the soulful divas-david nathan

the more things change, the more they stay the same. this one came out of my search for janet in hawaii, part of my quest to bulk up on performers in hopes of learning by osmosis for the musical. a lot came too late for the show, like 4, but have made their mark nonetheless. i understand that david nathan has a great respect for/desire to be a soulful diva, but someone could’ve advised him against that many exclamation points. i do appreciate the historical context of the music industry, and how it would seem that i was reading lauryn hill in nina simone (defecating on your microphone). the most interesting is this:

“She was less than kind about fellow performers Diana Ross and Roberta Flack during the show, commenting that-according to Braithwaite-‘Billie Holiday would turn in her grave’ if she saw the way Ross had portrayed her, and that Flack’s notion of playing Bessie Smith in a proposed movie on the blues singer’s life was equally incredulous.” (59)

i wonder what she would contribute to this whole zoe saldana bizness….

and, en parlant de biopics…

“She confessed that she’d met with considerable criticism for taking on the role of the legendary jazz singer, particularly in the black community. ‘People really felt that Billie and I were worlds apart, and there is a general feeling that my own life has been easy throughout. But, after all, it’s only what everyone reads. I’m not saying that the problems that Billie faced are the same as any that I’ve ever had, but I can relate to problems and tragedies also…To begin with, there was such a total ‘no’ about the whole idea of me playing Billie, especially since there were so many others in line for the part…I was so upset by it all that one day I phoned Berry and asked if it were too late to stop before we’d actually started.’
Whatever criticism there might have been about the notion of a glamorous star like Diana Ross playing the tragic role of Billie Holiday, the film was a success, earning her an Oscar nomination and giving her a No.1 best-selling album in the form of the two-LP soundtrack. In the afterglow of Diana’s first major venture as an actress, she admitted, ‘Somehow I feel [a little] lost between ‘Baby Love’ and ‘Lady Sings the Blues.’ I’m not sure which direction my career will take now. I do know that whatever happens, I intend to spend a good deal of time with my family. I’ve been traveling and working for twelve years now, and I want to make sure that my two children (Rhonda and Tracy) grow up properly. I know that as children of a mixed marriage, they’re going to face a lot of problems, and I want to help them as much as possible.’” (153)

and by now, beyonce has played her and etta james….alors.


One thought on “the soulful divas-david nathan

  1. to be real:

    “It seemed that smiling wasn’t something that people expected from Nina. She had a tough ‘don’t-fuck-with-me-or-I’ll-put-a-spell-on-you-forever’ manner in her dealings with industry types, and her level of tolerance for stupidity was zero. But I quickly found through my own interactions with her that there was an incredible warmth and humor in her persona; when Nina smiled, it was as if an angel flew round heaven.” (51)

    “Of course, being real didn’t mean being more accessible. Whether it was a calculated move or not, Arista’s Clive Davis was intent on ensuring that Aretha’s role as ‘the Queen of Soul’ was never forgotten. As the 1980s became the 1990s, it was impossible to see Aretha’s name in print or on television without the reference to her legendary status. Years before, when I’d asked her how she felt about the tag, she’d smiled, shrugged, and said that she didn’t think of herself as ‘the Queen’ but as just an everyday woman who loved to sing. It became apparent that as the 1990s rolled on, she was now fully embracing all that it meant to be the undisputed monarch!” (94)

    “I was a little biased: by the time I went to the show, I’d become firm friends with Doris. Through our mutual friend Dave Godin, I”d met up with Doris, and we maintained contact. I’d been fooling around at home with my little tape recorder, putting down my own a capella versions of personal favorite soul songs like Sam Cooke ‘s ‘A Change is Gonna Come,’ and I wanted Doris’s opinion of my chances of having a musical career. She was, as always, encouraging: ‘Yeah, baby, you got soul! Child, you can sing! All right now…that’s a soulful feeling, child!’ Such encouragement meant the world to me after the endless hours I’d spent singing along with my diva favorites, Aretha, Dionne, Nina, Esther, and, of course, Doris.” (132)

    “In other words, Diana Ross personified a myth. And in the same way that other powerful women have often been vilified for their desire to succeed, she was someone to be scorned, disliked, and diminished. Once again I was amazed that at least on this side of the water, she elicited such strong reactions from most black men and women I spoke to. The power of myth is such that it is ordinarily used as the basis for how someone is perceived forever. Even when I would talk to Motown executives-supposedly in place to help sell Diana’s records-before doing the 1993 interview with her, they would roll their eyes, grunt, or try to add weight to the notion that she was the ultimate in difficult divas. Lost in all the rush to judgement about her was the fact that she’d been a pioneer, that she’d made some great music, and that she was the role model, consciously or unconsciously, for a whole generation of young black women who regarded her success as an inspiration to move forward in their own musical or acting careers.
    I’d spoken with Diana Ross a few days before we sat down together for our interview. Mindful of all that I’d heard and knowing that we’d met only briefly at different times of her career, I politely called her ‘Miss Ross.’ She immediately responded, ‘It’s fine, just call me Diana!’ she said. One myth down, several more to go.” (148)

    “The kind of treatment accorded to the group was reflected in the way Motown executives basically ignored Gladys and the Pips’ pleas for them to check out a young family group from Gary, Indiana, that they’d heard in 1969. It took the additional interest of Bobby Taylor, another Motown artist (and producer), for the Jackson Five to finally get the audition with Berry Gordy Jr. that would result in the Jacksons signing with Motown. To add insult to injury, no one ever mentioned that Gladys and the Pips had made the first attempt to bring a group that would be one of the company’s hottest acts to the label; instead, Diana Ross was credited with discovering the Jacksons in the hype and hoopla that surrounded their arrival at Motown in late 1969.” (179)

    “Whatever feelings Patti was expressing were the result of events that had unfolded the previous year: ‘I spent eight months without work-partly due to the way with industry was and the fact that concerts generally weren’t doing that great business but also because some of my fellow artists wouldn’t let me open for them. I figured they cancelled because they were scared. I’ve encountered that before but it makes me very mad. In some of those cases where it happened last year, the performers were headlining after being hot with one or two hits and obviously, their level of professionalism was pretty low. In fact, I refer to them as ‘rats’ which is ‘star’ backwards. It wasn’t so much a financial thing for me as the fat that I really dig the energy from the people. Not having a hit record at the time, I couldn’t necessarily go out and headline everywhere myself particularly since disco had definitely influenced the way concert attendances were happening-that coupled with the general economic situation. So I was thoroughly mad that some of my so-called colleagues felt so insecure that they wouldn’t let me work with them. Too many people find themselves out there after one hit record and they are just totally unprepared.’” (238)

    “In a once-in-a-lifetime event, Aretha and Patti shared the stage with Gladys Knight on the occasion of Oprah Winfrey’s fortieth birthday. There was much diva-tude: reviewing the tape, I saw Aretha seated while everyone else gave Gladys a standing ovation, and later Aretha left the stage and went down into the audience to ask Oprah to mention that the song she’d just finished was on her then-latest Arista album, /Greatest Hits/. For a split second the camera caught the look that Gladys and Patti gave each other as Oprah duly complied-as if looks could kill, a coronation of a new Queen of Soul would have followed shortly thereafter! Whatever happened that day obviously affected Patti to the degree that she reported in a subsequent /Ebony/ magazine article how upset she’d been over the treatment she’d received at the hands of one of her fellow female artists.” (243)

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