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Shelley Fisher

Singer and pianist Shelley Fisher was born on April 6, 1942 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In 1953, he moved to Chicago and grew up on the city’s West Side. Fisher studied music theory, composition and vocal technique in the Chicago Junior College System, and at Roosevelt University’s Chicago Conservatory of Music. He received his A.A. degree in music education and social science from Crane Junior College in 1963.

Upon graduation, Fisher became the featured vocalist with the Morris Ellis Orchestra in Chicago. In 1966 he had a principal role in Oscar Brown, Jr.'s musical production “Summer in the City.” Fisher went on to open for Stevie Wonder at the original Regal Theater in Chicago. He then moved to Los Angeles in 1970, where he played the piano and sang for the “jet set.” In 1972, Fisher co-starred in the comedy motion picture Calliope. He also played the role of the piano player in The Three Wishes of Billy Grier, starring Ralph Macchio, and in Letter to Three Wives, with Loni Anderson. Fisher wrote and performed the original music for the motion picture Drifting Clouds.

In 1977, Fisher returned to Chicago, where he taught in two Chicago public schools. In 1985, Fisher launched Vantown Productions, Inc., a publishing and production company. He has composed and published many musical titles, including Yesterday’s Dreams (Lou Rawls on Capital Records), Plainsville, USA (Jimmy Randolph on Motown Records), King Size Bed (The Valentine Brothers on Sony Records), and Girl, I Love You, which launched the career of Chicago R&B legend, Garland Green.

From 1978 through 1999, Fisher worked abroad, namely in Osaka, Japan, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Oslo, Norway. In 1997, he wrote, arranged and produced CELEBRATION, A Tribute to Nat “King” Cole, a Las Vegas style program produced at NRK TV (Norwegian TV). Fisher toured in Europe and broke two attendance records with performances in Den Hague, Holland and at Puntaldia, the jazz music festival on the island of Sardinia, Italy.

In 2000, Fisher moved to Las Vegas, where he performed at New York, New York, the MGM Grand, the Venetian, and the MGM/Mirage hotels. He has shared billing or recorded with other well-known artists like Earth, Wind & Fire, The Dells, Eartha Kitt and B.B. King. Fisher has also recorded two full-length CDs: 2003’s Driving Home, and 2004’s Stories.

Shelley Fisher was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 23, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.317

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/23/2013

Last Name

Fisher

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

Dell

Occupation
Schools

Farragut Career Academy Hs

Theodore Herzl Elementary School

Calvin Coolidge Senior High School

Chicago Conservatory of Music

First Name

Shelley

Birth City, State, Country

Clarksdale

HM ID

FIS05

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Sardinia

Favorite Quote

If You Really Want To See The Daughter, First Look At The Mother.$

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nevada

Interview Description
Birth Date

4/6/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Las Vegas

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Oatmeal

Short Description

Singer, pianist, and Shelley Fisher (1942 - ) toured nationally and internationally for over thirty years. He also acted in various stage productions and films, and authored a autobiography titled 'A Motherless Child.'

Employment

Turner Manufacturing Company

United States Postal Service

Chicago Daily Defender

Johnson Publishing Company

Delete

Invictus/Hotwax Records (Capitol)

Vantown Productions, Inc.

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656466">Tape: 1 Slating of Shelley Fisher's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656467">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656468">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656469">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656470">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher talks about his family's affiliation with the Baptist church</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656471">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher talks about his mother's death</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656472">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher describes his early years in Crenshaw, Mississippi, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656473">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher describes his early years in Crenshaw, Mississippi, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656474">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher talks about his early understanding of gender identity</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656475">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher remembers moving to Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656476">Tape: 1 Shelley Fisher describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656477">Tape: 2 Shelley Fisher talks about his difficult upbringing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656478">Tape: 2 Shelley Fisher remembers joining his father in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656479">Tape: 2 Shelley Fisher talks about his behavior as an adolescent in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656480">Tape: 2 Shelley Fisher recalls his involvement in Chicago gangs</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656481">Tape: 2 Shelley Fisher talks about early gang activity in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656482">Tape: 2 Shelley Fisher recalls the gang violence that he experienced</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656483">Tape: 2 Shelley Fisher remembers his involvement in criminal activity as a teenager</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656484">Tape: 2 Shelley Fisher recalls the inspiration behind his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656485">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher talks about his honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656486">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher remembers selling magazine subscriptions</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656487">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher recalls taking the civil service exam to become a mail carrier</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656488">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher remembers enrolling at Crane Junior College in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656489">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher talks about his various jobs in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656490">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher remembers acquaintances from his youth in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656491">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher describes the music scene in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656492">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher talks about record companies and radio stations in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656493">Tape: 3 Shelley Fisher describes the music scene in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656494">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher remembers the music venues and people in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656495">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher describes Oscar Brown, Jr.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656496">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher talks about his role in Oscar Brown, Jr.'s musical production 'Summer in the City'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656497">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher remembers singer Lou Rawls</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656498">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher talks writing the song 'Girl I Love You'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656499">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher recalls founding Aries Records and moving to Los Angeles, California</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656500">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher talks about learning to play piano</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656501">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher remembers singing with the Morris Ellis Orchestra in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656502">Tape: 4 Shelley Fisher talks about his early career in Los Angeles, California</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656503">Tape: 5 Shelley Fisher recalls working with Motown Records in Los Angeles, California</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656504">Tape: 5 Shelley Fisher talks about his struggle with substance abuse</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656505">Tape: 5 Shelley Fisher remembers his relationship with Jacqueline Dalya</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656506">Tape: 5 Shelley Fisher talks about moving back to Chicago, Illinois in the late 1970s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656507">Tape: 5 Shelley Fisher remembers his job teaching blues music in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656508">Tape: 5 Shelley Fisher recalls living in Japan, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656509">Tape: 5 Shelley Fisher recalls living in Japan, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656510">Tape: 5 Shelley Fisher remembers his experiences in Canada</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656511">Tape: 6 Shelley Fisher describes his film and music career in Canada</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656512">Tape: 6 Shelley Fisher recalls performing in Europe, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656513">Tape: 6 Shelley Fisher recalls performing in Europe, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656514">Tape: 6 Shelley Fisher remembers visiting the Auschwitz concentration camps in Oswiecim, Poland</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656515">Tape: 6 Shelley Fisher talks about the production of 'Drifting Clouds'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656516">Tape: 6 Shelley Fisher describes how he started performing in Las Vegas, Nevada</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656517">Tape: 6 Shelley Fisher talks about the car accident that ended his piano career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656518">Tape: 6 Shelley Fisher reflects upon his accident</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656519">Tape: 7 Shelley Fisher talks about how he revived his singing career after his accident</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656520">Tape: 7 Shelley Fisher talks about his portrayal of Conrad Murray</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656521">Tape: 7 Shelley Fisher describes the musical legacy of Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656522">Tape: 7 Shelley Fisher reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656523">Tape: 7 Shelley Fisher describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656524">Tape: 7 Shelley Fisher describes his decision to leave Las Vegas, Nevada</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656525">Tape: 7 Shelley Fisher reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/656526">Tape: 7 Shelley Fisher narrates his photographs</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

7$5

DATitle
Shelley Fisher talks about learning to play piano
Shelley Fisher remembers his job teaching blues music in Chicago, Illinois
Transcript
I got there it was raining. Got--never go to L.A. [Los Angeles, California] hungry in December. It's the rainy season. And I went, I got there, and I figured if you're gonna jump in the water, get in the deep water, 'cause that's where the, you know, don't be--you know. So I checked in at the Continental hotel [Continental Hyatt House; Andaz West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California] there on Sunset [Boulevard]. Now I, remember I got $350 in my pocket. I think that lasted about three days, and I was out on the street. And I had some jewelry that I pawned, and I checked into the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association]. I went from the five star to the Y (laughter). And I, one day I was so, I didn't even have money to make the phone call to call the agent. I had to walk from Wilcox [Avenue] and Sunset, which is--I don't know if you know L.A.--to 8100 Sunset, which is almost Beverly Hills [California], walked just to see if I, if anybody had a job for me. And about two weeks went by and nobody, they said, "Sorry, we're working on it." And then one day I got a call. I mean I got a yes. And I said, "Well, where, where is it?" 'Cause I'd, I'd, when I went to California, I took music. I'd had charts, all the charts I used in Morris Ellis' band, and you know, I had music up the ying yang, no--I said, "How much music should I take?" He said, "Well, what do you mean?" (Laughter) I said, "Well, how many people in the band?" He said, "Well, you got on the, on your resume that you play piano." I said, "Oh, no problem," (laughter). I knew about ten tunes well enough to be played in public. And I was booked up at San Luis Obispo [California] at this--his brother [Jimmy Ellis] was used to be on 'Laugh-In' ['Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In']. He was--yeah, they was a fantastic restaurant. And so after I would play my ten song repertoire, I would get up and start getting the peop- doing 'Signifying Monkey,' [HistoryMaker] Oscar Brown, Jr.'s (singing), "Said the signifying monkey to the lion one day, there's a great big elephant down the way." And I would go around table to table, and I'd make the people clap. They were my band. They were (laughter)--and in the daytime, I had my music books. I would get down--I was, I would build my repertoire.$$And that's how you learned how to play the piano?$$That's how I learned to earn a living playing the piano.$$Playing the piano (laughter). But when, when had you learned the piano before that, that you've never (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, and now we studied in, in, in, in Crane [Crane Junior College; Malcolm X College, Chicago, Illinois] with sort of theory and harmony, theory, harmony, and compositions. I can look at the music and tell you what it sounds like. But elocution on the, on, on the--you know, when you play to be a piano viturso [sic. virtuoso], you got to go through years of da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. I didn't have the patience for that. So, I learned to play, to, to play the--I could do a solo with my right hand, but I'm playing block chords, as I hear an orchestra playing. That way I had a more full sound, and it wasn't like no one else's, because it's very different. [HistoryMaker] B. B. King does not sing and play at the same time. Did you know that?$$He plays and then he sings.$$Then he sings.$$I think I--'cause, yeah--$$Somebody pull your coat to that? But anyway, singing and--$$No, they didn't put--we worked with them. And I was just thinking, he does play and then he sings.$$He play (makes sounds); then he sings. But playing and hearing all of those notes and executing those notes and singing, not very many people do that well. Nat Cole [Nat King Cole] was the one. Mr. Cole could do it. But so you--and, and in my case, I was, I'm playing, I'm playing the piano. Can't nobody say they can't, can't play piano. They say, "He's not Oscar Peterson." 'Cause I didn't have that ring. But I didn't back down from no gigs. I was good enough to go up and play with Ike [Ike Turner] and Tina Turner. So, to me I, and I still, I still, even though no matter how good you can play, I still allocate learning theory so you can communicate the language. You're, you're dealing with a language. And if you can go to Japan and say I want it in B flat, they can understand you. You go Switzerland: I want it in C sharp played from whatever. They can understand. So, but today's music, but the--all you gotta do is turn your boot up. And you know, nobody understands the language that they supposed to be speaking.$So when you came back to Cabrini-Green [Cabrini-Green Homes, Chicago, Illinois] and you were--how did you get that job?$$With the, with--I had assisted Jimmy [Jimmy Tillman] the year before, in '76 [1976]. And he recommended me to--I forget her name, who was head of--I got a letter. I brought a copy of the letter from that, yeah, from the, from the (unclear). But he recommended me to do the blues program. So we wrote, we wrote the grant, we wrote the--for the Illinois Arts Council [Chicago, Illinois], and they were the liaison to NEA [National Endowment for the Arts]. That was a fan- that was a great experience.$$So talk about that. How long did you do that for?$$It was a three month program. And we used--we had kids from age ten to sixteen, over at the Schiller [Schiller Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois], from the Schiller and the Newberry Schools [Newberry School; Walter L. Newberry Math and Science Academy, Chicago, Illinois] there in Cabrini-Green. And it was diverse racially. And what we did, these kids would--we, we, we projected that we could raise their reading scores and have self-esteem if they were able to communicate their feelings through the blues. So, we taught them how to write their blues with an AAB format. (Singing), "They call it stormy Monday. Tuesday is just as bad. They call it stormy Monday. Tuesday is just as bad. Wednesday is worse. Thursday is--," AAB. And the kids started writing their blues songs. And we found out, Jimmy and I, that the problem with many in education is not the students; it's the teachers half the time. One young lady wrote about her boyfriend--her mother's boyfriend, who was a pimp. He was pimping her mother. And he walked with a limp. And I, I--forgive me for not remembering it 'cause it was such--using those, those rhymes, this girl--I got a picture of her--she wrote, and sang it; she wrote the song, so we would work with the teachers on grading on, on evaluation and so forth. And Will, Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor, some of the other artists would come in and would do performances, so, to inspire the kids. And this one English teacher gave this girl a failing grade. And the girl came, "Mr. Fisher [HistoryMaker Shelley Fisher], Ms. So and So blah, blah, blah," and it was 'cause the women did not, the teacher did not understand limp, knew very little about pimp and the other lyrics that the young lady was using that were rhyming and making sense in, in terms of the jargon of the hood. I had to explain that. Then they began to respect the program a bit. So we taught the kids guitar, because, let's face it, blues, after three chords it starts to become jazz. So they learned three, three chords and played tambourine and harmonica, and they learned to play their blues. And as a result, the finale was the, they wrote their own--I can't say--what's a--not a graduation but their, their ceremony, their success ceremony, and it was wonderful. It was wonderful what those kids did, how they--you know, it's--and we're talking about all kinds of kids, not just, not just black kids. Some of the white kids had better worse--had problems of abuse than, than, than Dora [ph.] did.$$Right.$$So everybody can be helped from music, when we understand it. But in order to understand it you gotta be able to communicate it. And if I'm just feeding you something, I'm not communicating to you. I'm, I'm marketing you. You're part of my demograph. And why nobody'll write something that anybody else can sing, our Mistys ['Misty'], our Stormy Weathers ['Stormy Weather'], our (singing), "Go down Moses," ['Go Down Moses']. Ain't nobody writing nothing that nobody else can sing. Jay-Z, bless his heart, and him and Beyonce [Beyonce Knowles], ain't nobody can sing that stuff but them (laughter).$$Now, that, that's in '77 [1977], right? Seventy se-(simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Seventy-seven [1977], the blues program.