Monday, February 23, 2015

Marcia Ball: Louisiana Music Woman

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Marcia Ball is a blues singer and pianist, born in Orange, Texas who was raised in Vinton, Louisiana.  She was described in USA Today as "a sensation, saucy singer and superb pianist... where Texas stomp-rock and Louisiana blues-swamp meet."  The Boston Globe described her music as "an irresistible celebratory blend of rollicking, two-fisted New Orleans piano, Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues from a contemporary storyteller."

Marcia was born into a musical family. Her grandmother and aunt both played piano music of their time and Ball started piano lessons when she started school, and showed an early interest in New Orleans style piano playing, as exemplified by Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, and James Booker. She has named Irma Thomas, the New Orleans vocalist, as her chief vocal inspiration. Ball studied English at Louisiana State University in the 1960s while playing in a band called Gum.  In 1970, at age 21, she started a progressive country band called Freda and the Firedogs in Austin, Texas, and began her solo career in 1974.

Marcia Ball's piano style includes elements of zydeco, swamp blues, Louisiana blues and boogie woogie.  She began her recording career as a solo artist with Rounder Records in the 1980s and early 1990s.  In 2001, she joined Chicago-based Alligator Records.

Her Rounder album, ‘Sing It!,’ which featured vocalists Irma Thomas and Tracy Nelson, released in January 1998 was nominated for a Grammy Award and a Blues Music Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album." Marcia received the 1998 Blues Music Award for "Contemporary Female Vocalist of the Year" and "Best Blues Instrumentalist-Keyboards."  She was awarded "Contemporary Blues Album of the Year" for her albums ‘Presumed Innocent’ in 2002 and ‘So Many Rivers.’  The same year she also won "Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year-Female."  She won the "Best Blues Instrumentalist-Keyboards" again in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. Her 2003 Alligator release, ‘So Many Rivers,’ was nominated for a Grammy as were ‘Live! Down The Road’ in 2005 and ‘Peace, Love & BBQ’ in 2008. She was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame in 1990.

Marcia has continued to work with Irma Thomas. In 2006, the two contributed a duet ("Look Up") on the New Orleans Social Club release, ‘Sing Me Back Home.’  In 2007, the two contributed another duet ("I Can't Get New Orleans Off My Mind") to ‘Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino.’

Marcia Ball continues to play at nightclubs, particularly in Austin and New Orleans, and performs at music festivals in North America and overseas.  Her newest album is titled 'The Tatooed Lady and the Alligator Man.'

AM:  Marcia, Can you talk a little about growing up in Louisiana?

MB:  I’m from a little town on the Texas/Louisiana state line.  My entire family heritage is in Louisiana.  I come from a deeply rooted Cajun family. 

AM:  Was music a natural part of your life from day one?

MB:  My grandmother’s father was a musician and composer.  My grandmother played piano and her daughter, my aunt, played piano and her daughter, my cousin, played piano.  I remember one day a piano appeared in my house and I started piano lessons. 

AM:  When was this?

MB:  At the same time I started going to school. 

AM:  So playing piano seemed natural for you?

MB:  It was natural and it was what we did.  I come from a generation that still gathered after Sunday dinner around the piano.  We’d all take turns playing the piano. 

AM:  Did you sing as a child?

MB:  No I didn’t sing.

AM:  When did you start singing?

MB:  When I got to college.  That’s the other part in the incredible timing of my life.  When I got to college in 1966 the whole world was changing.  I met a girl who sang.  She had been doing folk music duos with another girl who went back home.  So I was recruited to sing harmony and it turns out I could sing them.  I think I never thought of singing because growing up on Tin Pan Alley sheet music, all those girl parts were high.  I couldn’t reach those notes so I thought I couldn’t sing.  When I first heard Odetta, I was thunderstruck. 

AM:  What classes were you taking in college?

MB:  Mostly English.

AM:  What did you think you were going to do?

MB:  Well, mostly I like to read and write so I took some journalism classes.  I didn’t know what I was going to do.  If I had kept on going I would probably have been a librarian.  But I dropped out of school to follow music.

AM:  When was it apparent that music would be your career?

MB:  I got in a band not long after I dropped out and enjoyed it, but I also had a day job at a radio station.  Also I got married and moved to Austin.  I met some people in Austin who were a lot more established with a following and some connections.  So I got in a band with them and from that time on, which was 1972, I never looked back.

AM:  Were you surprised to know you could actually sing lead?

MB:  Yes and at that time I was singing Top 40 which was Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, so singing was not exactly what I was doing.  It was more like shouting. 

AM:  So you must have learned how to refine your vocals.

MB:  Along the way I did.  The first band I was a part of in Austin was a Country Music band.  In Texas, Country Music had a lot of currency.  We all had long hair but we really loved the old, traditional music.  So we were singing traditional Country Music with frizzy hair sticking out of our cowboy hats and Austin went for it completely.  This is when Austin became the drawing place for anyone who wanted to perform like that.  This is right before Willie Nelson moved there. 

AM:  Are you happy living in Austin?

MB:  I am!  I loved it from the moment I got there.  My husband and I had been living in Baton Rouge and we were moving to San Francisco but we went through Austin and stopped to see some friends and we never left. 

AM:  Where did you record ‘Circuit Queen’ album?

MB:  I actually recorded that one in Nashville for Capitol Records.  They signed a bunch of young talent at the time but for most of us, nothing happened. 

AM:  It’s a really good album.  Were you happy with it?

MB:  I was happy with it but I was scared to death at that time.  It was a great opportunity. 

AM:  You have been able to keep a long term recording career going.

MB:  Yes, it’s been remarkable.  I haven’t been on a lot of labels either. 

AM:  What is one of your favorite albums that you recorded?

MB:  One that I am most proud of is the one I did with Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton called ‘Dreams Come True’ and it took us five years to complete it.  That’s why we titled it ‘Dreams Come True.’

AM:  You name Irma Thomas as a major influence.

MB:  Yes I do.

AM:  I have photographed Irma and I love her as an artist and person.

MB:  She is a lovely person.  I saw her in New Orleans for the first time when I was thirteen. 

AM:  You are actually more associated with New Orleans than Austin.

MB: My music certainly is.  I always say about Austin, that I’m a piano player in a guitar town.  I’ve always played that Louisiana music. 

AM:  Do you play New Orleans a lot?

MB:  As much as I can.  We do real well there.  I’m pretty highly recognized there. 

AM:  You have a new album out and it’s so much fun!

MB:  It was just time to record a new album because we get tired of playing the same songs. 

AM:  I like how all your music is so much fun.

MB:   I like my music to be fun.  I don’t write or play from a place of angst. 

To learn more about Marcia Ball visit her web site

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Libby Villari Shines

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Libby Villari is best known for her recurring role as Mayor Lucy Rodell on the TV show,  ‘Friday Night Lights.’ Her film appearances include ‘Infamous,’ ‘What's Eating Gilbert Grape,’ ‘Boy's Don't Cry,’ ‘The Faculty’ and the Academy Award nominated ‘Boyhood.’

She was born Margaret Elizabeth Webb in North Carolina where she lived until she was 11. The family moved to California, later moving to Texas.  She graduated from University of North Texas with a B.A in Theatre.  An active performer in the Texas theatre community, she often acts in productions that film in Texas.

Libby made her television debut in the 1985 television movie ‘Stormin' Home’ and followed this with ‘Adam: His Song Continues’ and the Emmy-nominated television film ‘Little Girl Lost’ with Tess Harper. In 1986 she played Mrs. Pritchard in ‘Bonnie & Clyde: The True Story.’

She made her film debut in 1993 as Camille McCloud in ‘My Boyfriend's Back,’ also Matthew McConaughey's first film. She next appeared in ‘Flesh and Bone,’ and as a reporter in Clint Eastwood's ‘A Perfect World,’ and in the 1994 television film ‘Without Consent.’

In 1995, she appeared in ‘The Big Green’ and in 1996 in ‘Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering’ and ‘The Whole Wide World’ as the mother of RenĂ©e Zellweger. She has also appeared on the series ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ and in Robert Altman's ‘Dr. T & the Women.’

In 2014, Libby Villari's film ‘Boyhood’ by Richard Linklater opened at the Sundance Film Festival. She plays the mother of Patricia Arquette's character in the film.

Libby is also an acting coach and works with children's literacy programs.  I met with Libby in Sundance Square in the heart of downtown Fort Worth for a quick photo session and a chat before she was off to Los Angeles for pilot season and to go to the Vanity Fair Oscar party!

AM:  Hi Libby!  I think it’s so exciting that you are going to the Vanity Fair Academy Awards Party this year.  Did you ever imagine going to them?

LV:  No, I wasn’t sure I would ever go but when Rick Linkletter asked, I couldn’t say no.

AM:  That is such a big deal!  Did you think that ‘Boyhood’ would get a lot of nominations?

LV:  We didn’t know what to expect, but now I expect the biggest and the best for everything. 

AM:  It’s already been several years since you filmed it, right?

LV:  I started 13 years ago.  I’m in one of the very first scenes. 

AM:  What did you think about the movie 13 years ago when you started filming?

LV:  We knew it would be special because what we were doing had never been done.  It’s the most critically acclaimed film since ‘The Godfather.’  I always knew it would be good because I was there and I could see that really terrific work was happening.  I’m a huge fan of Rick Linkletter so I felt that no matter what, it would be a good movie.  I was so fascinated and envious that he was documenting his own child’s life from first grade to twelfth grade.  I have a granddaughter who is 2 years younger than Mason (the lead actor in the film) and that is what got me the role.

AM:  You must be close to your granddaughter.

LV:  We are tremendously close.  I helped raise her. 

AM:  Can you tell me a little about your audition?

LV:  I went in and it was not a first round audition.  Ethan Hawke and Rick Linkletter were there in the room.  We ended up doing a very long improv.  First though we sat and talked about our relationships to our children and our grandchildren and what experience we’d had with divorce and what that does to a family.  It just so happened that my son was going through a very hard divorce at the time.  My granddaughter was four years old so the feelings I had about the subject were right on the surface.  Ethan had just gone through his divorce with Uma Thurman, so his feelings were also on the surface.


AM:  So it was all very real for you.

LV:  I’m certain that is what got me the role.  I think it really helped Ethan to play that role.  So thirteen years later here we are.  My granddaughter is all grown and the kids in the movie are all grown.  I think the characters evolve in such interesting ways that you couldn’t possibly have in a three month shoot.  Since we shot over a period of years, we all brought new experiences to it every year.  You just can’t beat that.  The more experiences you have, the better actor you are. 

AM:  Are you working more these days?

LV:  I have been working but I think it has to do with my age.  ‘Boyhood’ was a secret until this past October.  There was a bit of talk in the film industry but nobody knew how terrific it was until it was released.

AM:  This is the most high profile film you’ve ever done isn’t it?

LV:  Absolutely and I’ve done some huge films and worked with some terrific directors.

AM:  Your list of directors is amazing!

LV:  I know, Clint Eastwood, Alan Parker, Robert Altman, Robert Rodriguez.  It’s real unusual to live on Eagle Mountain Lake, hide from the public and be able to say you’ve done that.

AM:  You are more than an actress, right?  You do other things as well?

LV:  I have a landscape business. 

AM:  Is that a lifelong interest?

LV:  Yes, absolutely, I’m a fanatic organic gardener.  I never intended to have a landscape business but I had reached an age where I was too young to play a grandmother and too old to play a young mother and I needed a job.  I went back to college and got my horticulture degree because it was something I wanted to know more about.  I already had two other degrees.  I’m passionate about gardens and plants.  It keeps me really earthbound too. 

AM:  I’ve also enjoyed your performances as the mayor in the TV show ‘Friday Night Lights.”

LV:  I did 21 episodes. 

AM:  Are you anything like that character?

LV:  I can be kind of bitchy.  I am like her in the sense that I am tenacious and go after what I want but I’m a lot kinder.

AM:  She is pretty firm.

LV:  That’s a nice way of saying it.  Also I’m not a lesbian.  I had already filmed two seasons when they decided to go that direction.  She’s pretty clearly a Republican.  So when they wrote that in I was just stunned.  I did think it would be fun to play.  The director asked me what did I think of this character development and I told him it would be a real stretch playing a Republican!  (Laughter)  I knew a lot of lesbians, but Republicans are pretty rare in my life.

Monday, January 19, 2015

6 Year Anniversary Blog with Freda Payne

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sterling Day and the Gift of Knowing

All Photos:  Alan Mercer            Lighting:  Eric V.

Sterling Day is an empath, clairvoyant, and clairaudient. She can offer truth and insight to whatever life may be dealing you. Where ever you are in the journey of yourself, as well as your life....She will give you her undivided attention.

It is important to have truth when making choices in life, no matter how big or small they may be. It is also vital to go into a reading with an open heart, and the willingness to hear the truth. Sterling is simply a messenger here to help. She can tell you that whatever the situation you may be facing, there is always an answer. And more importantly, there is always hope.

By working with the names and vibrations of your voice, she will tap into your energy and deliver messages and answers to all that you may question. Sterling is a contributing author and writer for OM Times Magazine.  She has been helping clients worldwide for 9 years with no tools, and time frames are her strong point.  Helping clients see into the future, and learn and heal from their past is her specialty.

I met with Sterling in her home for these photographs and our conversation.  Even though it was the first time we met, she felt like a dear, old friend.  

AM:  When did you discover you had this gift Sterling?

SD:  I’ve always known.  In 1979 when I was five years old we took my grandfather to the airport.  He was in the oil business so he was always traveling.  I didn’t want him to go because I had a premonition something was going to happen to a plane and it did but it wasn’t his plane.  It was that famous hostage situation at the time.  My mom asked me how I knew about it. 

AM:  Did you stay tuned in after that?

SD:  No I got away from it but it always followed me around.  I just wanted to be a normal kid and be in sports, but I was always able to pick up on other people’s feelings.  

AM:  Were you a popular kid?

SD:  I was always well liked because I was able to relate and empathize with a lot of people.

AM:  When did you get serious about it?

SD: I was twenty seven when it really hit me in the face.  The more I tried to avoid it and run away from it, the worse my life became. 

AM:  Were you afraid of it?

SD: No, but it was a responsibility I didn’t want.  The older and more mature you get, the more responsibility you must take on. 

AM:  Did you start giving readings to friends first?

SD:  Yes I was always giving readings to friends on the side.  I just didn’t feel comfortable due to my family and their acceptance of me being this way. 

AM:  Was your family afraid of this?

SD:  No, my mother was into metaphysics, but I made many bad choices in my twenties and I lost credibility with my family for a while.  They didn’t take me seriously at first. 

AM:  What made you pursue this as a full time vocation?

SD:  In 2008 when the economy went bad my friends suggested that I do it and I didn’t know what else to do so I started doing it.

AM:  What was the first step?

SD:  I aligned myself with a very reputable web site and within six weeks my life changed. 

AM:  Did you have to prove yourself?

SD:  I aligned myself with Shay Parker, who is very reputable.  I did have to be tested and certified for her.  Then I started writing some magazine articles called ‘Recreating You’ because I had to recreate myself at that time.  The cool thing about what I do is that not only am I able to foresee things in the future.  It is much more than that.

AM:  What is it really about then?

SD:  It’s about giving people their power back by letting them know there are choices.  There is truth and truth is power.  No matter what the situation is, as long as you can see it for what it is, you can make the right decisions.

AM:  What do you say to the non-believers?

SD:  We are all born with intuition.  Jesus was a prophet.  We all have the gift of knowing.  If I was 100% accurate and knew all the answers I’d be playing power ball and living in Fiji, but we’re not supposed to know everything.

AM:  What is the best thing about what you do?

SD:  I can help people recognize the truth about what is going on in their lives.  The great thing about what we do is you realize that life is always about choices and you have the ability to create the life you want.  Everything is based on the choices you make. 

AM:   Do people want to know the same things all the time?

SD: Yes, most people have the exact same questions.  They want to know about love and money.  I think now, more than ever, people want to know about themselves. 

AM:  Why is that?

SD: Because we are in an age where we are being forced to look and know ourselves really well because other people are looking at us through social media now.

AM:  It seems your gift is more for others than for yourself.

SD:  Yes, most psychics agree that it is more difficult to read yourself than a total stranger.  We can’t see the forest for the trees in our own lives. 

AM:  Is there anything worth being afraid of?

SD:  The greatest thing to be afraid of is limiting yourself and cutting yourself short. 

AM:  What is the best thing about what you do?

SD: The coolest aspect is when you help others learn about themselves you learn about yourself too.  So as much as I may have helped someone I have been able to learn from them as well. 

To learn more about Sterling Day visit her web site

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Joy To The World

Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders and wonders of His love

All Christmas Tree photos:  Alan Mercer

"Joy to the World" is one of the most popular Christmas songs in history. The words are by English hymn writer Isaac Watts, based on Psalm 98 in the Bible. The song was first published in 1719 in Watts' collection; The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship.

 Watts wrote the words of "Joy to the World" as a hymn glorifying Christ's triumphant return at the end of the age, rather than a song celebrating His first coming. Only the second half of Watts' lyrics are still used today.

The music was adapted and arranged to Watts' lyrics by Lowell Mason in 1839 from an older melody which was then believed to have originated from Handel, not least because the theme of the refrain (And heaven and nature sing...) appears in the orchestra opening and accompaniment of the recitative Comfort ye from Handel's Messiah, and the first four notes match the beginning of the choruses Lift up your heads and Glory to God from the same oratorio. However, Handel did not compose the entire tune. The name "Antioch" is generally used for the tune.
As of the late 20th century, "Joy to the World" was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

The definition of JOY
The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by possessing what one desires 

    the expression or exhibition of such emotion 
  a state of happiness or felicity  
  a source or cause of delight

Go beyond happiness, because, as we all know, happiness is fleeting and temporary.  Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of your life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sarah Dash Feels Her Blessings

All Photos:  Alan Mercer            Lighting:  Eric V.

A founding member of the popular 1960’s female soul group Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles, Sarah Dash continued to pursue a variety of outlets for her creative talents. In addition to recording four impressive solo albums, Sarah has sung on albums by the Marshall Tucker Band, Laura Nyro, and the Rolling Stones. In addition to recording with Keith Richards' X-Pensive Winos, she twice toured the United States with the all-star band.

The seventh of 13 children, Sarah was born in Trenton, NJ. Her father was Church of Christ father of the state of New Jersey and a bishop, while her mother was a nurse. Although she initially sang gospel music, Sarah turned to secular music as a pre-teen, when she formed a vocal duo, the Del Capris, with schoolmate Nona Hendryx. The two women were soon joined by Cindy Birdsong and Patricia "Patti LaBelle" Holte. Originally named the Blue Bells, the quartet changed their name to Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles after discovering that the name the Blue Bells was already taken by another group.

Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles were a success from the onset. Their debut single, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," was a hit, and the group was chosen to open shows during the Rolling Stones' first American tour. Although many believed that they were in danger of breaking up after Birdsong left to join the 'Supremes,' the three remaining members moved to England for a year and dramatically changed their image and musical approach. Returning to the United States as LaBelle, the three vocalists began performing in space-age costumes and featuring cutting-edge, sexually oriented, and politically charged tunes. Sarah's four-and-a-half-octave voice and her pension for silver bras, space-age skirts, and flowing feathers continued to draw attention. The revised edition of the group even surpassed the success of the original, with the Number One Pop hit single ‘Lady Marmalade.’  

Signed as a soloist by the Kirschner record label, Sarah Dash released her self-titled debut solo album, which featured the hit disco single, ‘Sinner Man,’ in 1978. Although she continued to record as a soloist, Sarah increasingly worked as a session vocalist. She appeared on the Marshall Tucker Band's 1981 album, ‘Tuckerized,’ and began a long involvement with Keith Richards when she appeared on his 1988 album, ‘Talk Is Cheap,’ singing two duets, ‘Make No Mistake’ and ‘Rock Awhile.’ She continued to work with Richards and his band, the X-Pensive Winos, singing on Richards' 1991 album ‘Live at the Hollywood Palladium’ and his 1992 album ‘Main Offender,’ for which she co-wrote the single ‘Body Works.’ Sarah also appeared on the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels.’

In 1983, Sarah released two dance singles for Megatone Records in San Francisco, both produced by Patrick Cowley. The first was ‘Low Down Dirty Rhythm’ and the second single ‘Lucky Tonight’ featuring background vocals by Sylvester, was very successful, even rising to the #5 spot on Billboard's Dance Chart, and was even a Billboard "Pick of the Week." Sarah was excited about her career again and went on an extensive tour of major U.S. dance clubs.  In 2008, the long-awaited new album from Labelle, ‘Back to Now,’ was released to rave reviews.  Sarah sings Lead vocals in the group's political song, 'System.'

Sarah released a ballad called ‘I'm Still Here’ in late 2011, and a dance music single ‘Hold On (He'll Be Right There),’ in May 2012. Sarah was honored by her hometown of Trenton, New Jersey, by being the grand marshal in the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Much of Sarah Dash's focus since the early '90's has been on helping to raise money for homeless single women with children in New York.

AM:  Do you ever get tired of being interviewed Sarah?

SD:  No, I can talk forever.  I’ve done three hour interviews.

AM:  You have such a great story being part of an iconic, legendary musical group.

SD:  If we ever stop to think about how blessed we are…to have three career changes and people still know who you are.  We were Patti Labelle and the Blue Belles, where we recorded classic songs like ‘Danny Boy’’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’  Then we moved on to LaBelle and had that monstrous hit. 

AM:  That cemented you.

SD:  ‘Lady Marmalade’ did cement us.  That one song took care of us for many years.  Then we all have enjoyed solo careers over the years.  Patti has had the most success because she was the most prepared after the break up.  Nona and myself still got to record many songs.  I had the international hit ‘Sinner Man’ and had international fame before either Patti or Nona.   Patti was big in the States.  Of course touring with Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos and singing on the Rolling Stones ‘Steel Wheels’ gig didn’t hurt at all.  I’m not trying to brag.  These are my stats.

AM:  They are your accomplishments.  I bet you’ve been around the world a time or two.

SD:  Oh yes I’ve been to Japan, Australia, Spain, South America, the whole world.  I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be.  Then being able to record jingles was great.  Revlon fed me for a long time.  I just feel the blessings of this life tremendously.

AM:  You’re one of the few lucky ones and deservedly so.

SD:  It’s called being blessed.  Luck runs out. (laughter)

AM:  Sarah your albums are timeless.  I love to listen to your music.

SD:  Thank you, I think my first solo project solidified that.  ‘Sinner Man’ is still played in clubs.  (Album producer) Don Kirschner knew what he was doing.

AM:  The ‘Close Enough’ album is really good too!

SD:  That is my brother’s favorite of my albums too. 

AM:  I’m also loving your newer song ‘I’m Still Here.’

SD:  Thank you, I wrote that one.  I open my show with that song now.

AM:  Is your show a collection of your songs?

SD:  The ‘Sarah Dash: One Woman’ show is not all the songs I’ve recorded.   It’s more a piece about life and my musical journey on a personal level.  I also do my special arrangement of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You.’ I talk about going to Paris.  I went straight to Louis Vitton and bought a hunting bag!  (Laughing)  I thought it was a make-up bag and had room for hairspray but that was where the gun was supposed to go!  My agent told me I couldn’t keep it and I had to take it back.

AM:  You are enjoying social media aren’t you?  You are really good about posting on Facebook.

SD:  I’m good with all media.  Way back in the day before you could fax, you could send a telex.  My father got all his kids one so we could all keep in touch.  After that I was one of the first people into computers. 

AM:  Are you from a large family?

SD:  Thirteen children.  I’m number seven.  I’m the middle child.

AM:  Did you get forgotten?

SD:  No, my presence was very much known. (laughing)  There were a lot of different personalities in the family, much like the world, but we all support each other.  We are happy to be around each other but we know who we are.  There are no surprises as to what is going on.  We’re very respectful of each other.  We can fight amongst ourselves but you can’t come in and fight with us. 

AM:  Was that your parents who instilled this in all of you?

SD:  Of course, it all comes from parenting.  I would say my mother and father did a very good job raising us.  My father was a pastor and my mother was a nurse.  After she had her thirteenth child she decided she wanted to be a nurse.

AM:  You come from a family of over-achievers.

SD:  Yes, we are lawyers, doctors….

AM:  World class stars! (Laughing)

SD:  We’re like any other family.  We’re just aware of who we are and we are respectful.  You tend to move the way your family moves.  Some will go against the grain and all you can do is pray for them. 

AM:  You certainly can’t change a family member!

SD:  You cannot try to change someone in your family as they are not going to be changeable until they’ve made up their mind to be changed.  The prayer is to know the difference.  I thank God.  Some people are offended by that word, but we all have a higher power that we go to and we can name it and call it what we want.  That has been my sustaining power through the years.

AM:  I knew you had strong faith.  It’s never left you has it?

SD:  I always say, “I thank God for sustaining provision.”  All you have to do is sit still and believe it to see it.  Sometimes it’s not the proportion you want but you’re never without.  At the times you are without you have to have faith it will only be for a short time and not all time. 

To learn more about Sarah Dash visit her web site