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MUSIC: Happy Birthday, Melba Moore! GBN Celebrates with the Ultimate Melba Moore Playlist (LISTEN)

Written by Good Black News

October 29, 2020

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

Today Good Black News celebrates a milestone birthday for soul diva Melba Moore with a Spotify playlist entitled “This Is It! The Ultimate Melba Moore Playlist” that spans her 50+ year career from a rare mid-‘60s recording now popular on Britain’s Northern Soul scene to her latest song – a house music infused dance track from this past summer.

We’ve got all the necessary hits in-between as well, from Broadway showcases to her huge ‘70s disco singles to her mid ‘80s soul duets to her gospel turn in the new millennium. Here is the playlist:

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In fact, for Melba’s 75th, we’ve got 75 great songs. And because some sources suggest a different birth year, we’ve actually thrown in some bonus tracks just in case – any excuse to include a few added songs, because in this case, the more Melba Moore, the merrier!

Born into a family of musicians, Melba’s mother was Gertrude Melba Smith, a singer who performed under the name Bonnie Davis – and actually hit #1 on the Harlem Hit Parade chart in 1943 with the song “Don’t Stop Now.” Her father was saxophonist Teddy Hill who had his own prominent big band. And Melba’s stepfather, Clem Moorman, whose last name she later adapted for her own stage name, was a pianist who ultimately performed with her mother.

By the mid-60s, Melba circulated around the NY music scene, recording demos and even an obscure single or two before truly breaking through with a prominent role in the hit musical Hair. That role led to a more prominent role in the musical Purlie, for which she won the 1970 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical – becoming one of only a handful of Black actors to have won Tony Awards up to that point.

Broadway prominence quickly led to a recording contract, and her 1970 debut album landed Melba a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist at the 1971 Grammy Awards. Moore was part of a prominent class of new artist nominees including Elton John, Anne Murray and TV sensation’s The Partridge Family.  All of them lost to The Carpenters.

Coming out of Broadway rather than Motown, Atlantic or Stax Records, Moore’s career appeared to be headed down a familiar path. With a fresh, youthful face and a fresh Afro, she was positioned as a new generation’s Leslie Uggams/Nancy Wilson/Diahann Carroll – a polite, TV-friendly personality who could guest on a talk show and sing the latest show tune.

To that end, her first couple albums contained show tunes and her versions of popular hits like “Sunny” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and Moore even paired up in 1972 with then boyfriend Clifton Davis in the fun, but short-lived summer variety show The Melba Moore/Clifton Davis Show.

But the cultural styles were shifting away from this kind of sanitized, safe performer, and by the mid-1970s, Melba would need the first of several career reinventions in order to thrive. By 1974, married to her manager Charles Huggins, Moore shifted labels and styles, jumping headfirst into the new trend of disco.

Over a series of albums, Moore worked with producers like Van McCoy (of “The Hustle” fame) and Philly sound duo McFadden & Whitehead (known for their own hit “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”). Melba’s disco years yielded some big hits, including an assured cover of the Bee Gees‘ “You Stepped Into My Life,” her biggest hit in the UK “This Is It” (also her biggest Spotify hit to-date), and “Pick Me Up I’ll Dance.”

This time also spawned an epic discofied Curtis Mayfield cover “Make Me Believe In You” as well as some amazing ballads, including the spiritual Santana cover “You Are My River,” the simply pretty “Blood Red Roses,” and the renowned McCoy composition “Lean On Me” (not to be confused with the Bill Withers track of the same title). The dramatic track had been introduced by Vivian Reed, and was subsequently an obscure B-side by Aretha Franklin – but Moore took it to new heights, and it has become a signature track in her body of work.

As disco faded, however, Moore needed to reinvent once again – and at her new label in the early ‘80s, Capitol Records, Moore and Huggins did just that – leading to perhaps her most successful streak on the record charts. Melba’s polished persona and wardrobe of bejeweled pantsuits and shoulder pads was a perfect fit for the elegant R&B market of the ‘80s, where synthesized funk shared the airwaves with stylish, classy ballads from the likes of Luther Vandross and Anita Baker.

Melba and her then-husband’s own Hush Productions became not just the home base for her own recordings but also for those of Freddie Jackson, Lillo Thomas, Kashif, Paul Laurence and more. They all worked on each other’s records, and Melba’s ‘80s hits included the Laurence-produced “Love’s Comin’ At Ya,” the Thomas-composed “Mind Up Tonight” and duets with Jackson on “A Little Bit More” and “I Can’t Complain,” among many others.

The ‘90s brought not only a musical sea change towards hip hop and a grittier, more street savvy R&B, but also some personal struggles for Moore. A divorce, and the subsequent business complications, left her without a label and on her own.

Since then, Moore has reinvented herself as a survivor. She releases her music independently, including some gospel recordings on which she collaborated with fellow ‘80s diva Shirley Murdock, as well as some dance music recordings with producers enlisting her still legendary vocal chops.

Moore even landed a supporting role in the movie The Fighting Temptations, singing alongside Beyoncé. Her personal strength is reflected these days in the messages of her songs, including a gospel number called “I’m Still Here” and the dance track collaboration with Terry Hunter called “Just Doing Me.”

Amidst the swarm of still active ‘60s/’70s legends like Gladys, Patti, Dionne, Chaka and Diana, we must not forget about Melba, whose six-decade-spanning musical legacy is equally significant and groundbreaking. Her musical journey is a unique and prolific one, with still much to offer.

With our playlist, all of her more than 30 R&B and dance chart singles are here, including her numerous duet hits with Freddie Jackson, Lillo Thomas, Kashif and others. The playlist is rounded out with the best of the rest, featuring songs from a wide range of her more than 20 studio albums. (Notably, Melba’s first three albums – including the one that earned her a Best New Artists Grammy nom – have amazingly never been rereleased on CD, and are not on Spotify either.  To those who are curious, most tracks can be found via unofficial YouTube posts.)

The playlist is rounded out with the best of the rest, featuring songs from a wide range of her more than 20 studio albums. (Notably, Melba’s first three albums – including the one that earned her a Best New Artists Grammy nom – have amazingly never been rereleased on CD, and are not on Spotify either. To those who are curious, most tracks can be found via unofficial youtube posts.)

There are tons of great songs to enjoy in the playlist, but, beyond the main hits, keep a special lookout for the following notable tracks:

“White Boys” – Melba sang lead on a couple songs in the musical Hair including “I Believe in Love” and this memorable tune. For a fun analysis of Melba’s musical efforts in Hair, this video breaks it all down:  https://www.masterworksbroadway.com/video/seth-rudetsky-deconstructs-melba-moores-songs-from-hair-legends-of-broadway-video-series/

“I Got Love” – “I Got Love,” her big solo from Purlie, was Melba’s early signature song, included on her first solo album, and also woven throughout her summer variety series The Melba Moore-Clifton Davis Show.  The series itself is quite rare, but if you want to take a glimpse, you can see a chunk of it on YouTube at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZzKklSAQHo  or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO5s-zZk47s

“The Magic Touch” – Recorded in 1966, this track remained in the vault until the mid-1980s when British soul archivists discovered it and released it to great success for the UK’s “Northern Soul” retro music scene.  Another several decades after that, Melba surprised audiences by finally performing it live for the first time at a European soul music festival.  That performance and the history behind the song can be viewed on this youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3thvvUGeJy8

“Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” written by Stevie Nicks, became the revival song of this fall when a man posted a video of himself on Tik Tok lip syncing to the original track while skateboarding and drinking cranberry juice. The viral video subsequently sent the song back onto the charts and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album into the Top 10!  Melba was one of the first other popular recording artists to remake “Dreams” on her 1985 album Read My Lips. Check out her version on our playlist.

“King of My Heart”: – From the same 1985 Read My Lips album, Billy Ocean fans will want to compare his 1984 mega-hit “Caribbean Queen” to Melba’s “King of My Heart.”  Both songs were written and produced by songwriter/producer Keith Diamond. Unfortunately, Melba’s song was released as the B-side on a single, and not promoted to crossover audiences. Today, however, it is one her more popular Spotify tracks.

“The Other Side of the Rainbow” & “Falling” – Melba is perhaps most known to fans of belting soul divas for her long extended high notes, sometimes lasting 30 seconds or more. These two ballads, “Rainbow” from 1982, and “Falling” a #1 R & B hit from 1986 are primary examples of these legendary skills.

“Lift Every Voice & Sing” – In what served to be a fitting coda to her major label career, Moore and her producers organized an empowering superstar remake of the unofficial Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” based on a poem by James Weldon Johnson and first introduced in song form in the early 1900s. By that time, Moore had become a household name in Black America – and with the help of guest performers including Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder, Stephanie Mills, The Clark Sisters, Dionne Warwick, Bebe & Cece Winans, Bobby Brown and more – was able to take a historical song and turn it into a Top 10 hit.

Bonnie Davis & Teddy Hill – Melba’s mother and natural father were both prominent musicians – and can be found on Spotify! Only two Bonnie Davis tracks are present on Spotify, neither of them her #1 hit, but they are both still interesting throwbacks. There are a couple dozen tracks from saxophonist Hill, of which the two playlist songs are good representations. Davis’ #1 track, “Don’t Stop Now” can be heard on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KijtnQ9obmw

Today, on her birthday, Good Black News sends our flowers now, honoring Melba with a celebration of her music. We hope you enjoy!

Original article source: https://goodblacknews.org/2020/10/29/music-happy-birthday-melba-moore-gbn-celebrates-with-the-ultimate-melba-moore-playlist-listen/ | Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council

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