On the Town
with Darcey Dodd
NBT Interview: Parris Lane
Versatile Native Daughter Sings From the Heart
Parris Lane has been called Annapolis' best kept secret, but she's no secret to audiences at Carnegie Hall, London, Paris, Geneva and Rome, where her five-octave voice, diverse style and powerful stage presence have won fans and applause.
A fifth generation Annapolitan, Lane began singing as a child. By 15, she was singing pop tunes at local pubs. She broke out after a local director saw her performing in a high-school play. Discovered, she earned starring roles in Jesus Christ Superstar, PURLIE and Selma with Ebo Arts, New Wave and Pumoja Theater companies.
"Brilliant was the performance of Mary Magdalene by Parris Lane. She belted out the show's hit song, 'I Don't Know How to Love Him' in an exquisite voice filled with compassion and caring. Her sparkle carried throughout the entire show," wrote The Evening Capital of 24-year-old Lane's singing in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Lane went on to sing gospel, jazz, R&B, pop, classical and show tunes locally and internationally. But as her career soared, her personal life tumbled as she fell victim to domestic violence. Ever the artist, Lane transformed her sorrow into song. She was awarded the Governor's Proclamation for her one-woman show, chronicling that experience to benefit the YWCA Domestic Violence Program.
Rising again, Lane was the first black Annapolitan to be the featured artist at the Governor's Mansion, U.S. Naval Academy, Maryland Inn's King of France Tavern and Middleton's Tavern.
With her 12-year-old daughter, Lane still makes her home in Annapolis, showering her lyrics throughout the city to benefit such causes as The Chrysalis House for chemically dependent mothers; Kenmore Middle School's awards for children who achieve academically; The Annapolis Boys and Girls Club; The Psalms Foundation (founded by Lane to provide arts scholarships to underprivileged children) and the Banneker-Douglass Museum's Image series to introduce audiences to positive African American accomplishments through the arts.
We'd seen Lane around town, knocking surprised listeners for a loop. When we listened to her CD Songs from My Heart, released last fall, we wanted in on the secret.
Meet, with us, Parris Lane
Q Where did you get your love of music?
A I had two older sisters who sang, so I was basically around music. At the same time, my next door neighbor, Miss Annie Henry, was the minister of music at the Asbury United Methodist church on West Street. When she would practice I could hear the music coming through the walls.
Q How did you get started?
A It was a normal thing. We used to sing around the house, especially when there was a thunderstorm. I guess you could call it tradition. We'd turn out all of the lights, shut all of the doors and we would all sit in the living room and sing. It was spiritual.
Q How long have you been in the business?
A Years. I started out real young. I was in bars singing with bands and wasn't old enough to drink. My mother would not let me date until I was 18, but she would let me sing in a band. I had gigs and I would get home at two or three o' clock in the morning. I was too tired to get into trouble.
Q What was the name of your first band?
A Kosmic Kreation. Can you believe that?
Q Patti LaBelle, Chaka Kahn, everything. We did it all. We dressed up in costumes. We weren't making any money, but my God, did we have fun.
Q Did you have stage fright?
A Oh yeah, in the beginning.
Q Did you study music in school?
A No. In my last year [of high-school] I said, 'Well, I should do something.' I was in the choir and my music teacher, Valerie Mills-Cooper, said, "Why don't you try out for Godspell?" I'd never been in a play before, but I tried out and I made it. The director that was doing the production at The Colonial Players saw me and asked me to come and do it there. And I did.
Q What did you listen to growing up?
A A little bit of everything. Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Chaka Kahn, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan.
Q You have your own style. What would you call it?
A A mixture. I hear a little bit of this person and that person. There's certain things that I was doing that I didn't realize had been done before. I remember a friend of mine gave me a Sarah Vaughan tape. I was listening to it thinking, 'That's stuff I do when I'm singing jazz.' But, it's coming out of me naturally. It wasn't something I'd heard.
Q Have you crossed over to any other singing styles?
A I do all of it. I do jazz for a lot of the private parties. For a bar mitzvah, I'm doing Spice Girls. I do the works.
Q So you've experimented with all forms of music?
A Yes. I just started singing jazz in the '90s.
A Yes. It's something that just kind of came upon me naturally. I was in a Top 40 band and I wanted a different sort of outlet. I like having both, and they're two completely different audiences. That's why I know so many musicians. There are musicians who know me simply from jazz and there are musicians who know me simply from Top 40s.
Q Have you come to prefer singing over acting?
A I like them both. It gives me a chance to do it all. I feel extremely blessed. I can change to another wig and put tights on and run across the stage like Tina Turner. At the same time, I can wear a gown and sound like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald. Or I can wear blue jeans and a T-shirt and sing with kids. It's because I like all music. It doesn't matter what it is. If it's a good song, then it's good music.
I never limit myself. I've been exposed to everything. That's the problem with prejudice, not having the exposure to something different.
Q What kinds of jobs did you have working along the way?
A Oh my goodness, secretarial jobs and I worked my way up to assistant manager.
Q Aside from performing, do you have another job?
A I produce also.
Q Your daughter Raven helps you emcee and sings with you sometimes?
A Yes. At the last show, Raven was supposed to lip-synch to a song of mine. My brother put the wrong version on. The one without vocals. I was backstage changing and I said, 'Oh my God, I don't hear my voice singing,' and all of a sudden she started singing. I said, 'Oh my God, well God bless her!'
Q So she did well?
A She did really well.
Q Does she want to be a singer?
A I think dancing more than singing.
Q You do a lot of charity work ...
A A lot of charity work for different organizations. It's a means for me to give back.
Q You seem to do a lot for children in particular. I'm thinking, for example, of the Banneker-Douglass Museum Image series.
A Yes, I like to work with children. The Banneker-Douglass Museum, on Franklin Street, is the old African Methodist church built by freed slaves. They went through, basically, pure hell to even put it up in the beginning. I put a series of shows together to show positive African American role models. Believe it or not, a lot of blacks do not know their history. It's because we weren't taught in schools. I didn't know until later myself.
Q One of your awards is a Governor's Proclamation
A That was for doing the domestic violence program. At the time I was doing a benefit for the Y. It wasn't a quote, popular thing, and a lot of people didn't talk about it. A lot of people did not donate. As a matter of fact, the SPCA was receiving more money than the battered spouses programs.
Q Was that benefit a play?
A It was a narrated show based on my life. I wrote a script, put music to it and performed it.
Q Is this CD your first album?
A This is my first solo album. I recorded with MARZ on Capital Records.
Q How did you choose the mix of songs?
A It started out as a wedding CD. I've done weddings where the brides had problems finding love songs for the first dance. The second half of the CD is for the love of God. The songs are more spiritual. I wrote the lyrics for 'Love is by Your Side' after a relationship I was in ended. That's what I felt God was telling me.
If it's a good song, then it's good music
Q Are you planning to go on tour?
A I don't know what's going to happen. I've had a lot of doors open up with that.
Q Do you travel outside of Annapolis?
A Oh yes. I'm 99 and one-half percent of the time out of Annapolis.
Q Where do you perform?
A I do a lot of private parties. The private functions are where you make most of your money. We were flown to Greensboro, North Carolina, earlier this year for a bar mitzvah where they rented a coliseum. It was pretty unbelievable.
Q If you could work with any artist you wanted to, who would it be?
A Well, I don't know. I think musician-wise, Elton John to play for me or Paul McCartney to write for me.
Q What are your goals?
A There's so many different options. I know I'll go back into acting. A lot more recording. I want to put a Christmas CD together. I'm in the process of, in my down time, writing children's books. All sorts of things.
Q What's your message to your audience?
A Just love. There's so many negative songs out there talking about the negative side of life. There's a positive side, believe it or not.ening station at Tower Records in Annapolis.
| Issue 7 |
Volume VII Number 7
February 18-24, 1999
New Bay Times
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