Thursday, May 23, 2024

Making life a SONG

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
If you listen closely to songs in the canon of those legendary African-Americans who helped build Las Vegas’ reputation for attracting first-class talent, the music of performers like Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Dorothy Dandridge, Duke Ellington, the Count Basie Orchestra and Sammy Davis Jr. is just as resonant today. How does the sound stay so rich? One reason is the uncompromising, soulful music of entertainers like Marlena Shaw — who arrived in Las Vegas with Count Basie in 1968 and went on to build a body of work that has made her one of the most sought-after singers in the world. She spoke to Black Image about her illustrious career and why her talent has stood the test of time.

How do you describe your singing style?

I have been described as everything, but I consider myself a singer — because I love all different types of music. I have a tremendous jazz following because of my days singing with the Count Basie band. I remember the first time I walked on the stage with the Count Basie band at the Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, and the music just went through me. That is one of the most memorable times in my entire career. I had beautiful Mary Quant eyelashes on, and I started tearing up and had to take them off and put them on a mike stand. I thought I was floating on a heavenly cloud.

What song did you sing?

I wrote some new lyrics to go along with the song, “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey.” I changed it to, “Why Don’t You Come on Home, Count Basie.” That was my opening song, and Basie loved it.

What are some of your more recent projects?
Well, I have been busy just trying to take care of the people who want to hear my hit songs. For example, when I was in Europe a few months ago, the crowd wanted to hear songs such as: “The Women of the Ghetto,” “California Soul” and “Feel Like Making Love.” They just want to hear those songs. I try to give people what they want. I have also been putting together a stage production of a series on musical monologues that chronicle my life — up to a certain point. (Laughs)

How do audiences overseas receive you and other African-American performers?

There is a universal love for African-American performers overseas — and even in non-English speaking countries like Japan. They love us there.

How do they feel about President Obama?
Yes, they love him, too. I perform my song “Women of The Ghetto” in my show, and include lyrics about what’s going on in the United States. I include a special part of the song about President Obama — and the crowd loves it and stands on their feet in applause. I sing, “After all the years, how long? After all the tears this is the first time that I feel there is really hope. President Obama you are the hope I’ve been looking for.” It is so funny, because the crowd sings along to the lyrics — and I am making them up as I go.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, talk about how you have managed to balance motherhood and stardom.
I am very blessed to have my five children and grandchildren. Let’s face it — when my children were growing up, I wasn’t working nearly as much as I am today. Just a few years ago, I did 210 touring days on the road. There is no way I could have done that kind of time when my children were little. It was different. Seems as though my children were teenagers all the time, but it is nothing more difficult than anyone else’s life. Raising children, making ends meet, and only having that one job. As I think back, I used to threaten God and say that if I don’t get a booked singing job soon, I will go into nursing school and leave my singing career behind. Well, those angels really got to work and the singing jobs started coming.

What ingredient makes for a great mother?
Everything is God-given, and you have to trust in him, knowing that he will see you through.

How have you stood the test of time and what is your message to others going through hard times right now?
Hang tough! I have imitation nails, but they are strong, honey. I am strong, and my strength comes from what my grandmother gave me — grandma’s prayers. I was raised by my grandmother in New Rochelle, N.Y., and I still hear her today: “Keep your head up!”

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