Veteran singer Moore to perform at Hayti
Before she became a singer and theater performer, Melba Moore taught music in grades K-12. Today, Moore spends most of her time singing and performing, but still teaches on occasion. “I do some master classes now. People want to know, how do I hold this note?” she said in a phone interview.
Longtime fans of Moore’s many recordings already know the context of that statement. For those not familiar, get on YouTube and listen to Moore singing the classic “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (on a clip from the “Flip Wilson” show). She holds the syllable “my” for what seems an eternity, then does a rising glissando on the final note. Her version of “God Bless the Child” has similar vocal athleticism. On her recent single “Love Is,” a ballad, Moore displays her rich voice’s subtle qualities.
Moore studied piano and voice at Newark’s High School for Performing Arts, and later earned her bachelor’s in music education at Montclair State College in New Jersey. Taking care of that voice that can hold those notes has become “a lifestyle,” she said. “A long time ago I was taught voice. … Then I developed my own technique. … It’s trial and error. Now, it’s a lifestyle,” Moore said. In addition to practice, she said she eats well (she does not eat dairy products) and attends Mass to “find out what the boss of heaven wants us to do.”
Moore will perform two shows on Friday (Oct. 18) at Hayti Heritage Center. Moore is a versatile and eclectic musician. In her more than 40-year career, she has sung Broadway tunes, ballads, rhythm and blues, and standards. She grew up surrounded by music. Her parents are Bonnie Davis, who was an R&B singer in the 1940s and ’50s, and saxophonist Teddy Hill, who managed Minton’s Playhouse, where modern jazz was born. Her mother later remarried pianist Clement Moorman, and Moore credits her stepfather with encouraging her to study piano, and with providing good advice about the music business.
She does not cite any single musical influence stylistically, but absorbed the music she heard growing up in the 1950s and ’60s. Growing up in New York, “my mother took me to The Apollo Theater, so that was in my blood,” Moore said. “I met Miles Davis. I met Cannonball Adderley. I tried to play piano like Horace Silver,” she said.
She won a Tony Award for her role in the Broadway musical “Purlie,” but her first break came in the late 1960s when she accepted an invitation to join the original cast of “Hair,” eventually moving to the lead role. “It was just fun,” she said of that experience. “I wound up being in the play and learning on the job,” she said. Growing up in African-American culture, “I really didn’t know anything about no hippies,” Moore said, but she came to like the peace and love vibe of the show. Moore also sang in “Les Miserables,” and has toured her one-woman autobiographical show “Sweet Songs of the Soul.”
Her many chart songs are “You Stepped into My Life,” “Love’s Comin’ at Ya,” and “Love the One I’m With.”
She has finished an autobiography which she hopes to publish, but is focusing on the release of her new recording on her own label. She will most likely sing two songs from the upcoming release – “Love Is” and “What Can I Do to Survive?” Singing “is my main talent, the foundation on which everything else is built for me,” she said. “Your autobiography comes out of what your mainstay is.”
Moore is upbeat about the new recording, her music, and the path of her career. “I have a body of work I can manipulate and depend on. I have a foundation,” she said. “I’m a truer person in life. Now, I’ve learned to be stable and not go up and down with everything that goes up and down.”
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Melba Moore in concert
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 18, two shows at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
WHERE: Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St., Durham
ADMISSION: Tickets start at $40. To purchase, call 919-683-1709 or visit www.hayti.org.