This writer was able to share a few moments with the 'Glorious Ms. Gloria' and her niece, Phyllis White, who is her makeup artist and 'Jackie-of-all-trades' as they prepared for Gloria's performance in her dressing room that night. Chatting with Gloria, Phyllis and her musicians as they arranged their music afforded me the opportunity to witness the backstage hustle and bustle that goes into putting a show together behind the scenes.
Pictured L-R Phyllis White, Lynne's niece, Gloria Lynne, and Deardra Shuler
|This reporter sat backstage one night chatting with Gloria Lynne when she appeared before a full house at the Flushing Town Hall Arts Center in Queens.
Included among the legendary jazz greats, the Harlem born singer is well known for her hit "I Wish You Love" and her balladry style which propelled her to the top of the charts in the 1960's and '70's. Her sensual vocals won over audiences with hits such as "June Night," "I'm Glad There's You," which remained on the charts in Philadelphia for over 40 weeks, "Soul Serenade" written for her by King Curtis, and "Speaking of Happiness." More currently, her recordings include, "Everything Must Change," and "I Thought About You."
Although Ms. Lynne was under the weather that evening, it was undetectable once she stepped upon the stage with her band comprised of Vince Ector on drums, Ray Gallon on piano and Michael Fleming on bass. Lynne cast a spell that kept her audience enraptured as she performed a medley of their favorites. A consummate artist, Lynne knows how to charm with stage presence and a voice that could melt butter.
Life did not promise a bed of roses to this artist. As a child of the thirties, she witnessed her mother being battered by the violent men that plagued her mother's life, first in the Louisiana bayou country and continuing afterwards in Harlem. Eventually, Gloria as well, fell victim to the abuse of these same men. It was no wonder that Gloria found solace in her music.
Lynne began her career at 15. Pretending to be older in order to qualify for a talent contest held at the Apollo Theatre she ended up walking away with first prize and has been winning kudos, awards and acclaim ever since.
"I often listened to my mother sing. I have been singing all my life. It's in my blood," Gloria recalls. "I used to tour with two girl groups the Delltones and the Dorsey Sisters. I also toured with Ella Fitzgerald. However, I was getting disillusioned with the business," reflects Lynne.
"In the 60's and even today, artists were taken advantage of, especially jazz artists. These artists were not respected and couldn't get their fair share of the money. America doesn't give jazz artists all the wonderful perks they give to the R&B artists. Even today, to get a record contract you practically have to be age 2," Gloria mused. "No, I think it is more like age 11" quipped Duke Wade, her manager of over 40 years.
"Traveling so much took its toll as well," reflected the vocalist. "After a while I was not sure what I wanted to do. I didn't know whether to stay in the business or get out."
Lynne decided to leave the industry. "I think I should have stayed out," she chuckles. "She was out about 5 or 6 years," recalled Wade. It became apparent while witnessing all the fussing, joking and teasing that went on between Lynne and Wade their relationship was more than artist/manager but rather one of deep friendship and family.
"I can cook you know," quipped Gloria. "They say I cook well. I learned to cook from my mother, Mary Wilson. She was a Creole from the Bayou country and could easily whip up a cake in one of those dirt ovens," reflected the singer. "When I was a kid my mother and I traveled to the Louisiana Bayou. While there, she repeatedly warned me to avoid walking in certain places because of the quicksand and alligators," reminisced Gloria. "It was very rural. Once my mother left there I told myself "...I ain't ever coming back here. Although occasionally, I visit family.'"
"Did you know that I am compiling a cookbook?" inquired Gloria. "I am. It's a collection of recipes from anyone willing to donate one. So far, I got a recipe for barbecued water, fried water and baked water. Duke is donating his recipe for 'Fried Chicken Lips.' That is sure to be a good one," states the balladeer with a straight face. She looked my way and said, "And, I think I even like the shoe leather juice recipe you told me about."
Lynne published an autobiography, co-written with playwright and author Karen Chilton, appropriately entitled, "I Wish You Love." The book leads the reader through the passages of her life with humor, pathos and anecdotes about famous people and notables such as Ray Charles, Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra and her experiences with some of this countries greatest Jazz, Blues and R&B musicians.
Gloria was married 13 years and sired son, Richard 'P.J.' Alleyne, President of Family Bread Productions, before she and her husband separated. "Harry was a good man and we remained friends until he died," claims Lynne. "The best thing is that not only did we love each other but we really liked each other. That's important! Show business marriages can be hard. It takes a certain kind of man to withstand the rigors of being on the road all the time. It can really place a strain on a marriage."
During her career, Lynne has shared the stage with artists such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey among so many others. "I want to talk to you about Whitney. She is getting a bad rap and it isn't fair. She doesn't deserve it. I am planning an event in City College's Great Hall, with the aid of Vicky Gholson, Ph.D, and promoter David Gest, to honor her. I want people to know how wonderful Whitney Houston is. Not only as a singer but as a human being," insists Lynne. "I am tired of hearing the negative about her so I plan to do something positive."
Lynne is pretty busy these days with upcoming engagements around the country. She is expecting to perform in Aruba and Antigua. There are also plans for tours in Istanbul, Turkey, Japan and Germany.
Once the concert at Flushing Hall concluded it was off to Showmans in Harlem. During the trip to the club, the ageless performer sat in the passenger seat telling ribald jokes and recalling priceless moments with fellow entertainers. "I remember once being in Ray Charles' private plane. I was looking for him because I wanted to chat and do you know I found him flying the plane," laughs Gloria. "And he knew how to fix it too. It amazed us all!"
Upon arriving at Showmans, Gloria sang Happy Birthday to a friend and then regaled the crowd with yet another vintage Lynne classic.
Lynne keeps busy. Her appearance with special guest guitarist David Smith, at Birdland, was a real hit. The tables were packed with old fans hoping to get their albums autographed, and new fans that were so impressed by the vocalist, they demanded several encores. The audience kept calling her back to the stage over and over, pounding their fists on the table and stamping their feet. Their final call went on for 20 minutes nonstop until Lynne returned in her bedroom slippers, looking grateful but weary. She said, "Now really, this has to be the absolute last curtain call." The fans reluctantly accepted it since she had already returned to the stage 4 times.
There is no doubt in this writer's mind, that Gloria Lynne is a woman with a heart of gold and a golden voice. "My voice is really just God's instrument," says Gloria. "It comes through me. I'm just a vessel. Sometimes, I am amazed how strong my voice gets and at the notes that come out. I have come to realize its best to get out of my own way, just move out of the way and let my voice go."
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