A Word With Songstress
by S. H. Watkins, Sr.
Miki Howard is probably best known for her stint with the pop/R&B group Side Effect, but jazz runs deep in her blood. Raised in Chicago, her mother was a member of the renowned gospel group ‘The Caravans’ and her father a member of ‘The Pilgrim Jubilees’. The home was often visited by the likes of James Cleveland, Fats Domino and Aretha Franklin… music was all around and she naturally wanted to become a professional singer.
Miki first began to spread her jazz roots while signed for Wayne Henderson’s record label, performing with the likes of Roy Ayers, Chico Hamilton, Willie Bobo, Ronnie Laws and Esther Phillips. Her 1986 debut album Come Share My Love was notable in that one of the 5 billboard hits generated by that release was the Glen Miller remake “Imagination”, making it one of the first Jazz standards to be played on R&B radio. Miki also released an album on Giant records titled “Miki Sings Billie Holiday”, another obvious indication of her love of jazz. We got a moment to talk to Miki about her life and the new CD, “Three Wishes”…
JazzUSA: Hi Miki, how are you doing?
MH: Pretty Good!
JazzUSA: A little history first. I know you’re a native Chicagoan, and I was wondering if you ever get a chance to go back?
MH: I did go back! You know I had a house in Chicago for a while, and I plan on going back again. There’s something about it, every time I go there I want to stay… I never want to leave. I love Chicago!
JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the new album, “Three Wishes”. I notice that it’s mostly ballad stuff… you saved the funk for the last tune.
MH: (laughing) It’s the only one!
JazzUSA: Was that planned? Is there a reason for that?
MH: I believe it probably just worked out that way. I’ve never really been known for up-tempo songs. I just do whatever… just do whatever fits.
JazzUSA: There’s a lot of Gospel influence in your style.
MH: You know why! My Mom and Dad were both Gospel singers. I was heavily influenced by singers like James Cleveland, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Shirley Bassey, Lena Horn, Pearl Bailey, on and on and on… I guess that’s why.
JazzUSA: This release is being marketed to both the R&B and the smooth jazz audiences. Historically, you are not known as a jazz performer, but you’ve actually done a lot of jazz over the years.
MH: Really, truly. I think I was more popularly exposed and accepted by the R&B audience. I think I have never been 100% exposed to the Jazz population, you know? But I really love jazz, it’s really what I love to do…
JazzUSA: Right… you did an entire album of….
MH: BILLIE HOLIDAY!
JazzUSA: Exactly… you also played Billie Holiday in the Spike Lee movie “Malcolm X”. Any other plans to go on the silver screen?
MH: I would love to, maybe once or twice if it’s something really, really great that I think I could really do, but it’s not my career direction to go into acting, uh uh.
JazzUSA: But if it happens, fine?
MH: Yeah, you know everybody wants to be in the movies! It’s the best feeling in the world to see yourself on that screen.
JazzUSA: What’s your favorite track on the new album?
MH: “Kiss of a Stranger”.
MH: Because it exemplifies who I am and what I do, right now.
JazzUSA: You write music, but none on this CD…
MH: No… This record… well I had several years off. And in some cases I had time to pick the tunes, and I just did whatever I thought I liked, then the record company… we all had to agree, and these are the songs we all agreed on.
JazzUSA: Let’s see… you put out three CD’s in three years, took three years off, put out two more releases in two years, took three more years off, put out two MORE releases in two years, then took another three years off, and now “Three Wishes”.
MH: (Laughing) yes, that’s me!
JazzUSA: Based on your track record, we should expect another record next year, right?
JazzUSA: Are you planning to tour at all for this CD?
MH: Oh DEFINITELY! I LOVE to tour…I can’t WAIT to tour this summer!
JazzUSA: So there IS a tour planned?
MH: (Laughing) Yes… come see me! Tell everybody to buy tickets and come see me. Purchase the record.. because ALL artists need audience support. It’s not good enough to just say “I LOVE so-and-so”…
JazzUSA: They need to BUY so-and-so….
MH: Yes, or we won’t be able to continue making records.
JazzUSA: Where can our readers go to find out more about your upcoming tour and latest CD information?
MH: To the Peak Records web site. I’m supposed to do my own web site, but I’ve yet to get around to it.
JazzUSA: It’s a great album and It’s nice to hear you back on the air. Any last words for our readers?
MH: I’d just like to say that everyone should consider other people’s feelings, try to be more loving and patient. That’s the only thing I want to say to everybody.
JazzUSA: That’s a wonderful thing, and you say it in your music too.
MH: Thank you.
For more information visit the Visit Miki’s Page at the Peak Records web site.