Valarie Pettiford: 'Hear My Soul' Ed Gordon talks with dancer, actor and now jazz singer Valarie Pettiford about her versatile career and debut CD Hear My Soul.
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Valarie Pettiford: 'Hear My Soul'

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Valarie Pettiford: 'Hear My Soul'


Valarie Pettiford: 'Hear My Soul'

Valarie Pettiford: 'Hear My Soul'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Ed Gordon talks with dancer, actor and now jazz singer Valarie Pettiford about her versatile career and debut CD Hear My Soul.

Ms. VALARIE PETTIFORD: (Singing) I can't give you anything but love, baby...

ED GORDON, host:

That's the voice of Valarie Pettiford from her debut CD, "Hear My Soul." Pettiford is no newcomer to the world of entertainment. She developed her show business chops in Bob Fosse productions on Broadway, where she was a celebrated dancer and choreographer. She's worked in her share of movies and a couple of TV soaps. These days, you'll find her on the UPN sitcom "Half & Half." Pettiford says of all her accomplishments, her favorite is when the curtain goes up.

Ms. PETTIFORD: (Singing) Diamond bracelets Woolworth's would not sell, no, no, baby.

Give me a stage with an audience right there at my feet, and I just have the best time of my life. So whether I'm singing, doing a play or doing a musical, dancing, that's where I feel most alive.

GORDON: Do you--and I hope you take this in the right way--you seem to be the kind of spirit that was born for show business. And I don't know if that's your persona or who you really are. Are you that?

Ms. PETTIFORD: Well, it's definitely a part of me. Hopefully, show business, in the good sense of the word `show business,' the creative side, the vivacious, the very fun, gregarious side of show business...

GORDON: Right. You know, you stole it--I was going to say it seems like you have fun with it.

Ms. PETTIFORD: I have an absolute ball, and that's what it's about, and I think when you stop having a great time and it becomes about the work and that process and you start believing your own hype, I think that's when it's time to get out.

GORDON: So many people knew you from daytime dramas, the soap operas...


GORDON: ..."Another World" and "One Life to Live." That dynamic is so interesting because of the fans.


GORDON: They're so rabid.

Ms. PETTIFORD: I know. Oh, my.

GORDON: What was that world like?

Ms. PETTIFORD: Oh, my. It's very interesting. I mean, there's nothing like a soap fan, that's for sure. I mean, they are on your side for life. It was very interesting and really something to get used to dealing with a fan. I remember the first time I was on the show and it was very new to me. I'm in New York City. I'm standing on the subway platform and I'm leaning over, like us New Yorkers do, very freely, looking for the train to come first thing in the morning, and a woman comes up behind me, slaps me hard on the back, and I'm like--you know, I'm a native New Yorker. I'm ready to throw down. And she was a fan. She's like, `Oh, my God, Sheila Price' and she was just so happy to see me. So that's something I had to deal with on a daily basis, something I had to get used to.

GORDON: You were a part of something that is now legendary, and that is "Sophisticated Ladies."

Ms. PETTIFORD: Oh, my. Oh, that just--I'm just awash with so much emotion right now with that because, of course, starring the now late Gregory Hines and starring the now late Phyllis Hyman--oh, my God--and it was just an awesome experience.

GORDON: You mentioned Phyllis Hyman. For those who don't know, one of the great, great singers of our time...


GORDON: ...who met such an untimely end, and frankly, admittedly so on her account, had lived a troubled life.


GORDON: When you look at the demons that she went through, all too many of them based on this business, did you use it as a learning experience?

Ms. PETTIFORD: Absolutely. Phyllis and I are both Cancerians born in the month of July, and we shared similar emotions, and that emotions run deep, and I just remember Phyllis even saying that she wasn't good enough, you know what I mean, and here's a woman with all this talent. Here's a woman that was getting older and then all the younger kids are coming up that was--you know, she was on Arista Records, so you remember you had Whitney Houston to Deborah Cox, and she felt like she couldn't compete, and she was so wrong in thinking that because there was such a great place for her, you know.

GORDON: So then let me ask you about jumping into the music world.


GORDON: I mean, obviously, you're busy with the sitcom and I would suspect some other acting engagements...


GORDON: ...but was music calling you? Did you feel the longing to have to get this out?

Ms. PETTIFORD: Yes, indeed. You know, I'm a dancer first. That was always my first love, but I've had this burning desire and then incredible human beings like Gwen Verdon and Fosse and people along the way have encouraged me to sing. And then, of course, you know, working with Phyllis Hyman and Gregory Hines, that, you know, also gave me the emphasis to go forward with that. And so when I finally got the opportunity, my husband and my musical director, Mr. Ron Abel, we all decided, let's go for it. Let's do it. So the songs on my CD are, you know, part of my life. They all mean something in a very deep and spiritual and very fun way.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PETTIFORD: (Singing) Missed a Saturday dance, heard they crowded the floor, couldn't bear it without you, don't get around much anymore. I thought I'd visit the club, got as far as the door, they asked me about you, don't get around much anymore. Oh.

GORDON: Yeah, you do a great version of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."

Ms. PETTIFORD: Thank you, thank you.

GORDON: And when you picked these songs, you said they all meant something to you.


GORDON: And they are, for the most part, what we now consider and call standards.


GORDON: I mean, "Them There Eyes," "All The Way." You do a hit familiar to many, particularly of my generation, Maria Muldaur's "Midnight At the Oasis." Why'd you pick that one?

Ms. PETTIFORD: I've always loved that song. When I first heard it in my younger years, I just loved it. I'd always sang, you know, with the record, and I always said if I ever do an album, I would love to do a remake.

(Soundbite of "Midnight At the Oasis")

Ms. PETTIFORD: (Singing) Midnight at the oasis, sing your camel to bed, shadows painting our faces, traces romance in our heads. Heaven's holding a half moon...

GORDON: Valarie Pettiford, we appreciate your time. The new CD is "Hear My Soul," and if you love standards and you love that good old music...


GORDON: want to pick this one up. And we thank you so much for your time.

Ms. PETTIFORD: Thank you so much. It was an absolute pleasure.

(Soundbite of "Midnight At The Oasis")

Ms. PETTIFORD: (Singing) Come on, cactus is our friend. He'll point out the way. Oh, come on till the evening ends, till the evening ends.

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program today. You can hear any story from today's program or previous programs at Just click on to archives at the top of the page. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of "Midnight At The Oasis")

Ms. PETTIFORD: (Singing) There is no need to speak. I'll be your belly dancer, prancer, and you can be my sheik. I know your daddy...

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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