Highly Anticipated Recording Marks Moore’s Triumphant Return to R&B
In today’s R&B the art of romance and passion is easily lost. The interplay between great vocalists like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, Teena Marie and Rick James is seldom heard. These timeless vocalists’ ability to capture the human dynamic between two lovers created some of the greatest duo encounters in music. On September 29, 2009, Melba Moore and Phil Perry rekindle the fire of the great duets on the inspirational The Gift of Love. Moore, a Tony Award-winning actress and vocalist who has topped the R&B Charts, starred on Broadway, TV and film (most notably in the storied musicals Hair and Purlie) and who was recently the subject on an episode of TV One’s lauded documentary series Unsung and Perry, one of R&B’s great balladeers known for his velvety-smooth falsetto, and who has worked with everyone from Patti LaBelle and Anita Baker to Peabo Bryson and George Duke, bring to life an unforgettable set of originals and classics. The dynamic duo are joined by producers Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis (George Clinton, Maysa, Najee) and Preston Glass (Earth, Wind & Fire, Natalie Cole and Kenny G) in association with co-producer David Nathan.
The Gift of Love features a sublime mix of inspirational compositions that Melba Moore hopes will connect with individuals on a deep level. “Singing is my ministry and my art. Music is what God allows me to do and the opportunity came now and it feels right! When I was asked to do this project and collaborate with Phil Perry I said ‘heck yeah!’ With Phil everything is there – power, a certain freshness, emotion, artistry and an incredible range!” The Gift of Love marks Melba’s first return to R&B since her 1990 recording Soul Exposed. The renaissance woman has been busy recording gospel albums, doing a one woman show (Sweet Songs: A Journey In One Life) and most recently stepping in as co-owner of a new Gospel club and restaurant in Harlem, Gospel Uptown. Melba confides “I think all the basic elements of this recording from the production down to the arrangements are at its best.
Highlights on The Gift of Love include the duo’s version of the Sounds of Blackness hit “Optimistic” which sets the tone for the album’s upbeat and joyous vibe. Paying homage to one of music’s greatest duos, Melba and Phil take on two 1968 Ashford and Simpson classics that were hits for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing.” “I think Preston (Glass) outdid himself with these songs,” says Melba, “What Preston did with the arrangements is powerful. They are R&B songs but they are very inspirational. He captured the power of what it means when two people really fall in love and are committed to one another. The tracks sound so joyful that you just want to dance!”
The Gift of Love also features a soulful and down-home version of the John P. Kee song, “It Will Be Alright,” in which Melba and Phil bare it all and testify their faith. “I love John P. Kee, the great gospel singer and composer,” confesses Melba. The songbird adds, “This song illustrates the classic power of what gospel is and conveys that there is a God and that no matter what is going on, you will be alright. Chris Davis did a great arrangement on the song which just drives you into a higher place. The chord changes just pull you up and hopefully Phil and I do too.”
Melba delivers a riveting version of the ballad “I Believe.” She turns it into a real torch song and one can envision her on Broadway bringing down the house with this show-stopping number. Another highpoint is the Spinners’ classic “Sadie.”
Melba reflects, “This is such a sweet song and makes us all think of Phillipe Wynn and how he touched us all with his singing. I am hoping people will be retouched by the version Phil and I did. We tried to bring our own identities to this song and it reminds us that everything that’s old, ain’t bad!”
The title track, The Gift of Love, was written by pianist Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis. “He’s an amazing producer and a genius,” professes the bubbly Melba Moore. “He has a real talent for working with singers and accompanying them. He uses all the right details to make everything come together into something truly special.” Melba cites the title track as among her favorites, adding, “The song is beautiful and powerful. The first time you hear it you are drawn in right away. It is like a person you meet for first the time but you are never strangers and you know you like that person immediately.”
Melba and Phil also pay homage to Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick with Wonder’s “Weakness.” “Dionne Warwick has a certain sound and feeling in her voice that is completely her own,” states Moore. “She does not sound like anyone else. I tried to capture the sweet smooth charisma of her voice.” Also featured on The Gift of Love is “We’ll Be Together, Then,” a new song that expresses how we all feel when a loved one passes. Melba points to this song as one of the stronger and most spiritual moments on the album.
“It was challenging for me to work with Melba because I have such respect for her as a person and an artist, what’s she’s been through in her life and what she’s accomplished. I just was hoping I held up my end of the bargain,” says Phil Perry. The incredibly gifted vocalist also proves that he is a stellar composer with two songs he contributes to The Gift of Love; “Survival Kit,” co-written with Preston Glass and the jazzy and warm “You Never Know,” co-written with Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis.
“Music is what God allows me to do,” declares Melba Moore. Born into a musical family, music chose Melba. “Music was a centerpiece in my family. My parents were musicians and so were many of my aunts and uncles.” Melba’s father is the legendary big band leader Teddy Hill and her mother, Bonnie Davis, had a #1 hit on the R&B charts with the song “Don’t Stop Now.”
A graduate of the famed Arts High in Newark, Melba, at the encouragement of her parents went on to pursue music education at Montclair State, but her inner voice told her she had to see if she had the chops to make it as a performer. After some time teaching, Melba’s stepfather (pianist Clement Moorman) introduced her to several agents which led to some studio work and eventually an audition that landed her a role in the cult classic Hair on Broadway in 1967 and three years later, Purlie, which earned her a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her portrayal as ‘Lutiebelle.’ In 1978 Moore appeared alongside the iconic Eartha Kitt as ‘Marsinah’ in the show Timbuktu! A trailblazer, Melba went on to become the first African American woman to replace a white actress (who happened to be the acclaimed Diane Keaton) in a lead role on Broadway and one of the first Black women to win a Tony Award.
In the 1970s, Moore focused on her recording career, making her debut on Mercury Records in 1970 with I Am Love, followed by Look What You’re Doing To The Man. She was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1971 for ‘Best New Artist.’ During this decade, television shows (including her own variety show), numerous Grammy nominations and recordings followed. She married Charles Huggins around this time, and together they formed Hush Productions, which signed fellow R&B artists Freddie Jackson and Meli’sa Morgan. Melba scored a string of radio hits for herself with songs like “This Is It” (1976) and “You Stepped Into My Life” (1979). In the 80s she enjoyed great success with such chart-topping numbers as “Love’s Comin’ At Ya,” “Keepin’ My Lover Satisfied,” “Livin’ For Your Love,” “Read My Lips” “When You Love Me Like This,” “Falling” and her duet with Freddie Jackson that became a #1 hit in 1986, “A Little Bit More.” She also recorded a stellar version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” that featured such artists as Freddie Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Baker and Stephanie Mills.
In 1990, Moore received divorce papers from Huggins, without any prior warning. In the ensuing months, she came to find that her personal savings with Huggins, as well as investment in their company, Hush Productions, had all vanished. She filed for bankruptcy amid heavy media attention, and the next few years found Moore struggling to recover from the personal and professional setbacks she had endured. The resilient and always-inspired Renaissance woman began recording and performing live again, recording such albums as Happy Together and I’m Still Here. In 1996 history repeated itself when Melba took over the role of ‘Fantine’ in the Broadway musical Les Miserables. She became the first Black actress to step into the leading role in an acclaimed Broadway musical. In recent years, Moore’s recording projects have primarily been gospel albums (including the CD, Nobody But Jesus). In 2003 she was featured in the film, The Fighting Temptations, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles.
Born and raised in East St. Louis, Phil Perry was exposed to the art of great singing at an early age. “Growing up I always knew that I wanted to be a singer,” recalls Phil. “I would watch and listen to all the great singers like Nat ‘King’ Cole, Johnny Hartman, Arthur Prysock and Billy Eckstine that my mother listened to while she cleaned the house…”
After a spell as the lead singer of the Montclairs (whose “Begging’s Hard To Do” was a moderate R&B hit and whose “Make Up For Lost Time” became a cult favorite in British soul music circles) in the early ‘70s, Phil quickly became one of the most sought-after backing vocalists in the music business. After a brief stint as part of the singing duo Perry and Sanlin, Phil launched his solo career in 1991 with The Heart Of A Man, which featured an impressive re-make of Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me” that hit #1 on the R & B charts. Phil’s 1994 album Pure Pleasure yielded another hit with his version of “If Only You Knew” and also featured a seven-minute version of The Spinners’ classic, “Love Don’t Love Nobody.” Known for his skill in multiple musical genres, Phil began achieving success in the contemporary jazz arena through his featured vocals on albums by Lee Ritenour, The Rippingtons and others. His next solo album, One Heart One Love, hit the Top Five of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart; 2000’s critically-acclaimed Book Of Love was followed by the 2001 album Magic, which highlighted Phil’s songwriting prowess.
Busy as a touring artist and an in-demand session vocalist – whose credits include work with everyone from Patti LaBelle, Anita Baker, Peabo Bryson and George Duke to Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Boz Scaggs and Rod Stewart – Phil returned in 2006 with his Shanachie debut, Classic Love Songs, reminding audiences immediately of his ability to put his own stamp on such tunes as Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” and The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.” The 2007 Shanachie album, A Mighty Love (with standout cuts like the Dionne Warwick gem, “Déjà Vu,” War’s “The World Is A Ghetto” and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” initially recorded by Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes in 1972), brought enthusiastic reaction from music buyers, starving for the kind of authentic, heartfelt music that has become Phil’s stock in trade. His 2008 recording, Ready For Love, featured songs that Perry had a hand in writing and the result was once again a winner.
The father of four, Phil has been actively working to foster Arts education through the Philill Foundation, an organization founded and led by his wife of twenty years, Lillian “Tang” Tynes, a notable soul and jazz vocalist in her own right. “It’s important to me,” Phil says, “because my wife has a vision for a Charter School that educates through all genres of the Arts. Also, we are both artists so we wanted to give back to the youth through art and education.”
The Gift of Love features two magnificent singers at their best. Melba Moore and Phil Perry deliver the goods and it was worth the wait. This album is also a testament to the endurance and faith of Melba Moore whose career has had many highs and lows but always seems to find itself back on track. “Everybody’s got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream how you gonna have a dream come true?” philosophizes Melba. “At the same time, all things come to an end and you have to be able to reinvent yourself. You either have to change or die. I just know that and I am willing to surrender before it kills me!”
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