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Melba Moore

Singer, stage actress, and musical singer Melba Moore was born Beatrice Melba Smith on October 29, 1945 in New York City. The daughter of Detroit bandleader, Ted Hill, Moore was raised by mother, Gertrude Melba Smith and stepfather, Clement Leroy Moorman, alsoa professional musicians. As a youth, Moore’s passion was dancing, however, when her stepfather made her take piano lessons, she began to admire jazz and blues pianists. Moore attended Newark, New Jersey’s Waverly Elementary School and Cleveland Junior High School. After graduating from the High School of Performing Arts, she enrolled in Montclair State Teachers College. Later, Moore went on to earn her B.A. degree in music.

Moore returned to the Newark Public Schools and student taught at the Pershine Avenue Elementary School. As a teacher, Moore began to perform with other teachers that formed a cultural performance group called Black Voices. In 1968, Moore began to work at various studios in Manhattan where she provided background vocals for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin. While working at one such session, Moore was encouraged to audition for the Broadway musical Hair in 1968. She succeeded Diane Keaton in the lead role in 1969.

Moore went on to play recurring roles in several hit Broadway productions including Purlie, which she won a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, Inacent Black, Timbuktu and Les Misérables. In 1975, alongside her then-husband Charles Huggins, Moore formed Hush Productions and signed R&B artist Freddie Jackson. That same year, she released her Grammy-nominated, debut album entitled Peach Melba. Throughout the 1980s, Moore made appearances on several television and movie productions including Ellis Island. In 2003, she was featured alongside Beyoncé Knowles and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as “Bessie Cooley” in The Fighting Temptations.

Moore lives in New York City.

Melba Moore was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 28, 2010.

Accession Number

A2008.008

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/4/2008 |and| 4/28/2010

Last Name

Moore

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Organizations
Schools

Arts High School

Waverly Elementary School

Cleveland Junior High School

St. Thomas the Apostle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Melba

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

MOO13

Favorite Season

All Seasons

Sponsor

A and E

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Praise The Lord.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New Jersey

Birth Date

10/29/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Guttenberg

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Stage actress, musical singer, and singer Melba Moore (1945 - ) won the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Purlie. She was also a recording artist, and received a Grammy nomination for her song, 'Lean on Me.'

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Red

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Melba Moore's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Melba Moore lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Melba Moore describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Melba Moore describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her mother's Creole heritage

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Melba Moore describes her mother's musical career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about her biological father

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Melba Moore describes how her mother and stepfather met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Melba Moore talks about her mother and stepfather's musical style

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Melba Moore talks about the nightclub venues in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Melba Moore describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Melba Moore remembers the Harlem neighborhood of New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Melba Moore describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Melba Moore remembers her early dance lessons

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Melba Moore talks about moving from New York City to Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about her family

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Melba Moore describes her schooling

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Melba Moore talks about her early involvement in the performing arts

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Melba Moore talks about her favorite black performers

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Melba Moore talks about her career aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Melba Moore recalls studying music education at Montclair State College in Montclair, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Melba Moore describes her experiences as a music teacher

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about touring in the segregated South

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her relationship with her stepfather

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Melba Moore recalls the start of her performance career

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Melba Moore remembers joining the all-black Voices, Inc. ensemble

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Melba Moore talks about her career as a backup singer

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Melba Moore remembers her nanny

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Melba Moore talks about developing her confidence

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Melba Moore remembers the cast of the Broadway production of 'Hair'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about why she left the production of 'Hair'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her role in the Broadway production of 'Purlie'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Melba Moore talks about the African American performers on Broadway

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about 'The Melba Moore-Clifton Davis Show'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Melba Moore remembers her struggle with addiction

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Melba Moore recalls meeting Charles Huggins

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Melba Moore talks about her husband, Charles Huggins

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Melba Moore remembers her mother's death and her divorce

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about Hush Productions

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her acting career and album 'Peach Melba'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Melba Moore remembers working with Eartha Kitt

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about her crossover to acting

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Melba Moore recalls how her ex-husband ruined her reputation

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Melba Moore talks about reviving her career after her divorce

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Melba Moore talks about the gospel music theatre circuit

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Melba Moore remembers becoming estranged from her daughter

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about Bill Cosby and Camille Cosby's role in caring for her daughter

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Melba Moore recalls securing a part in 'Les Miserables' on Broadway

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Melba Moore describes her experience in the role of Fantine in 'Les Miserables'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Melba Moore talks about her experiences with the record industry

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Melba Moore recalls her transition to gospel music

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Melba Moore talks about working with gospel music artists and songwriters

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Melba Moore talks about the gospel music circuit in the Midwest

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Melba Moore describes the basis of her religious faith

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Melba Moore talks about the parallels between her life and her acting roles

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Melba Moore talks about her faith's influence on her career

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Melba Moore remembers 'The Fighting Temptations'

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Melba Moore talks about the role of music in the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Melba Moore describes her daily life

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Melba Moore talks about the Broadway revival of 'Hair'

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Melba Moore describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Melba Moore reflects upon her life

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Melba Moore talks about the status of black women in the arts

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Melba Moore reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Melba Moore talks about her family

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Melba Moore describes how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$2

DATape

4$6

DAStory

3$2

DATitle
Melba Moore remembers the cast of the Broadway production of 'Hair'
Melba Moore talks about the gospel music theatre circuit
Transcript
We were talking about the beginning of 'Hair' ['Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical'], and, and you said you really didn't know what it was about when you got involved, you didn't know what a hippie--really what the hippies were doing and or what (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, one of the things that happens, we were invited to do the recording session as with anything dates you know that these songwriters and producers come in, and you meet each other, and you see the music and you say, "Hi," and, you know, make friends with each other. And when they came in the studio when Jim Rado [James Rado] and Gerry Ragni [Gerome Ragni] came in and Galt MacDermot, Jim and Gerry had no shoes, they had raggedy jeans that were tore up, you know, like it was on purpose, and they had these T-shirts on that I'd like to say looked like their mother didn't teach them how to separate the colors from the white in the laundry (laughter). And they said they were tie dyed. So I said, "Well, where the man's shoes at? Why don't he comb his hair?" You know, I mean, I said, "Oh, my god, these are hippies," (laughter).$$These guys were young men and in those days they weren't poor or were they?$$They very well to do. Yeah.$$Yeah, I think a lot of people would, you know, when they think of someone barefoot and, you know, dressed down, are poor but they are well to--okay (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, you so--so you're confused about, "What is this?" (Laughter) You know, and they were very happy. I said, "What's wrong with them?" (Laughter) You know, not that they shouldn't be happy, but, you know, you could see that. They knew what they were doing. They were very intelligent, you know.$$But they were counterculture, as we would say now.$$Yes, and we were culture (laughter). We were upward mobile, we were BAPS, black American princesses, and well educated and, you know, on our way out to conquer the world and--$$We were two trains running in different directions in some ways, right?$$Not really, as I discovered. Not really. Because--and once I decided to do the play--first of all realize, I was learning acting. I ran into people like Diane Keaton and Ben Vereen, and it was very obvious that Diane was straight. It was obvious to me. Yeah, she was there without her shoes and everything, but she knew exactly what she was doing as an actress. She was just so cool and happy, you know. And we would learn the script and do these acting exercises, you know. "Oh, wow," you know. And I remember Ben was such an incredible athlete. He played the role of Berger, and Berger was the wild crazy one, just swinging around up on the ropes. Of course, the audience, they rolled all over the place--with the grace of a tiger, baby. You know, so when I look at that, I didn't know what his background was and most of us he kind of got from different places, and many of us, we weren't trained at all, certainly not in acting. But we were picked because we had certain personalities and certain talents. So it was a wonderfully eclectic group and you're just observing (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I didn't realize it but, Ben Vereen, I didn't realize he was in it.$$God, everybody in the world was--$$I never saw it, but I know Ronnie Dyson was one I remembered early on--$$Ronnie Dyson. Oh, Ronnie Dyson is a good example. Just a kid with great talent, great sense of humor; his mother [Elsie Dyson] was hilarious. And you could tell--$$Can we go to something she did? I mean, is there a story about his mother?$$I can't tell stories about Ronnie Dyson's mother (laughter). I can't tell those stories. But they were hilarious. They were funny people, they were good people, they were fun people. And, Ronnie, he was--he always had jokes. He always had stories. He was a good storyteller, a good--he could have been a good comic if he wanted to (laughter). I remember him coming down, you know, the stairs, doing an imitation of Diana Ross, or whatever, you know. Just like kids will do, you know. And then just an incredible voice and talent. And everybody was like that in their own way. I worked with Jim Rado in later years, like fairly recently, we'd say about the last ten years. He said I was always--I had a great sense of humor and feisty. But these are--this is just how you were, so I don't necessarily remember, right, what I said or what I did. But we all had, you know, interesting personalities.$I don't think we mentioned last time the role that Bill Cosby played in the life of you and your daughter [Melba Charli Huggins] at (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, I've had a chance to say thank you to Bill Cosby since then, who has just been unbelievable, he and Camille [Camille Cosby] and the whole family have been just a set of angels that I didn't even know were there, to be honest with you. And looking back on it, I can see that they knew what my situation was but--let me just put it into context. During a war of roses between my ex-husband [Charles Huggins] and myself, it got so terrible until my daughter ran away. She was just broken.$$How old was your daughter?$$At that time, she was about twelve. She was just coming into puberty, and she'd be used to a beautiful, loving, supportive home, I mean, and she was in the middle of psychological warfare. Actually, she was starting to get seizures. That's how bad it was. And one day she ran away and I didn't see her, I'm not sure how long it was, it seemed like forever. It seemed like it was over a year or two years, because at the time I was able to go on the road with some gospel plays that had just started during the '90s [1990s] but--and the gentleman who actually started these plays--no. Wait a minute. Let me give credit to Miss Vy Higginsen [HistoryMaker Vy Higginsen], who was the one to do one of the gospels, 'Mama, I Want to Sing!' and she still continues with different versions of that, and great things that she's doing with young people as a result of her foundation [Mama Foundation for the Arts, New York, New York]. But another person was Michael Matthews. He started out in St. Louis, Missouri, and he did a whole bunch of gospel plays. As a matter of fact, he's the one that Tyler Perry and Shelly Garrett and some of the other African American, I guess you'd call gospel musical--music plays. They have--basically have a moral story, so that's why I call them gospel.$$Tyler Perry is sort of--out of that genre too.$$Tyler Perry is the biggest one that we know of that has been very, very successful. And if you've noticed it, you might not call his plays gospel so much anymore, but there's a very, very, very strong moral message. And that gives it a very--$$The church involved.$$--very, very church oriented, yes. I guess I could call it--yes, I'll call it a gospel play, and I mean that in an honorable way because that's our niche audience, it's our culture, and, has been the basis for great, great, great entrepreneurial expansion and growth forums.$$Yeah. It's almost like a new Chitlin' Circuit in the sense of, you know--$$Nouveau chitlin' (laughter).$$Yeah. And they tour from town to town.$$They tour from town to town but the most important thing about chitlin' theatre is they paid you in cash money. And see you--one of the things that happened that we were talking about, Bill Cosby and his family helping, was I had been--I was saying I was getting ready to go out on tour with one of these gospel plays that was written by Michael Matthews, who started the genre, and I'd just been on welfare to pay my rent and I was able to pay the rent, but I was still evicted. But around the time I got evicted, it kind of dovetailed when I went on tour with this play. And they paid me seven thousand dollars in cash, and it made go in the back of the tour bus where they paid everybody and learn how to count the money. You know, how bankers count money, because first of all, it comes from box office and there's a whole lot of singles and fives (laughter). I had money all over the whole back of the bus.$$Okay. So you're saying--I know you just said it, but I have to repeat it. They actually pay you at the box--they pay the performers on these tours with the box office receipts?$$Yeah. That's how much money they make too.$$And seven thousand dollars in your pocket?$$Well, I was one of the stars. They didn't pay everybody that. But they pay you. Pay you good money but it's in cash. But you know what's great about that experience, of course, I'm in shock; I just come from welfare, I don't know anything about business, I've lost my daughter, I've lost everything. So I come and get plunked in to this touring company of super, born again, Pentecostal, religious, Baptist people. Now from before, it wasn't nothing around me but heathens and non believers. And fish eyed fools.