iforcolor had the opportunity to interview Zenobia and this is what she shared with us:
DRS – Zenobia, it is such an honor to speak with you. We are so happy for your time and wisdom. Who is the “shero’s or hero’s and what is your (or one of your) favorite genres of music?
Z~ Though I have grown into the Blues, I am still very much a child of Pop and R&B genres. I joke that since I have gotten older, I have walked the carpet of pain and that I am now worthy of singing the Blues. I did not appreciate it when I was younger yet music by the likes of Etta James & Elvis Presley were in my house… Blues rocks my soul because its roots are from our ancestors which is also sung in church!
DRS- What do you think of today’s popular music scene?
Z~ Not much. Some of the new stuff is okay. While I’m not in love with Rap or Hip-Hop, a strong model of expression in and of our younger people, I am still stuck on the songs that have melodies, a story, and a pulse. Patti Austin said in Electronic Magazine that people weren’t writing songs anymore, they’d just go into their studios and turn on the drum machine. I happened to have a session with her the next day and asked her what she meant. She said a bunch of singers got together and attempted to sing the songs that were charting like “Beat It” but found that they kept going back in time until they were singing songs that had strong melodies and stories. They ended up singing the songs of the Motown era where there the songs could hold up even without accompaniment. The songs were written by Ashford & Simpson for one example. I’m not into singers who are for show…we’re called singers! Not show-ers!
DRS- Who do you admire from a talent point of view, musically?
Z~ Off the top of my head, John Mayer, Eric Clapton, Adele, Eric Bibb, and Ruthie Foster.
DRS- What Broadway show would you compare to Hair in its impact of Broadway history?
Z~ I can’t say. HAIR said so much about the war as the war was still raging on, about relationships, laughing in the face of challenges, and more. Some have said Rent is comparable and I scratch my head when I hear that. I only saw the movie of Rent because I’m a snob but the underlying story did not have the same impact on me as HAiR did. If I wanted to compare them, I would say that the music was pop-oriented and an ensemble was on stage and it took place in NYC. We had more black folks in HAiR and probably because black folks can sing their butts off.
Let’s face it, what other show evoked young men to come to the backstage door after seeing the show with their draft cards in hand ready to burn them? Not Rent, No, No, Nanette, Or Calcutta, Ain’t Supposed To Die A Natural Death? None of them. HAIR ran a thin line between what was onstage and the reality of the moment.
DRS- I worked with and respected Tom O’ Horgan (Director of HAIR) as a director. What was your experience with working with him?
Z~ I remember his gentleness & patience…a trait that is not usually associated with many directors.
DRS- What do you think of American Idol and The Voice on television as a way to discover new talent and fast-track them to stardom?
Z~ It’s a good forum I suppose. If it were for TV, it would be local talent shows like the ones I entered into and placed. These kids who appear on these shows want something and they want it bad enough to be embarrassed in front of millions. Sure some great talent can come out of it but there’s no preparing them for success or failure that comes with it.
My journey to Broadway was an easy one in the fact that I auditioned for a show I knew nothing about and without a desire to be in it. The word Broadway only crossed my lips as a young person when Michael Bennett came to my high school to direct us in Westside Story. After he left, I never thought about it again.
Once in NYC, I became a studio backup singer to many. What a way to grow my skills and mature in life.
DRS- Looking back, what is life for Zenobia, now. These are difficult and complicated times! You have been to so many places and done so many exciting things. With the highs and the lows… what can you reveal of your life that you, normally would not?
Z~ I joined the workforce before I graduated high school and continued to work until I was replaced by the younger folks with lesser skills and life experiences. I looked for work as I fell into the deepest depression. A bottom where I could not see the light. The plan to adopt a child ended immediately. I could no longer help others much less myself. I paid into a system that offered me support when I couldn’t find it elsewhere and was very hesitant to use it. These days when people write in general terms about how recipients of food stamps and medical don’t want to work, living off the government, they are as ignorant as the dullest nail in the pile. NO, you can’t buy McDonald’s or clothes with food stamps. If you have not been there, who are you to judge? Losing a job with benefits can happen to anyone when they least expect it. But gaining self-respect and keeping it during these hard times is challenging, but it is priceless! I am the 47% and I’m starting to see some light.
DRS- What is your advice to the young artist to start a positive and successful career in the arts?
Stay true to your dream. What moves you may be the key to moving others and seeing you in the true light you represent. Particularly to our young people of color…remember that you represent a whole line of folks, the ones who came before you and the ones who will follow you. Leave them proud and excited!
Treat this as a business because it is. Show up early because on time is late. Keep your personal business, your personal business. Let people guess and want to know more about you. If you lay it all out on the table, why should they come back? It’s like dating. Be serious and find the balance to a wholesome life.
Remember to say, “thank you” to those who’ve paved the way on the path you want to journey on.
(Photos by Coad Miller)