Songstress Melba Moore Is Back From Hiatus, Tells Of Hardship After a long time away from the recording studio, veteran R & B singer Melba Moore is back on the music scene with her new album, The Gift of Love. Moore talks about her latest project, a collection of duets with singer Phil Perry, and shares candidly about where life has taken her since her fans last heard her voice.
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Songstress Melba Moore Is Back From Hiatus, Tells Of Hardship

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Songstress Melba Moore Is Back From Hiatus, Tells Of Hardship

Songstress Melba Moore Is Back From Hiatus, Tells Of Hardship

Songstress Melba Moore Is Back From Hiatus, Tells Of Hardship

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After a long time away from the recording studio, veteran R & B singer Melba Moore is back on the music scene with her new album, The Gift of Love. Moore talks about her latest project, a collection of duets with singer Phil Perry, and shares candidly about where life has taken her since her fans last heard her voice.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, my last word - I promise - about Joe Wilson and last week's rudeness outbreak. That's my Can I Just Tell You? commentary, and it's next. But first, R&B fans rejoiced this year when Whitney Houston made a comeback with her new album "I Look to You." Now get ready for the return of another big voice from years gone by, Melba Moore. Now, many will remember Moore from her days as a Tony Award-winning Broadway actress and a chart-topping singer with hits like "Falling."

(Soundbite of song, "Falling")

Ms. MELBA MOORE (Musician): (Singing) I'm falling. I'm falling, falling in love. I'm in love.

MARTIN: And now, Melba Moore is back with a new album of duets with singer Phil Perry, "The Gift of Love." It's her first R&B album since 1990, and she joins us now to talk about it from our bureau in New York. Welcome, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. MOORE: What a pleasure. You can tell I'm excited. I haven't had a CD since - did they have CDs in 1990?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now see, we're not going to reveal that age. We're not going there, so…

Ms. MOORE: Well, I'm glad to be thriving and having a new start. So it's okay with me.

MARTIN: It's not that you haven't been singing, but you've been focusing on gospel. Why the return to R&B now, and what took you so long?

Ms. MOORE: Well, it wasn't just going to gospel. I really lost my whole career. I lost the ability, through bad relationships with my ex-husband, who was my manager, to perform or really to have a life. Everything got shut down.

So I was and still am a born-again Christian, but I didn't have any music. So I started to learn some of the traditional hymns and develop a repertoire, and then finally, I went to my dear friend Shirley Murdock(ph), and she wrote some songs for me. So I began to establish myself in the gospel field with, you know, a fresh start.

MARTIN: All the more reason why I think it may be remarkable to many people that not only is this new album titled "The Gift of Love," the first cut on the album is, it's a personal favorite around here, "Optimistic." So I think - why don't we just play a minute, and talk to me about how you're able to get optimistic after going through all that. Here it is.

(Soundbite of song, "Optimistic")

Ms. MOORE: (Singing) If things around you crumble, no you don't have to stumble and fall. Keep pushing on, and don't you look back…

MARTIN: So that was, of course, "Optimistic," which many people know from The Sounds of Blackness. So how did you come up with the idea of A, duets, many of which are love songs, and start off with "Optimistic"? How did you…?

Ms. MOORE: Well, I didn't do the sequencing, but I agree with that. I think we really, truly are optimistic.

(Soundbite of song, "Optimistic")

Ms. MOORE: Over the years, throughout the challenges, the thing that's kept me is the name of Jesus, the scriptures, and even in just the deepest pits and just crying my heart out, he says don't be afraid. I'm with you here. Just say my name.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask you if you felt your faith tested by all this?

Ms. MOORE: Absolutely. But I really didn't have anything else. You heard the expression broke as Joe's turkey?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOORE: Well, I think the grace was I didn't have anything else. Of course - I mean, I love the lord, and that kind of really was all that was there, and by the time maybe I would've gone to getting depressed, he would give me something each moment, each day, and each moment is built on that until I really am optimistic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, let's play another song from the album, which kind of speaks to that finding your faith in the small moments. It's called - it's a ballad, "I Believe."

(Soundbite of song, "I Believe")

Ms. MOORE: Oh, I believe (unintelligible). And I believe that someone in the great somewhere, hears every word. And every time I hear a new born baby cry, or touch a leaf or see the sky, then I know why, I believe.

MARTIN: You know I had to play - we had to hear that famous range.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Right? That famous Melba range.

Ms. MOORE: Oh.

MARTIN: You were worried that glass was going to break.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOORE: I didn't even go high on that one.

MARTIN: I know you didn't but we were just, we don't want to give them everything, right up front. We want to you know, leave them...

Ms. MOORE: No. No. We save a little. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...save a little bit there. How has your voice held up through all this? Because, as I said, one of the things you are famous for is not just the power of the voice, but the range.

Ms. MOORE: Well, praise God, it's gotten - and I'm older, so I have more depth. I actually the top is extending. It's higher and louder.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOORE: And it's stronger.

MARTIN: Yeah. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with Melba Moore. Her new album of duets with Phil Perry is titled "The Gift of Love."

Of course, many people will know you from your Broadway work, the original Broadway recording from "Hair," which you joined back in 1967.

Ms. MOORE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: I don't know. Should we play something from "Hair" just for fun?

Ms. MOORE: Oh yeah. And you know it's back on Broadway and live it all over again. Yeah.

MARTIN: Right. Of course. Here we go. Here we go. I don't know if you're still up for the those nude scenes, but you know.

Ms. MOORE: Oh, I went to the opening. It's more powerful than it was in our show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You have to tell me why. But let's have you singing the song "White Boys."

(Soundbite of song, "White Boys")

Ms. MOORE: (Singing) White boys are so pretty. Skin as smooth as milk. White boys are so pretty. Hair like Chinese silk. I tell you the white boys give me goose bumps. White boys give me chills and when they touch my shoulder, that's the touch that kills. Well...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, how is it hearing yourself singing that song now from 1967? Does it bring anything up for you? Is it funny? Do you think on my goodness, what are we wearing?

Ms. MOORE: Yeah. It's funny. It's funny. It reminds me of I guess how I've always been a person with a sense of humor. I can hear...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOORE: ...the tongue-in-cheek in the tones in my singing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You broke a lot of barriers on Broadway. You were one of the first African-American women to win a Tony. You were the first African-American performer to take over a lead role from a white actress. Do you remember all that as being important at the time?

Ms. MOORE: Absolutely. Well, not so much at the time because I didn't have any preparation to be an actress. Everything was really quite a shock and you know, learning on the job, so much to focus on. You can't really take in how if it's important it's going to make a difference. I mean I saw over the years now a lot of people who got Tony Awards that it didn't do for their careers what it did for mine, so you don't really know at the time I don't think.

MARTIN: Is that what you wanted when you were coming on? I know you come from a musical family, your father, your mother, your stepfather all are artists and performers. Is this what you wanted?

Ms. MOORE: Well, I don't think people...

MARTIN: Without all the drama, of course. I'm sure you weren't...

Ms. MOORE: Yeah. I could've had it without that.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Ms. MOORE: But you don't get it without that, so but I don't think black people knew to aspire to be actors and actresses. It happened because we came upon opportunities and we said yes and tried to learn on the job. But everybody who has nice healthy red blood wants to be an R&B singer or a rock singer, you know, from our times to or a rhythm and blues singer. You want to have hit records, yeah, if you can sing.

MARTIN: Was it hard to sing all these love songs given all that you have been through?

Ms. MOORE: Oh no. So much good has happened over the last 10 years especially until I've really kind of been built back up. And one of the things that happens when you have really really difficult challenges, you have to focus and that's either going to make you or break you and you really have to choose. And I chose optimism. I chose joy. I chose life and so that's what I've become. So by the time the goodies, like Phil Perry and Shanachie Records come along - man, I've just driven over with joy and happiness and gratitude because I know the other side but almost at a distance.

MARTIN: Do you have a favorite song on this album?

Ms. MOORE: I think "It's All Right."

MARTIN: "It's All Right."

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. MOORE: Yeah, I like that one.

MARTIN: Because?

Ms. MOORE: Because it got that gospel spirit.

(Soundbite of "It's All Right")

Ms. MOORE: (Singing) One of these old mornings I said it won't be very long. You gonna look for me. But I'll be going on home. Well I'm going up to glory that's when I'm gonna sing and shout. And not you and you and nobody ever keep me out. Oh, it will be all right. All right. There when I make it. It'll be all right. It's gonna be all right. Be all right. Oh when I make it. It'll be all right. Yeah.

MARTIN: You know you had such a big life. You have a huge impact on Broadway with the big voice, with the big breakup, the big embarrassments and so many twists and now you, you know, you've remade yourself. You're doing gospel. You have a solo act. You've done all these things and what do you think the lesson here? What's the story of Melba?

Ms. MOORE: Hmm. Well, it's a good life and if it's going to be a great life, it's going to be a difficult life and if you kind of figure out how to surrender to that, I think you'll take the best and leave the rest as you continue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOORE: Life is good. You take that away from it and keep struggling and knowing that struggle is movement. It's what life really is and that's good. It's good.

MARTIN: What next for you?

Ms. MOORE: I'm a partner in a new restaurant called Gospel Uptown and we've got wonderful food so I'm promoting that and bringing gospel and R&B entertainment…

MARTIN: And where is that?

Ms. MOORE: It's in Manhattan. It's on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem.

MARTIN: Is it one of those teasers where people think they're going to come up there and see you? But...

Ms. MOORE: Well, they can see me. I'm up there quite a bit and we're going to have like once a month, Melba Moore and Friends. And the style of food is, I'll call it nouveau soul Asian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. MOORE: In other words, we got some fried chicken and a few like you know, traditionally soul food dishes. But essentially, it's delicious but it's healthy.

MARTIN: Delicious but healthy.

Ms. MOORE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Words for living, right?

Ms. MOORE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well what should we go out on? What song should we say goodbye on?

Ms. MOORE: Oh. Oh. Oh I know, "You're All I Need To Get By."

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: "You're All I Need To Get By."

Ms. MOORE: I love this CD.

MARTIN: All right. It's on Melba Moore's latest album. Her new album of duets with Phil Perry. It's titled "The Gift Of Love," and she was kind enough to join us our bureau in New York.

Good luck to you. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. MOORE: Thank you, Michel.

(Soundbite of song, "You're All I Need To Get By")

Ms. MOORE and Mr. PHIL PERRY (Musician): (Singing) You're all I need, you're all I need to get by. Oh. You're all I need to get by. Honey. Honey. Honey. Honey. You're all I need to get by. Hey. Hey. Hey. You're all...

MARTIN: Melba Moore and Phil Perry's album, "The Gift Of Love" comes out next week. If you have comments about the CD or have new music on your radar that you want us to know about, please, call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that's 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave us your name. You can also log on to our Web site where you can hear more of our prior music chats, read messages from fellow listeners and enjoy a simpler social networking experience. Just go to the new NPR.org, click on programs, select TELL ME MORE and blog it out.

(Soundbite of song, "You're All I Need To Get By")

Ms. MOORE and Mr. PHIL PERRY: (Singing) You're all I need, you're all I need to get by. Honey. Honey. Honey. Honey. You're all I need to get by.

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