All Photos: Alan Mercer
Melba Moore’s story is one of many ups and downs leading her to today where she is firmly established as an iconic “All Around Entertainer.” She is constantly touring and performing and this past year released her newest album of contemporary smooth R&B ‘Forever Moore’ to critical and commercial acclaim.
Hailing from a musical family, Melba Moore graduated from the famed Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey. At the encouragement of her parents, she went on to pursue music education at Montclair State University where she earned her Bachelor of Music Education Degree. However, her inner voice told her to see if she could make it as a performer.
Melba’s stepfather, pianist Clement Moorman, introduced her to several agents which eventually landed her a role in the cult classic musical ‘HAIR.’ It was in ‘HAIR’ that Ms. Moore became the first African-American woman to replace a white actress, who happened to be the acclaimed Diane Keaton, in a lead role on Broadway. A year and a half later, she starred in ‘PURLIE,’ which earned her a TONY Award for her portrayal as “Lutiebelle". Melba later appeared alongside the iconic Eartha Kitt as “Marsinah" in the musical TIMBUKTU! Another first came when she landed the female lead role on Broadway as "Fantine" in the acclaimed musical, ‘Les Misérables.’ She was the first and last African-American woman to perform in that role.
Although Melba enjoyed working on Broadway, she didn’t want to forget about her first love…music. Deciding to focus more on her recording career, she made her recording debut on Mercury Records with ‘I Got Love,’ followed by ‘Look What You’re Doing To The Man.’ She was nominated for a Grammy Award for ‘Best New Artist.’
During this time, she had numerous Grammy nominations, recordings, and television shows, including her own variety show entitled ‘The Melba Moore-Clifton Davis Show.’ Both Melba and Clifton revealed that the show was canceled after its brief run when their relationship ended. When Melba's managers and accountants left her in 1973, she returned to Newark and began singing in benefit concerts. Her career picked up after she met record manager and business promoter Charles Huggins after a performance at the Apollo Theater in 1974. They married in 1975.
Also in 1975 Moore signed with Buddah Records and released the critically successful album, ‘Peach Melba,’ which included the hit, ‘I Am His Lady.’ The following year she scored her first significant hit with the Van McCoy-penned ‘This Is It’ a top-10 song in the UK, becoming her biggest success in that country. 'This is It' also became the number 1 disco track in the UK for that year.
In 1976 she scored her third Grammy nomination with the ballad ‘Lean on Me.’ The song is most notable for Melba's extended long note at the end. Melba gained another hit with 1979's ‘You Stepped Into My Life,’ which was released on Epic Records and hit the top 20 on the R&B charts.
In 1981 Melba signed with Capitol Records and reached the top 5 on the charts with the dance-pop/funk single ‘Love's Comin' At Ya,’ which also hit the top 20 in the UK and became a sizable hit in some European countries and followed by ‘Mind Up Tonight,’ which was another top 40 hit in the UK. A string of hits followed, including 1983's ‘Keepin' My Lover Satisfied’ and ‘Love Me Right,’ 1984's ‘Livin' For Your Love,’ 1985's ‘Read My Lips’ which later got Melba a fourth Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, making her just the third black artist after Donna Summer and Michael Jackson to be nominated in the rock category. In 1986, she scored two number 1 R&B hits, including the duet ‘A Little Bit More’ with Freddie Jackson and ‘Falling.’ She scored other popular hits including ‘Love the One I'm With (A Lot of Love)’ and ‘It's Been So Long.’
After 15 years of marriage, in 1991, Charles Huggins abruptly filed for divorce from Melba leaving the singer in emotional and financial ruins.
In 1996 she started her long-running one-woman show, ‘I'm Still Standing.’ Melba was featured in the film, The Fighting Temptations, which starred Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles. In 2009 Melba told her life story on TV-One's ‘Unsung’ and later that year released her first R&B album in nearly 20 years, a duet with Phil Perry called ‘The Gift of Love.’
Melba was inducted into the Official Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame on October 4, 2015, in Detroit. She received the prestigious 2015 Sandy Hosey Lifetime Achievement Award during the Artists Music Guild's 2015 AMG Heritage Awards broadcast held on November 14, 2015, in North Carolina.
AM: Melba, I have been in love with you since the very early seventies. You must have many fans like me. How does that make you feel?
MM: I do have many fans like that and after all these years I think I’m supposed to be in this business.
AM: Yes you are!
MM: You go through all kinds of events and challenges. You have one project after the other. You just keep trying and trying to stay relevant. After a certain amount of time I realized I am in this industry and I am supposed to be here. People want me here. It’s a different and better feeling.
AM: You’ve come full circle in your life. By this point you are a very wise woman.
MM: Life is it! I’m wise because I know there is a God. I’m not searching for that. I understand how God relates to me now and how much he loves everybody so I am a part of that. That’s really the way I describe my relationship with God. He tells me what I’m supposed to do in the world. That is the wisdom and a certain confidence that you have when you don’t know what you’re doing but you know he does. So you keep looking for that and you notice a pattern of success that follows.
AM: Melba you’ve worked with everyone through the years. People don’t know you had Luther Vandross as your back up singer. Did you see that he had a star quality when you worked together?
MM: Absolutely! He stands out on my record singing background! He knew it too. He had certain tendencies in business as well as his talent. He also had the drive to go forward.
AM: With so many years of making records, I’m wondering if you have a favorite period of your recordings?
MM: Yes, most of my favorites are songs that I co-wrote. I enjoyed doing it and I was really surprised to find out I could write music.
AM: Are you writing now?
MM: No, I haven’t had time to do it these days. The people who write really well spend a lot of time at it. It takes a lot of time and I’d rather spend time doing thigs that I need to get finished while I have strength and good health. The good thing is some of my music is still very, very popular, especially in the UK. I do get a chance to hear it and say to myself, maybe one day I will write again. It gives me hope.
AM: Are you surprised at your longevity?
MM: I am surprised that my music has lasted this long. I’ve been struggling my whole life to be as good as the next artist. I know how that sounds but I think it’s the human condition. Oh Wow! The people like my music! Good! I was considered for a Grammy award! The rejection syndrome has worked so well. (Laughter) I was going to keep trying anyway.
AM: Did you recognize Van McCoy’s song 'Lean On Me’ would be a defining career song for you?
MM: Perhaps I did. I can’t say for certain that I did because I’m not sure I know what that is. All I know is I heard it and I said I have to sing it! I love Aretha Franklin and anybody who sings that song. Everybody loved me singing it the way I loved it. I wasn’t really surprised but that was the first time that ever happened. That’s why if you’re smart you will believe in God because he’s the only one who knows what can happen for you.
AM: You have developed a particular technique where you can hold these extra-long high notes seemingly forever. Is there a secret to that?
MM: Yes, I’ve always had a small voice.
AM: Well you’re a small person.
MM: Yes I’m a small person and I know how to project my voice now. It’s easy for someone like me to be overlooked or not even heard. You keep finding ways to touch people and remind them that you are there. Mine was stamina in an effort to get a bigger voice. I kept practicing at singing gospel because that makes you sing big and loud so you get stronger. One day the note just popped out stronger than it had ever been before. I kept doing it to see if it was really me because it sounded like it was coming from across the room. Then I realized I have to have a technique.
AM: It is unique to you.
MM: Yes, anybody can do it but I felt I had to do it. I felt like I had to do it because I couldn’t be heard. I was at the right stage where I was still developing my style. It was the time to do that.
AM: Your new album, ‘Forever Moore’ is phenomenal! I got it instantly. I love every song. I knew it would be great when I heard your first single ‘Let’s Dance’ and it was so good. It’s so now!
MM: I’ve been singing gospel the last few years so this was my first album in a long time.
AM: These are just the most beautiful songs.
MM: God sent them to me. He said be a good girl. Take care of your daughter and your ex-husband so he sent me some hit music.
AM: Are you taking care of your ex-husband?
MM: I’m trying to.
AM: After everything you’ve been through?
MM: Well, that’s when you’re supposed to do it. That’s when it counts to God.
AM: That is amazing Melba. Is there anything else you really need to do?
MM: Yes, just stay on track and find out what’s coming next. Things are changing so fast and drastically and in some cases they are changing very badly. We all have to figure out how to stay safe.
AM: We sure do!
MM: It would be nice if I was a preacher but I’m not. That’s not what I’m supposed to do. I’ve got to continue to figure out what I’m supposed to do. That continues to change, but one thing that I do know is we are supposed to take care of each other.
AM: I agree with that whole heartedly.
MM: God created families. You can divorce if you want to and go get somebody else, but he created a family and that’s what I honor. A lot of the things that my ex-husband did to me and our family and to other people were very hurtful. He’s paying for that right now in a really bad way but my hope is that it’s the time for him to learn the lessons. He can’t do what he wants to do anymore so maybe he will turn it around. He really does love his daughter so that means we’re a family. It means we have a chance and I honor that because now I’m the head of the family! (Laughter)
To learn more about Melba Moore visit her web site http://www.melbamoore.com/