Melba Moore Readies for a Big Birthday Celebration
Melba Moore, a Tony winning actress ("Purlie"), Grammy-nominated R&B singer, television star, and concert performer, will be turning 70 at the end of the month, and she is planning a blow-out affair at the rather intimate but magical Metropolitan Room on October 30.
EDGE spoke with Ms. Moore about her career, her opinions, and what lies ahead for her.
EDGE: You were born and raised in the New York City area. Do you still have a love affair with the city, despite how it has changed over your lifetime?
Melba Moore: Well, maybe because how it keeps changing, I absolutely do. Yeah. You gotta keep it moving, keeping it changing, and keep up. If you can, it makes you a great person, I think. There's no place on Earth like New York.
EDGE: You come from a musical family and you have a degree in music, and I understand you even taught early in your career. How has education been important to the longevity of your career.
Melba Moore: I think it's a basic building block, because you really discover that life is a classroom or university. I had very good training, I went to Montclair University and majored in Music Education...and I had great teachers. I didn't want to teach. I wanted to go to Juilliard or Manhattan School of Music, some place like that, but I didn't have the money to do that. I took what I thought was second choice, but once I got in the classroom with some of these teachers, I realized they were gifted and there was so much talent -- and that changed my whole perspective. I started to take the teaching as seriously as the music. I'm gifted at that. But the main thing I got out of education, selfishly speaking, is that I was so shut down from so much abuse in my early childhood. And then I taught in the inner city schools, and those kids were just like me. So it gave me confidence and camaraderie, and gave me common ground with them. It brought out the best in me. There's a caring you have that sometimes you don't know you have until you have to impart something. And I've used that for everything I do as a musician.
EDGE: You won a Tony for your second Broadway show. I imagine a Tony at any time is a blessing, but did it put a lot of pressure on you at a young age?
Melba Moore: It was more than pressure. I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I came right from a teaching school. I did have a musical family, so I grew up with them booking themselves, but I don't think they knew the music as a business, how it functions. As an artist, you keep looking for someone to show you the way, to book you. Also, being black, the doors were not always open to us, so we tiptoed around.
EDGE: They need to teach more about the business in school.
Melba Moore: They do now, I think. One of the things that was lacking in education, period, was that you learned your subject but you didn't learn how to make a living at it. With music, if you didn't teach, you started at the bottom of everybody's list.
EDGE: Let me move ahead a bit. 'You Stepped Into My Life' was a memorable hit from the disco era, but not until I was doing research for this interview did I realize it was a Bee Gees song!
Melba Moore: Most people don't know! Our version didn't sound anything like their music, but we had a big hit with that.
EDGE: Did you get to meet them?
Melba Moore: I think I did a TV show with Barry Gibb, 'Solid Gold' or something like that.
EDGE: People may not realize that you were nominated for a Grammy four times for your work in R&B music. How has the recording industry changed over the years, for better or worse, as you see it?
Melba Moore: I don't know if it's better or worse, it's just very, very different. Some people say there's bad music and it's not like it used to be, but that's always the case. I think it's better because of the Internet, you can reach your fans directly. And it's global, so you have all manner of ways to reach an audience. Even if you don't fit into a genre, you can create your own. It's not easy, but you can do it. You couldn't do that before because it was so narrow.
EDGE: A lot of the pop stars today do not have a formal education in music, and they seem to be starting out younger and younger. What would be your basic advice to them?
Melba Moore: In America, we'll make an enterprise out of teaching people. A formal education is good, but you can be educated in a variety of other ways. The TV shows like 'America's Got Talent' give opportunities to a small amount of people, but they get a good background in the business. But we need to put music and the arts back into the schools and get the corruption out. Our schools are going to pot in general, and the arts are going by the wayside.
EDGE: You've talked a lot about your Christian faith over the years and how it helped you survive. You also have a lot of gay fans, so I'm guessing you don't have a conflict there.
Melba Moore: I don't speak about religion or personal philosophies. I talk about what we have in common. Everybody knows that Christians believe in a man and a woman. We know what we believe. But if you say you're my fan, and you love my music, I'm going to love you on that level. I'm not going to get into the other areas. I'm not a preacher. I don't have to agree with you, but I can still love you. I'm not going to fight with you and tell you what my Christian beliefs are. I'm not even going to bring them up.
EDGE: Music is the preaching, I guess.
Melba Moore: If you're telling me your gay and you love my music, I receive that.
EDGE: You've also done a lot of philanthropy work, promoting "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," and working with the National Council of Negro Women and the National Congress of Black Women. We've heard a lot about the #BlackLivesMatter movement this year, and I wonder if you'd care to share your thoughts on that.
Melba Moore: I think it's good because we have to flush these things out, the things that have happened since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. I know there will always be cultural differences and prejudices, but there needs to be movements so that we can continue to discuss the problems and keep working to make a society that is fair and loving for everybody. We have to keep working at it, so I think it's good.
EDGE: Let's get back to your career. Would you go back to the grueling schedule of Broadway for the right role?
Melba Moore: Oh, I'm going back, hon! [Laughs] I just don't have the role yet!
EDGE: What can we expect from the show on the 30th? I don't know how all your fans are going to fit in the Metropolitan Room.
Melba Moore: We're hoping to oversell it! A couple of special guests. One of the things I've noticed is that cabaret is more open to contemporary music, so it allows me to do more of my hits, my R&B and dance hits.
Melba Moore: I'm not going to abandon my bent toward theater.
EDGE: We have to hear 'I Got Love' too.
Melba Moore: I always do that! You just let me know what you like and I'll try to do it for you.
EDGE: You are a true survivor. You've had many highs and lows in both your career and personal life. How are you feeling today as you look back and look ahead?
Melba Moore: I think you said it. I've survived, and I've been in survival mode for quite a long time. But you don't just want to survive; you want to thrive. But I feel like things have built up to a point where I'm going to start having some fun now. I'm not going to work so hard to remind people that I've done something important. [Laughs] They are going to start reminding me now! It's going to get to be fun!
Melba Moore will be at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd Street, on Friday, October 30, 7:00 p.m. Call 212-206-0440 for reservations or visit www.metropolitanroom.com for more information.
Watch Melba Moore at Sarah Dash's 70th B'day Party at 54 Below: