Singer Melba Moore’s career back on track; concert to aid Art Center

Gospel songs helped save Melba Moore’s career. Her Friday night show at Proctors is a benefit for th
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Gospel songs helped save Melba Moore’s career.

In 1991, the R&B singer, known for ’70s and ’80s hits such as “This is It” and “Love’s Comin’ At Ya” and her work on Broadway, divorced husband and business partner Charles Huggins. Moore ended up losing all of her savings and her stake in the former couple’s production company, Hush Productions, which, along with managing Moore, also helped launch singer Freddie Jackson’s career.

Moore began picking up the pieces in the mid-’90s, returning to Broadway in a production of “Les Miserables” in 1996, and soon after began touring with her one-woman show, “I’m Still Standing: The Melba Moore Story.” But it was gospel music that got her singing again — in 2002 she released her first gospel album, “I’m Still Here,” which was followed by “Nobody But Jesus” in 2004.

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For Gazette music writer David Singer’s review of this show, click here.

“I lost my whole career, but I was a born-again Christian,” the 64-year-old singer said from her home in New York City. “I asked my friend [producer] Shirley Murdock to create something, to help me establish, create a vocal style. She said, ‘You have to tell what happened to you, something that’s basically your testimony.’ . . . She’s the one that wrote ‘I’m Still Here for You,’ and that’s how it started.”

Persuasive offer

Moore made gospel music her focus, and wasn’t expecting to make another commercial R&B album again. Then Shanachie Entertainment called with an offer she couldn’t refuse — a chance to record a duet album with former Montclair Phil Perry. That record, “The Gift of Love,” was released in September of last year.

“I’d done a project for Time and Life, an inspirational project, and did one duet with Freddie Jackson, my protégé,” Moore said.

“We were all talking about extending it to a full recording, but Freddie got tied up with other projects, so [producer] David Nathan took it to Shanachie. They asked if I wanted to work with Phil Perry, and I screamed, ‘Yeah!’ ”

She will begin a tour with Perry supporting the album next month, but for now she’s performing solo shows. Her Friday night show at Proctors is a benefit for the Hamilton Hill Arts Center.

The performance will touch on all aspects of her career, including songs from her most well-known Broadway shows, “Hair” and “Purlie,” her early hits, gospel material and a some of her solo numbers from “The Gift of Love,” including “We’ll Be Together Then.”

“The Gift of Love” marks the first time that she has worked with Perry. The sessions provided a bit of a challenge to both singers, used to performing solo and not in duets.

“We were really trying to be sure that both of us remembered that this was not a solo project,” Moore said.

“When you’re doing your own thing, you don’t leave space for another person, so we were very, very sensitive to what we did. Both of us sing high and low, all over the place. . . . It’s very nice, very sweet, but still very dynamic because both of us are dynamic.”

Although more in the R&B vein, the album features two gospel cuts, “It Will Be Alright” and the Perry-penned “Survival Kit,” which was performed solo by Perry.

“It’s meant to be R&B-slash-inspirational,” Moore said of the album’s songs. “Everything on there is optimistic and inspirational, I would think.”

On stage

Her acting career is also still going strong. From 2007 to 2009, she starred in a Broadway revival of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Her one-woman show “I’m Still Standing” will start up again in November with a monthlong residency at the Black Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, Calif. The show is her first experience as a playwright, director and music director for a show.

“I needed work; I need a showcase,” she said of her decision to write the show. “I was having people offer me these pieces I really didn’t want, because they didn’t know what I do.”

It makes sense that she would choose theater as the medium to tell the story of her life. Her first big break in show business came in 1968, when she originated the character of Dionne in “Hair” on Broadway.

However, she hadn’t really acted before — at the time of the auditions, she was working as a backup studio singer, and had been hired to be one of the backup singers for a recording session for “Hair” composer Galt MacDermot’s album.

“They happened to still be casting,” Moore said. “James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who wrote the book and were the male stars of the play, let everybody on the recording session know they were welcome to come down and sing [at the auditions], because they were still looking for strong singers, and I just said, ‘Yeah.’ I love to do theater; it’s not my background, but I love to do that.”

Later on, Moore replaced Diane Keaton in the female lead, Sheila, becoming the first black actress to replace a white actress on Broadway. But according to Moore, the casting decision didn’t cause too much of an uproar at the time.

“In the environment after ‘Hair’ opened — it shocked so many people in so many different ways,” she said. “It seemed to me the response was, ‘Wow, she’s really good,’ more so than a racial one. By then, ‘Hair’ had really broken pretty much every barrier.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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