Thelma Houston to sing for PLL
THELMA HOUSTON will sing at Pets Lifeline's Black Cat Cabaret on Sept. 16 and 17.
Thelma Houston's voice is a conundrum - somehow it is velvety soft but strong as a rock at the same time. That seductively smooth yet powerful combination has helped sustain her career as a Grammy award-winning singer, actress and performer for more than four decades.
Her next stage appearance will be in Sonoma when she joins the aerialists, acrobats and other musicians who are lending their talents to the third annual Black Cat Cabaret, a fundraiser for Pets Lifeline. The event takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16 and 17, at the Field of Dreams, and also includes a children's showcase by Le PeTiT CirQue on Saturday afternoon.
"This is my first fundraiser for animals," she told the Index-Tribune. "I've done fundraisers for everything else under the sun." Houston explained that she was brought into the fundraiser by longtime friend and former Cirque du Soleil aerialist and choreographer, Bianca Sapetto, who serves as the event's artistic director.
Houston said her perspective on the music industry has shifted dramatically from the years when she was a breakout star for Motown Records in the 1970s. Her years of wisdom have made her appreciate what she does in a way she never expected.
"If someone had asked me at the beginning of my career what success was, I would have said success is making a record, having a hit single, making money off of music," she said. "For me now, success is about longevity. The longer I do it, the more in love with it I become. I'm not tired of the road, I'm not tired of performing. I really do just love it."
Houston said it was her babysitter, a piano teacher and pianist at the local church, who first noticed her ability to sing as Houston would watch her practice hymns.
"She saw that I was singing along," Houston said. Throughout her youth, her love of music continued to grow, especially in the church. She joined the renowned gospel group the Art Reynolds Singers, and soon was approached for a solo deal with Capitol Records. Her first hit single came in 1967 with "Baby Mine," and the songstress quickly attracted the attention of Motown, the most successful label of the era, at least for African-American performers, and she signed her first record deal with the iconic label in 1971.
"When I joined, I was one of the first artists to sign on to the Motown West label when they opened their first studio in California," Houston said, adding she quickly found herself at the apex of the R&B music scene. "At the studio, you'd run into Smokey Robinson, you'd run into Stevie Wonder, you'd run into Marvin Gaye. They were people I grew up listening to, like the Supremes. It was very special."
Despite being surrounded by some of the music industry's most significant contributors, Houston was determined to forge her own path. She found her first critical and popular success in 1976 with the hit "Don't Leave Me This Way." The record went gold and earned her a Grammy for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, making her the first female solo artist on the Motown label to receive that honor.
Around the same time, Motown Records opened a film and television department and began to search its line-up for singers who might be able to make the transition to acting. The talent scout quickly set his sights on Houston's infectious personality and stunning looks.
"He felt I had acting prowess, but I laughed and told him he was wrong," Houston said, adding that she later realized any experience in front of a camera would only improve her skills as a performer.
It began with a role in the made-for-television horror film, "Death Scream" in 1975, but it lead to more than 30 years of performing in films, such as "54" and "Beloved," television appearances on shows such as "American Idol" and stage performances touring with "Fame" and in the pre-Broadway showcase of "Teatro ZinZanni."
"I love the stage because it's that instant gratification," she said. "I love having an audience to play off of. It's a whole other class."
All along the way, she continued to make music, contributing to numerous soundtracks and writing songs for performers such as Patti LaBelle. In 2007, she refocused her energies on her solo career with the self-released album, "A Woman's Touch," where she covers famous songs such as "Brand New Day" and "Ain't That Peculiar."
"I wanted to do songs that were classic songs done by men but record them from a female perspective," she said.
Her self-titled album, the first she recorded on the Motown Records label, is being digitally remastered and released next year. Houston will begin her fall tour shortly after her performance at Black Cat Cabaret.
Tickets for Black Cat Cabaret are $50 for the Saturday afternoon showcase or $175 to $250 for the evening performances, which feature an avant-garde circus performance with aerialists, acrobats and performers who have performed around the world, from the stages of Cirque du Soleil to major entertainment events such as the MTV Video Music Awards. Attendees will begin with a gourmet reception of appetizers, wines and cocktails followed by the performance. VIP ticket holders will enjoy a meet-and-greet with the artists after the show.
For tickets or more details, visit www.petslifeline.org.