titled ‘COME BACK TO ME LOVE.’ It’s her first CD in twelve years. This is probably one of her best recordings to date. This CD takes Freda back to her original jazz roots with big bands , Strings, and small trio. All this goes in concert with her starring in the musical play ELLA FITZGERALD FIRST LADY OF SONG, which got her a rave review in the Washington Post in 2014. She is currently performing in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.
Asked if much has changed since those first 1963 jazz recordings, she marvels, “In `63 I was nervous as hell—uptight and pushing too hard to be perfect. This time I felt like I was in heaven. I was in Capitol Records’ Studio A [another company she recorded for in the mid-`70s] with 40 musicians, singing over impeccable arrangements. I was much more relaxed and secure within myself.
AM: How are you Freda?
FP: I’m fine. I’m just dealing with life.
AM: Did you have a good New Years?
FP: I had a wonderful New Years. I didn’t work on that night but I did a sold-out engagement on December 23 at Vibratto in Beverly Hills. Have you been there?
AM: Yes, it’s so beautiful.
FP: It’s a lovely restaurant/club. Everybody loved it. Berry Gordy and Billy Dee Williams came and loved it.
AM: I’m sure you performed songs off your latest album.
FP: Yes that album has been out and it has sold really good.
AM: I sure hope you are able to record another album for the same label.
FP: I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they want me to do another one since this one was so well received.
AM: It’s the most high profile recording you’ve done in a long time.
FP: You’re right. I haven’t had a major record deal since the 80’s when I recorded a song called ‘In Motion.’
AM: Wasn’t Leon Sylvers involved in some way?
FP: Leon’s brother Edmond Sylvers produced the song. I ended up getting into a little squabble with the label because they wanted Leon to produce the whole album. Here’s where I learned a lesson. I was doing like that song, ‘Stand By Your Man’ because Edmond was my boyfriend at the time. The label wanted Leon to produce the whole thing and Edmond wasn’t happy about it. I stood by Edmond and the label said they were done. That’s what happened. So I learned my lesson about standing by my man. If it’s not in my best interest I’m not standing! (Laughter)
AM: Do you have some dates booked for 2015 yet?
FP: Yes I’m coming back to Texas in a town called Teague about 100 miles outside Dallas.
AM: What are you doing there?
FP: I’m doing a Gospel Musical called ‘Crowns.’ It was written by the actress Regina Taylor. It’s been around for about 10 or 15 years. It’s about these Black church women who wear their hats. All the songs are Gospel tunes.
AM: Is this your first time performing in a Gospel play?
FP: Yes, but it’s not staged. We will be standing there with our hats on, reading the dialogue off the music stands. We are performing the show three nights on January 29, 30 and 31. I’ll be home on February 1.
AM: Did you enjoy performing in the play in Dallas a couple months ago?
FP: I enjoyed it a lot. I had to work hard because I needed to learn a lot of lines and it was a staged play. You saw it. Did I do OK?
AM: You did great! Any live performance piece is lucky to have you be a part of it.
FP: Thanks, I’m glad I got to sing one of the songs from my new CD. Then I’m doing the Portland Jazz Festival in February.
AM: Do you think you will be doing jazz festivals now?
FP: I want to do jazz festivals. In May I’m going back to the Dirty Dog in Grove Point, Michigan. That’s where my record company is located.
AM: I saw this great video of you performing in Detroit.
FP: Yes, that was August 30 at the Detroit Jazz Festival. The band was the Jazz Men of Note from the Air Force. The band was spot on.
AM: You are an A List performer Freda!
FP: Well…my dear…I’d like to believe that after all these years I am. (laughter)
AM: You won’t have time for any plays.
FP: The thing with plays is you have to donate so much time learning everything.
AM: Do you receive the same creative fulfillment from doing a play as you do a concert?
FP: No because I feel like it’s not my thing and I feel that my singing sells me more. I also like performing on my own. I hope that doesn’t sound narcissistic.
AM: No it makes sense. You are always gracious and generous with people.
FP: Well that’s how I want to be. People who are more narcissistic seem to make it bigger faster but they pay for that karma in the later years.
To learn more about Freda Payne visit her web site http://www.fredapayne.com/