Sunday, October 16, 2016

Destiny Lingers For Rolonda Watts

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Rolonda Watts is an Emmy and Cable Ace award–nominated journalist, television and radio talk show host, executive producer, actor, comedienne, voice artist, speaker, humanitarian, and author. She can currently be seen on Dr. Drew on HLN. She can also be heard as Professor Wiseman on "Curious George," as the announcer for "Divorce Court," and as warrior priestess Illoai in the latest League of Legends video game. In 2016 she will have a recurring role on the Bounce TV series "In the Cut." She holds degrees from Spelman College, where she was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude, a master's degree from Columbia University, and an honorary doctorate from Winston-Salem State University. Rolonda lives in Los Angeles, California. 'Destiny Lingers' is her first novel.

After graduating from Columbia, Rolonda returned to North Carolina and began her career as a general assignment reporter at WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina. She later worked at WNBC, where she was nominated for an Emmy, and WABC-TV in New York as an anchor of a weekly political forum and reporter. In 1987, she began working as a host of ‘Attitudes,’ a talk show on Lifetime Television. The next year, she took a job on the news magazine ‘Inside Edition’ as a senior correspondent, weekend anchor and producer. King World Productions, the syndicator of Inside Edition and also The Oprah Winfrey Show, then asked her to start her own talk show. 'Rolonda' aired for nearly four seasons.

After leaving her talk show behind, Rolonda headed to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting. Her first break was in 1997 when she was cast as Vivica Shaw in ‘Sister, Sister,’ a role she played for six episodes. Since then Rolonda has had guest starring roles in dozens of television shows, including ‘The West Wing,’ ‘JAG,’ ‘The District,’ ‘Yes, Dear,’ and soap operas ‘Days of Our Lives’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful.’ In 2002, Soap Opera Digest named her "Scene Stealer of the Week" for her role as the cut-throat Attorney Cameron Reese on ‘Days of our Lives.’

Rolonda is also the CEO/president of her own production company, Watts Works Productions, which co-produced her talk show ‘Rolonda.’ In 2005, she hosted Lie Detector, a reality series for PAX-TV. That same year, she took over as announcer on Judge Joe Brown. She also appeared on ‘Live With Regis and Kelly’ where she traveled cross-country as a judge for the show's ‘Great American Co-Host Search.’

In commercials, Rolonda is the voice of Boeing, Wells Fargo Bank, Tropicana, Southwest Airlines, Big Lots, Children's Hospital, Wendy's, Aleve, and Alka Seltzer - and more.

New York City and Newark, NJ each established an official "Rolonda Day" for her journalistic, community, and humanitarian works. She has served on the Board of Directors for Literacy Volunteers of New York City, the Board of Advisors for the Rahway State Prison's Lifers Group, the Board of Advisors for New York University School of Dentistry, and the Board of Advisors for the United Negro College Fund. She has volunteered as a tutor for H.E.L.P. - the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project. She is a member of Women in Film, AFTRA, and SAG. The Spelman College Alumna Association awarded Ro for her community service. And the McDonald's Corporation honored her as a "Broadcast Legend".

AM:  Rolonda, how is it that you can do and have done so many different things in your life?

RW:  You know Alan I’m glad you asked that because I often ask myself the same question. I do believe that my partner is God. I don’t know any other way I could do all the things I’ve done without the help of Angels and God. It’s all about my faith. I really believe that. I also believe that when God gives you gifts he gives you the batteries to go with them.

AM: That’s a great way to look at life.

RW:  I’ve always felt like a big toy chest full of lots of gifts. I believe my gift back to God is to use them for good. It looks like I do 50 million things but really I do one thing and that is I’m a storyteller, whether it’s ‘Inside Edition’ or ‘Eyewitness News’ or a talk show. Even voice over work and acting is storytelling or executive producing movies and now my novel. It’s all storytelling.

AM:  How did you start writing the book?

RW: Actually the book has been in me since 1996. I survived Hurricane Bertha in North Carolina on Topsail Island where I grew up in the Summertime. My grandparents founded the first Black Beachfront community in North Carolina in 1949.

AM: Awesome.

RW:  We hadn’t had a hurricane since 1954. I was told to evacuate the island but I wanted to stay and cover it for ‘Inside Edition.’ That was dumb. If someone tells you to evacuate the island, do it!

AM: Uh oh.

RW:  By the time the ‘Inside Edition’ crew arrived it was too dangerous to let them on and too dangerous to let me off. I had to ride out the storm. I had to eat at the Red Cross for three days. The police chief had to pick me up and take me to the food and water. We would be talking about the island and all the things we love about it and then we asked each other why we didn’t know each other. We realized it was because of segregation. We couldn’t have known each other.

AM:  That is deep.

RW: I always thought about that and the phrase, “Time moves on but destiny lingers.” What would happen to two lovers who could not be together because the laws and attitudes kept them apart? What if there was an opportunity to go back and get a second chance at your first love? It’s really what’s happening today with race relations and the gay community. I’ve had many lesbians tell me this is their story.

AM: I can understand that.

RW: I also wanted to capture a certain time. I remember the Jim Crow era. A lot of the issues I talk about in the book are real stories from my life. I couldn’t always go places with my class because I was black.

AM: That is so harsh and unreal.

RW: I want to remind younger generations of that time. It hasn’t always been this easy to love anybody you want. I also wanted to deal with issues like racism and classism. It’s a call to action for the younger generation, “What will you do to stop all the thread of ‘isms’ in your own family? When will you put your foot down and say no more. When will love conquer all?”  

AM:  When did you finish writing the book?

RW:  Oh let’s see…a little over two years ago.

AM:  I wondered because you have the endorsement from the glorious Miss Maya Angelou.

RW:  Yes she read the book about a year and a half before she passed. She had been reading it and she was very supportive. I hadn’t finished it yet. I was just piddling about. She told me not to die with this story still inside me.

AM: Wow! I bet that statement had impact.

RW:  That hit me so hard. She loved the book and you can see what she said on the book cover, “Let the story continue.” I do want it to have a sequel. Praise God, she gave me one of her last endorsements.

AM:  Did you just feel uplifted after her approval?

RW: It was a major endorsement. I felt like she was passing the baton. She had been my Auntie and I knew her for 35 years. She always helped me through everything, but a book! I was treading in some highly professional territory.

AM:  If Maya Angelou says the book is good you know it’s good!

RW: I knew in my heart and soul the story was good. I worked on it for so long. It was a hobby for 10 years. I played with it and work shopped it. I met with a writers group. I passed it along to people that I really respected.

AM: And writing was something that you always wanted to do?

RW: I always wanted to be a writer or an author. When I was much younger I asked Auntie Maya how to become a writer and she told me, “You take a noun and you take a verb and ball it all up and smack it against the wall and make it sing.” I thought, Wow! I always wanted to follow in her footsteps. Her endorsement is one of the greatest achievements in my life. The book in general is one of the greatest achievements as well.

AM: So will we see ‘Destiny Lingers’ made into a movie?

RW: Yes, definitely. I like to challenge myself. I don’t believe in mediocracy or getting comfortable. That’s why I keep moving. You cannot get comfortable. So I wrote a novel so now I think, “Write the screenplay.”

AM: That would make complete sense with you.

RW: It’s very rare for a journalist to turn into a novelist and very rare that a novelist turns into a screenplay writer. I’m going to do it. I would love to see it as a movie and then spin off into a television series. You have an interracial couple, a cop and a journalist. Anything could happen.

AM: Talk about timely. You wouldn’t have had any idea when you started writing this book that it would be so relevant in the moment.

RW: Alan, that’s why I said at the very beginning of our conversation that I don’t do this alone. I’ve waited so long for this book to be on a Barnes & Noble shelf and it could not have come out at a better time. All those times I cried to myself, would this book ever happen. One year I even told myself to just forget about it, but Destiny kept calling me. These characters wanted to live. I had no choice.

AM:  No you didn’t!

RW: Then when Dr. Maya Angelou is breathing down your neck, (Laughter) “Make sure you contribute to the literary world!” Well you contribute to the literary world and it’s got to be good. She taught me the book has got to be about bettering humanity.

AM: What is one of the best parts about promoting the book for you?

RW: It’s giving me a chance to talk with people about race and race relations. I’m finding people to be very open with their own personal stories. People stay calm because we are talking about this story but really we are talking about their own lives.

AM: You grew up in a white world didn’t you?

RW: I was the only black in an all-girl high school. I remember going to a debutant party at the Country Club and I couldn’t go because I was black. Five of my girlfriends stood up to their parents and said we’re not going to go if Rolonda can’t go. That’s wrong. They opened up the Country Club to me.

AM: This is in the Seventies!?!

RW:  Honey, that was 1974.

AM:  That’s insane.

RW: Insane! I watched 16-year-old girls stand up to their parents and the status quo and say it’s not right. That’s another thing Dr. Maya Angelou was all about. Stand up and lift. Use your voice. When it’s wrong, say it’s wrong. She was so upset over Trayvon Martin , but she was encouraged that people were speaking out. It wasn’t covered up like it used to be. Back then there wasn’t a consciousness like that. You didn’t have all the cameras. I think even for as horrible as things can be, we are moving toward a better place.

AM: Yes, I agree. I am disturbed by the violence but I believe we are going in the right direction.

RW: Any movement has the sacrificial lambs. Sadly, now they are children and moms and dads. We are moving to a better place but you have to hit a wall before you change and America is hitting a lot of walls right now.

To learn more about Rolonda Watts visit her web site /

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Madleen Kane: Back Where She Belongs

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Madleen Kane was born in Malmo, Sweden. Because of her striking beauty, at the age of 14 she became a model in Europe. At 15 she won the biggest Beauty Pageant in Sweden, The Dream Girl. She took off as an international model, modeling for agencies in New York, Japan and Paris.

Madleen was discovered by J.C. Friederich, owner of Boona Music productions. She became a popular singer working in 1978 with her album ‘Rough Diamond,’ which became popular not only in the U.S., but across the globe. In the span of a few months she rose to the top of the disco music charts in Europe selling millions of copies. After she released ‘Cheri' in 1979, her singing career took off. Madleen's debut album ‘Rough Diamond’ was originally released in France by CBS and soon after by Warner Bros. in North America. It became a hit on the Billboard Dance Chart. For this album, she recorded a disco version of ‘C'est Si Bon.’ Paris-based production team Michaele, Lana & Paul Sébastian produced the album.

‘Cheri’ was Madleen's 2nd CBS Disques S.A. / Warner Bros. release, which featured ‘Forbidden Love,’ a dramatic "pop-opus" arranged by Thor Baldursson. The A-side suite of ‘Forbidden Love’, the title track, its breakdown ‘Fire In My Heart’ and ‘Secret Love Affair’ gave her another club hit, which ran for over 15 minutes. Jim Burgess remixed it for a single, which was edited to just over eight minutes. The ballad ‘You and I,’ has become a wedding day favorite in Canada.

She promoted her albums around the globe through several television appearances. While performing in Italy she was presented by Julio Iglesias in a Roman arena with over 40,000 spectators. She became the queen of disco, and along with Donna Summer, toured Japan to promote her second album entitled ‘Cheri.’ She went to the US to promote her album in ten different states performing at the famous Studio 54 in New York among many other venues. She did the ‘Marvin Griffin Show,’ ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘Solid Gold’, ‘Dance Fever’ and many newspaper, magazine and radio interviews.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Madleen moved to Chalet Records, part of Prelude Records, and released her third album, ‘Sounds Of Love.’ It featured ‘Cherchez Pas,’ which was more "electronic" as opposed to her usual symphonic disco songs, and peak #18 in Sweden. Madleen later worked with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. Nevertheless, Giorgio Moroder appeared with his mixes in 1981 with ‘Don't Wanna Lose You’ and helped her album sales in clubs. ‘You Can,’ the Flashdance-esque lead single from those sessions spent three weeks on top of the Billboard Dance charts. The album ‘Don't Wanna Lose You’ followed. This was again released on Chalet Records, which was owned by her then-husband Jean-Claude Friederich and distributed by dance promoter Tom Hayden and his TSR Record Company, which was to be Madleen's next record label. Other big hits: ‘Playing For Time,’ ‘You Can,’ ‘Fire in My Heart.’

London's Ian Anthony Stephens and Megatone recording artist Paul Parker teamed up to provide Madleen with ‘I'm No Angel,’ a Billboard Dance Hit from her 1985 album, ‘Cover Girl.’ Madleen, tired of recording, faded away after this album.

A collection of her hits, ‘12 Inches And More’ is her latest release. In January 2010, Madleen's first two albums were reissued on the MP3 via

Madleen speaks four languages fluently. From a young age she was an artist, she painted and wrote romantic short stories. Clothes are her passion, designing her own dresses and blouses. She was the most photographed woman in the world during the 1970s and 80s with many photos including her own clothing designs. She has been on the cover of all major magazines in Europe and on the cover of Playboy magazine twice. Even Carlo Ponti offered her a leading role in a film at the time, but she was too busy recording and promoting her music. She is well known all over Europe, Japan, the Middle East and Russia. She now resides in Santa Monica, California.

AM:  Madleen, you are an international star who left the limelight in 1985 and now you have returned. Is this correct and what are your goals this time around?

MK: Yes, I want to give back to my fans for all those years they have been asking about me. Now finally I can do it.

AM: Does it surprise you that people are so eager to see you again?

MK:  Yes, I’m very amazed!

AM:  You seem so humble.

MK:  Yes, I am a very humble person. I always treat people with respect. I understand people.

AM:  You seem like a deeper kind of person.

MK:  I’m not shallow at all.

AM:  I bet that surprises people who think you will be shallow.

MK: Especially when I was in my twenties. I’ve never been shallow. I’ve always had a very good connection with journalists and reporters. I have always believed that they are there to help you and you should help them. You are working together. I’ve never been late for an appointment.

AM:  I love that.

MK:  I respect people too much. Why would I want to arrive two hours late and not be ready? I’m extremely professional.

AM:  That takes you further than anything I believe. Are you looking for new songs to record?

MK:  Yes, I have some people working for me and we are looking.

AM:  Have you found anything that you are in love with yet?

MK:  Not that I’m totally crazy about yet. Right now I like ballads. I like love songs. I’m very romantic.

AM:  I think you will find new success with love songs and ballads even though people love your dance music.

MK: I will always do dance music too.

AM:  That’s what I love about all your albums. After the dance music there was always at least one hauntingly beautiful love song.

MK:  I was always collaborating with the writers from the very beginning.

AM:  Did you stay in the studio while the songs were being mixed?

MK:  Oh yes, it’s so important to mix the instruments with the voice and put it all together.

AM:  Your producers didn’t mind you in the studio with opinions?

MK:  No, my father was a tenor who sang opera in Sweden so there was always music in our home.

AM:  I heard your father was a singer.

MK:  Yes, he was an actor also in theater.

AM:  So you grew up in that artistic atmosphere.

MK:  I’ve been in the music world since I was six years old.

AM:  Do you have any siblings?

MK:  Yes I have two younger sisters. 

AM:  So you are the first born!

MK: My daddy is so proud of me. I’m the only one who understands the business. I’m the one who followed in his footsteps. My mother was a model. She was a beautiful woman who left this earth way too soon.

AM:  I’m sorry. When did you lose her?

MK:  We lost her ten years ago and she was only 66 years old.

AM:  How do you deal with this loss?

MK:  It’s still hard today. I skype with my sister once a week and we backtrack and remember our childhood. We talk about our Mom and the things we were doing.

AM: I know your three children are grown now but were you a hands on Mom when they lived at home?

MK:  Yes I was always there to take them to soccer practice or tennis or golf.

AM:  That’s the reason you stopped performing and recording isn’t it?

MK: Yes, one of the reasons. I wanted to give my full attention to them and be able to raise my children. I wanted a real family. I didn’t want to be on the road all the time. I wasn’t brought up like that.

AM:  I know you have an autobiography in the works. When did you start writing it?

MK:  I started writing it two years ago. This was always on my mind.

AM:  Did you find writing about your life therapeutic?

MK:  Yes I did. Very much so. You will see why when you get to read it. This book will also be very helpful to others. This book is very compelling and a real page turner. It’s not boring at all.

AM:  How have you handled all the male attention you have received over the years?

MK:  I was always graceful about it. I would just say I’m sorry but I’m not interested. (laughter)

AM:  Did it get boring for you after a while?

MK:  Yes it does get boring.

AM:  Were you able to spot them right away?

MK:  Yes, I’ve always been good at reading peoples’ intentions.

AM:  The book is finished and ready for publication isn’t it?

MK: Yes, we only have a few things that need adjusting.

AM:  Is there anything else you want to do now?

MK:  I really got a taste to perform when I was recently in Miami. Even though I hadn’t been on stage for many years, it felt like it had been yesterday. This is how it felt inside me. It didn’t feel like I had been gone for such a long time. Right away I knew this is where I belong.

To learn more about Madleen Kane visit her web site

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Julian Yeo '1923' Album Review

Photo:  Jessica Lin

1923 was a standout year for many reasons. ‘TIME’ magazine was launched on March 3. ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ starring Lon Chaney was released. Cecil B. DeMille directed his first version of ‘The Ten Commandments.’ Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as president following the death of President Warren Harding. The first home game played at the original Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox occurred. The world’s first portable radio was developed in the US and the Explosion of recordings of African American musicians began including the great Louis Armstrong. It’s a great year to celebrate musically so Jazz Singer Julian Yeo has dedicated an entire album to the music of this period with his latest release titled ‘1923.’

As it says on Julian’s web site, “He sings simply, improvises with subtlety, and always swings while doing justice to the lyrics. Julian Yeo thinks of himself as a retro-jazz vocalist with a “new-old” approach. He sounds like he could have comfortably fit into the 1930s pop/jazz scene, singing with equal skill in a swing or a sweet orchestra, inspired by the relaxed and lightly swinging phrasing of Bing Crosby. Julian Yeo blends old school soul with celebrated qualities of today (and sometimes with a twist).”

Julian has picked a consistently solid assortment of sixteen songs that were all written before 1923 and remain popular to this day. Julian Yeo is a natural singer expressing both deep melancholia and upbeat joy. He creates a jazz-hipster atmosphere on this album that’s difficult to resist. He is a classic crooner, relaxed, laid-back, and easy-going. Crooners typically had soft voices that were well suited to the intimacy of the material and the night clubs they performed in, however Julian’s voice is dramatically powerful as well.

The album opens with ‘You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)’ from 1913 and made popular by Al Jolson and Judy Garland. The style and mood of this opening cut sets the tone for the whole album. You already know you are in for a good time. 

 Next up is ‘Hello! Ma Baby,’ a Tin Pan Alley song written in 1899. Its chorus is far better known than its verse, as the introductory song in the famous Warner Bros. Cartoon ‘One Froggy Evening’ from 1955, sung by the character Michigan J. Frog while high-stepping in the style of a cakewalk. Julian slows down the tempo and uses his nimblest and most elegant singing style to make this cut his own. Julian has raised the bar with this recording. You can forget the frog’s version.

‘Play a Simple Melody’ a song from the 1914 musical, ‘Watch Your Step,’ with words and music by Irving Berlin follows. Julian duets with himself and the results are remarkable. His breezy and sophisticated vocal style floats over the top of the melody with beautiful harmony. ‘Poor Butterfly’ is one of my favorite songs and Julian lovingly caresses the lyrics of this song first published in 1916.

‘Some of These Days’ published in 1910, and associated with the biggest star at the time, Miss Sophie Tucker is next. The top-drawer songs continue with ‘Baby Face’ made popular by Al Jolson. The addition of the vibraphone brings an ecstatic and effervescent quality. ‘Moonlight Bay’ was published in 1912. It is often sung in a barbershop quartet style. Julian takes this cut and makes it very stylish with his exquisite delivery.

This album is filled with incredible musicianship. Particularly memorable are ‘Ain't We Got Fun’ a popular foxtrot published in 1921 and symbolic of the Roaring Twenties and ‘Pack Up Your Sins and Go To The Devil’ written by Irving Berlin 1922. Julian sings these cuts with spectacular panache.

‘Paper Doll’ was written in 1915. The song has been named one of the Songs of the Century and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Julian’s version actually has a playful sexiness to it. He is able to do the same thing with the chestnut ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket,’ a nursery rhyme first recorded in America in the late nineteenth century and later became a very successful and highly regarded 1938 recording by Ella Fitzgerald. I found myself asking, “Ella who?” Remarkable, as I adore everything Ella!

The album closes with ‘Baby Won't You Please Come Home,’ a blues song from 1919. The first hit version was Bessie Smith's 1923 recording. Julian has made a resplendent recording with his tribute to the music of the Twenties. The natural ease of his singing remains instantly recognizable. Joining Julian on ‘1923’ is his stride pianist and long-term collaborator, Jesse Gelber; Tom Beckham on Vibraphone; and Kevin Dorn on drums and Andrew Hall on bass. They are all top tier musicians.

Julian Yeo has been recording for ten years. ‘1923’ is his eighth release. You should also check out his earlier recordings. They are all well produced. You can hear the growth of a musical artist and his defining style.

To learn more about Julian visit his web site

Monday, September 12, 2016

Melba Moore Forever

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

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Country Soul of Jeannie Seely

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Along with many accolades including awards from Billboard, Cashbox and Record World, Country Music Legend Jeannie Seely has achieved No. 1 songs as a solo artist, duet partner and songwriter. Early in her career, Jeannie’s deeply moving vocals aptly earned her the nickname of “Miss Country Soul”. Jeannie’s recording of “Don’t Touch Me” not only topped the country music charts, but also earned her a Grammy Award for the “Best Country Vocal Performance by a Female”. It is ranked at No. 97 in the book ‘Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles’ published by the Country Music Foundation, and it’s also included in ‘The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs.’

Born in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and raised on a farm outside of nearby Townville, Jeannie was singing on Meadville radio station WMGW at age 11. By 16 she was performing on TV station WICU in Erie. When she moved to Nashville upon the encouragement of friend Dottie West, Jeannie only had $50 and a Ford Falcon to her name, but within a month Porter Wagoner hired her as the female singer for his road and television series.

On September 16, 1967, Jeannie’s biggest dream came true when she became the first Pennsylvania native to become a member of the world famous Grand Ole Opry. Jeannie subsequently became the first female to regularly host segments of the weekly Opry shows. She’s also credited for wearing the first mini-skirt on the Opry stage, as well as for changing the image of female country performers.

A BMI-awarded songwriter, Jeannie’s songs have been recorded by Country Music Hall of Fame members Faron Young, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb and Little Jimmy Dickens, as well as by many other artists including Norma Jean, Doyle Lawson, Lorrie Morgan, Connie Smith, Irma Thomas, Dottie West and Tex Williams.

With Opry member Jack Greene, Jeannie recorded the hit ‘Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You’ which began a series of successful duet recordings – and launched one of the most popular road shows in country music history. For over a decade, Jack and Jeannie toured and performed together at venues that included New York’s Madison Square Garden and London’s Wembley Arena.

Along with placing records on the Billboard country singles chart for 13 consecutive years, Jeannie also served as a radio disc jockey on her own Armed Forces Network Show, traveled on military tours throughout Europe and Asia, made numerous appearances on national television shows, published her own book of witticisms titled Pieces of a Puzzled Mind and starred in several major stage productions including Always, Patsy Cline and ‘The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.’ Jeannie also appeared in Willie Nelson’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ movie and sang on the platinum soundtrack album. Jeannie has been known throughout her career as an individualist, as well as for her infectious humor. Despite personal and career setbacks that range from a 1977 near-fatal auto accident to a devastating flood in 2010 in which she lost her home, car and personal belongings, Jeannie Seely has remained a survivor with her sense of humor intact.

From her 1966 Top 10 Billboard album ‘The Seely Style’ to her 2011 self-produced CD ‘Vintage Country,’ Jeannie’s recordings have spanned six decades and provided enjoyment to country music fans all around the world.

In his book Finding Her Voice: Women In Country Music, music critic Robert K. Oermann writes, "With her chin-out, tough/tender, heart-of-gold manner, Jeannie Seely remains one of country's most completely modern female personalities.”

AM:  Jeannie, how many years have you been with the Grand Ole Opry?

JS:  I’m in my forty ninth year now. I’m holding my breath and trying to be good so I can celebrate fifty next year. (Laughter) I joined September 16, 1967. I actually have two fiftieth anniversaries in a row.  This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of my Grammy award.

AM:  The song you won for ‘Don’t Touch Me’ has never gone away has it?

JS:  No, and I am so grateful every day. When Hank Cochran and I were looking for songs to record, he asked me what I wanted to sing. I told him I’d like to have a ballad that didn’t matter if you were a male or female, young, old, married or single, that the song would affect you. He said, “You don’t want much, do you?” (Laughter) I said I want a hit song!

AM: Well you got your hit!

JS:  He did capture all I wanted in that song. The song has been recorded by many artists including many male singers. It’s just an incredible song. It’s as timely today as the day it was written.

AM:  Your recording is certainly timeless.

JS:  I saw Fred Foster who produced the record when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’m so proud of him. We talked about the record and how his idea to have the one xylophone note at the very beginning got everybody’s attention.

AM:  Did you think you had a Grammy winner when you were finished recording?

JS:  Oh no, they were so new back then nobody thought about it.  I won the third one for a female Country singer. Dottie West won the first one in 1964 and Jody Miller won the second one in 1965 and I won in 1966.

AM:  How does it feel to have a Grammy after all these years?

JS:  It’s still amazing and I think the fact that it’s voted on by your peers makes that award even more special. We’re all friends in a competition, but we are all friends. Certainly in my generation, we all supported each other and wanted the best for each other. I think it probably stands true with today’s generation too. We all love the industry and we love our craft. You can’t help but admire when someone else creates something that stands on it’s own.

AM:  You have another song that I love and it’s a sexy song called 'He Can Be Mine.'

JS:  Yes, I guess it is.  Back when I lived out in the country by Hendersonville before we had the interstate you had to go out Dickerson Road and Long Hollow Pike which is a long…hollow…pike. You would lose the radio in the pike so my pattern was to write songs and that’s how I wrote that song. I got home and went straight to the piano and a tablet to write the lyrics. I had it all down except one line. Hank was there at the time and I told him, what I want to say here is “He can yahoo if he wants to” but I thought it sounded kind of silly.  He said it was a great line and if I didn’t use it he would, so I used it.

AM:  I think that’s the sexiest part of the song. Have you seen the video of you in a white pantsuit with the bare midriff?

JS: I remember the outfit but I don’t know if I’ve seen the video. I’ll have to look for it! (Laughter)

AM:  Can you tell me a little about your friendship with the late Dottie West?

JS:  Yes, Dottie was so caring, loving, giving and understanding.  We were the sort of friends who talked all the time, even in the middle of the night. I could tell her anything. She was a mentor to me.

AM:  How did you meet?

JS:  I met her when I was still living in Los Angeles. She came out to make an appearance at the old Palomino Club. She encouraged me to make the move to Nashville. She was also one of the first artists to record one of my songs. She introduced me to so many people.

AM:  Jeannie, everyone I ever mention your name to, stops in their tracks and their eyes light up and they tell me how much they love you.

JS:  What a wonderful thing to hear. Thank you for telling me that.

AM:  You must constantly be asked for advice about career longevity.  What do you tell these younger people?

JS:  The main thing is to love what you are doing. We all get frustrated at certain places in our careers and in our lives period. You must keep in mind that the frustration is just a short amount of time in the whole scope of life. Just do your best to work through those times. Keep loving what you do and keep working at your craft.

AM:  That certainly applies to everyone no matter what you do.

JS: We all have a tendency to get a little lackadaisical when we’ve been doing something for a long time. Also remember that change is important. As we get older we have a tendency not to like change as much.

AM:  Yes I am seeing that with myself.

JS:  I remind myself all the time, there’s always something good in any new change. When I look back I didn’t like all the changes going on in my heyday era, but I love my life now. I’m very grateful I’ve been able to see my dreams come true.

AM:  How do you feel about the Grand Ole Opry these days?

JS:  The Grand Ole Opry has always been one of the most coveted places for me. I grew up listening to it and even through some years where people put the Opry down and people started going to Branson, I said my heart is with the Grand Ole Opry. I was so glad I was able to get there. It’s my second home. That family is certainly a second family. 

To learn more about Jeannie Seely visit her web site

Sunday, August 14, 2016

At Home With Gilles Marini

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

This is the sixth time Gilles Marini has been on my blog! If you haven’t seen any of the other blogs I’ve done with him then you should click the links to learn about his past and what we’ve talked about before as well as the large variety of photos I have taken of him.  They are all right below for easy access.

This time around I met with Gilles at his home in the Hollywood hills and we talked while he made me a French breakfast. (a croissant & cappuccino) After that I took a few casual shots of him. I’ve known Gilles and his family since 2008 so it is always an easy and relaxed vibe. Gilles is a total "beautiful being" and spending time with him is an elevating experience. His charm is revealed by an authentic desire to 'give to you' while he is with you. I am always happily swept up in his kinetic and loving energy. This man is sincere!

Gilles Marini exploded onto the scene as "Dante", the Casanova living in the beach house next door to Kim Cattrall's "Samantha" on the Sex and the City movie, a role which has earned him international recognition. Though people went to the theaters to see Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, they left with one thing on their mind....Gilles's shower scene.

Gilles has been seen on television on ‘Modern Family,’ '2 Broke Girls,'‘Castle, ‘Criminal Minds,’ ‘Windfall,’ ‘Teen Wolf,’ ‘Devious Maids,’ ‘Switched At Birth,’ ‘Hot In Cleveland,’ ‘Brothers & Sisters,’ ‘The Mysteries of Laura’ and in several soap operas, including ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’  and’ Passions.’ His recent film credits include ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End,’ ‘Mothers and Daughters,’ ‘The List’ and ‘The Boys & Girls Guide to Getting Down.’

He has appeared in many television commercials and print ads for companies like Budweiser, Clairol, Coca Cola, Ross, Chrysler, Fila, GNC, Infiniti, Mervins, Avon, Lord and Taylor, Robinsons May, etc.

Gilles lives with his wife Carole and his two children, George and Juliana in Los Angeles. 

AM:  Gilles, I loved you on ‘Devious Maids’ and was so shocked to find out you were the bad guy!

GM:  It was nice to play a bad guy. I always wanted to play a character who was more on the edge. We worked very hard to make sure the audience had no idea I was going to be a bad guy.

AM:  You have found quite a bit of work on television.

GM: Yes, it’s not like I only want to do this, but there is so much more work on the many networks and so few movies being made. There are really only four or five big movies a year. It’s a different format these days. Being on TV is the thing to do. I’ve been doing this nine years non-stop and I will never say no to movies, especially if it’s a meaningful, independent film.

AM:  Which you have done.

GM: Yes, I want to make more films in that direction. I have no complaints. Now it’s more about creating and writing some new ideas. Because of the amount of work I’ve done, I think a couple of doors are open. I can at least get people to look at a project I bring. Hopefully something comes out of it. So far the response has been phenomenal so I’m very excited.

AM:  Do you consider yourself a writer?

GM:  Writer is a big word obviously. What I do is bring ideas to the table with two of my associates. One of them is a good writer and he listens very well and then he writes the story. He’s the one who puts it down because he knows the formats. He has the talent to understand the concept I am bringing. So far we have two scripted shows that we have collaborated on.

AM:  If he writes, what do you do?

GM: I do the non-scripted side of it. I bring the synopsis to the network and they tell you if they like it or not. These are projects I’ve always wanted to do.

AM:  Are we talking dramas?

GM:  On the scripted side there is a more action based, supernatural drama and the other one is a medical drama.

AM:  What's the main difference between them?

GM: The supernatural one is more fast moving and the medical one is more every day. They would have a different fan base, but both are being received pretty well right now. I’m excited to see where it goes.

AM:  It seems logical to me that you would be more in charge of a show you are on. What's the benefit of running your own show in Hollywood?

GM:  I don’t think it’s just Hollywood. I think it’s every business. People see you one way and it’s difficult to make a network executive see you in a different light. I understand that. I don’t want to play a Boston cop. That would be stupid, but I am an actor and it would be nice for people to see me in a different light.

AM:  That's what acting is all about. 

GM:  I like to pretend to be someone else and make sure I am challenged. That is the reason I am now writing. You are the only one who knows what you are capable of. I am well aware of that. I wrote things that are challenging and things I am passionate about. Hopefully we get a go and I have a chance to show what I really can do.

AM:  I do know whatever you create will be good.

GM:  You never know. You see incredible actors with great shows lasting four episodes. Networks don’t have a lot of time, but fortunately there are a lot more networks now.

AM:  Would you be willing to be on Netflix or amazon?

GM: Willing!?! I’d love for them to say, “We love it!” They are more than the new format, they are THEE format. 

AM:  Streaming is the standard now.

GM:  I don’t know how long studios will last anymore. They could be gone ten years from now. As long as young people go see big action-packed superhero movies, the studios will be able to make four or five a year and make big money. If that template fades away, then I doubt the studios can make any type of money.

AM:  So your manager and agent will get you meetings with the networks and Netflix to pitch the shows?

GM: Yes, I’m sure they will.  It’s a long process but it’s super exciting because it’s undeniably something I want to do.

AM:  It seems to me you have just walked through the door of the time your career can be going full speed ahead.

GM:  I think from forty to fifty it will be something that can show more dimensions. I’m not a child anymore and I have a lot of life experience, but I’m not old yet. 

To learn more about Gilles visit his web site