Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s I listened to Melba Moore’s songs and watched a few of her music videos. I remember hearing about the Tony award she won for her role as Lutiebelle in the Broadway Show “Purlie.” She kept a low key for a while then resurfaced in the 80’s with R&B hits like “Love’s Comin’ At Ya,” “Keepin’ My lover Satisfied,” and “Love Me Right.” However, with all the success she accomplished she also had some challenges.
Melba Moore was born on October 29, 1945 as Beatrice Melba Hill to Gertrude Smith (Bonnie Davis) and Teddy Hill. Her parents were musicians. Her mother Bonnie Davis was a singer and who had a No. 1 R & B hit “Don’t Stop Now” before Melba was born. Melba’s biological father was Teddy Hill who was a Big Band leader. Unfortunately, Melba never knew her biological father. She only met him 3 times in her life. She was raised by her mother in Harlem New York. Her mother later remarried to jazz pianist Clement Leroy Moorman when Melba was 9 years old. This would be the first time in Melba’s life she would have a sense of family. Clement already had children. Melba was eager to get to know her new brothers and sisters. She finally had siblings to keep her company. Melba was so grateful to have Clement as her father. It was Clement who taught Melba how to play the piano. She recalled when they had family time it would be all about music. It was not till the age of 10 years old Melba became aware of her mother’s success as a singer.
Melba’s mother and stepfather discouraged her to get into the music business. They pushed her to be a teacher. She applied to Newark Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey while her stepfather wanted her to attend the public high school he attended. But Melba’s heart wanted to pursue music. She was accepted and graduated from Newark Arts High School. She wanted to make her parents proud of her so she went to Montclair State University and majored in music. She graduated and became a music teacher. She taught music for only 2 years and left the field to pursue her music career.
Her first role was in the musical Hair in 1967 with Diane Keaton. Melba later replaced Diane Keaton in the role of Shelia. Then in 1970 Melba landed the leading role of Lutiebelle in Purlie. She loved performing in Broadway. She won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Lutiebelle. When she heard her name, she did not believe it. She was shocked. She did not expect to win. After her success she went on to star in 2 big-screen film roles and released 2 successful albums. She also launched a television series variety show with her then partner Clifton Davis. When their relationship ended the show ended as well. At this time Melba became ill and had to move back home to New Jersey for her mother to take care of her. Melba’s stepfather and mother also divorced at this time.
When she moved back to New Jersey her managers and accountants also ended their business relationship with Melba. This was a challenging time for Melba. Her fans did not know what was going on with her so they decided to listen to the rumors that she was on drugs and crack. The rumors were false. She was recovering from a terrible illness that could have been fatal. As soon as she healed she went back in the spot light. She did not allow the rumors to keep her down. She performed at the Apollo where she met Charles Huggins and later married him. They had a daughter. Melba balanced being a mother, actress, singer, and wife with grace. While married to Charles Huggins, they started Hush Productions and well-known artists and writers were signed to their production company such as Freddie Jackson and Meli’sa Morgan.
Melba was married to Charles Huggins for 15 years. The 14th year was a struggle. Melba shared with me the hardest part of the last year of her marriage was to see how her daughter was having a tough time dealing with their bickering. While she was having challenges in her personal life, she made a choice to go back to the church to talk about her problems to God. She became a born-again Christian. She received counsel from the church and God. He guided her to have the courage to overcome the problems she was facing at that particular time in her life.
Melba is back again in the spot light doing what she loves which is performing. She is working on her album titled “Forever Moore” and she is going on the road performing with other artist. Melba is also getting ready to go back to acting. She is starring in her own show “Still Standing.”
She grew up in a broken home but later learned the true meaning of family at the age of 9. She encountered many more challenges in her career and personal life but never gave up. She returned back to the church and allowed God to show her how to service him. I asked Melba what advise can you give to women who are making their way in the music industry. She stated: “Get formal training. Have a relationship with the church. The church will nurture you. Don’t worry about getting paid. Learn about the relationships that comes out of it.”
It was a pleasure speaking and listening to Melba Moore sharing her story with me. She will be having a birthday celebration at The Metropolitan Room on October 27th at 9:00pm. For details call 212-206-0440.
Interview by Claire Guerre