Honest, Funny, Awesome. Afrobella Interviews Heather Headley

 

Before I read the May/June 2012 issue of Caribbean Beat (the official in flight magazine of Trinidad’s Caribbean Airlines), I thought of Heather Headley differently. Undeniably beautiful, talented beyond words, and an accomplished singer with her own albums and Broadway legacy. She’s worldly, and incredibly talented. Heather Headley is a superstar. Before I read the article, I thought of us as very different people. And then I read her cover story and was blown away by how many things we had in common. We’re both both black women who are proud to be from Trinidad. We both wound up falling for and marrying men that we met in college – and we’re both in interracial marriages, which is a topic I don’t discuss often, and neither does she. And now both of us call Chicago home. How uncanny is THAT?

Because we were featured in the same issue, Heather read my story too, and she was struck by our similarities. When I finally talked to Heather, conversation quickly turned from “I” and “me” to “us” and “we,” because we totally got where each other was coming from on so many levels. We clicked pretty much right away and it was an amazing interview.

I caught up with Heather right as she was preparing to leave for London to begin preparations for The Bodyguard, before her latest album Only One In The World was released. Now her album is available in stores, online and on iTunes, and Heather is making big waves as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard. This interview began before she left Chicago, and picked up as she continues to wow crowds in this role of a lifetime across the pond.

Here are Heather Headley’s words of wisdom – she is so smart, so genuine, and so cool and down to earth!

On life in Chicago
“I love Chicago, it’s the perfect mix of NYC and LA. Here people look you in the eye. There’s fashion and food and the Lake…it is beautiful. Like you I love it here. But there isn’t a Caribbean force. In Brooklyn, you just need to find which block is your people. We don’t have that here. During the Olympics when Keshorn won and they played our anthem, I started crying. The fact I hadn’t heard it in so long and I could sing it. It took me right back to St. George’s College. We have these two worlds now, but hearing that takes me right back. We were taught that island pride. During the anthem, you stand up and you SING.”

On her marriage and love without limits or judgment
“I believe this goes back to us being from our island. We tried not to see color. When I came to the US, there were some people in my high school who {I felt} wanted to teach me to be a minority, but, because of Trinidad, I had a “majority complex” at least that’s what I call it. In Trinidad we (our people, our race) were the Presidents and Prime Ministers as well as the vagrant on the street. We’re the teachers and we’re the criminals. We’re the beauty queens, new anchors, artists, intellects and business men and women, and we’re the crazy person in the street! So, I was taught that I could be anything. No holds!

There were times where I got messed up with the expectations of others. I’ve had one or two black people ask me in that negative I’m-not-looking-for-an-answer-but-a-fight kind of way “why are you with a white man?” It used to bother me, but now I’m just like…whatever. I will defend him with my life, because you don’t understand the love, the joy, the protection, and the comfort that being with him has brought to my life. He believes in me more than I believe in myself. When this is all over, I want to see him. I want to see my son. I want to be in our home, together. I want to be with HIM! and Like Emile Sande says…and when all is gone, you will find him next to me. It’s so easy to get caught up because everyone’s telling you how great thou art, but being with someone who grounds you – that makes life worth living. And he grounds me and has yet has this amazing ability to make me fly! I love that man!”

 

Image via The Guardian

On landing The Bodyguard
“Two years ago I got this call from my agent – we’d been looking for a new Broadway show. A year and a half ago, I heard that they’re bringing The Bodyguard to the stage. Over 6 years, these producers have been working on this. They have the entire Whitney catalog. The producers on board have rewritten The Bodyguard for the stage, and they’re starting it in London. Needless to say this changed and took on a heightened pressure in February.”

On Whitney, her power, and her legacy
“I cannot be compared to her. I don’t want to. It is a losing battle. Whitney had one of the best voices of all time. I grew up listening to Whitney Houston. I met her and CeCe Winans through watching Video Soul in Trinidad. I keep laughing and saying God has a sense of humor because from the moment I saw the movie, I’ve been playing Rachel Marron in my bathroom ever since. It is a great honor. She had an amazing gift. Whitney (and CeCe Winans), in some ways, taught me to sing. I listened to her sing and she taught me – she was my first vocal coach in that way. I’ve been able to tell CeCe Winans that as well. She taught me how to sing.”

On staying humble
“You need someone to snatch you back. I’ve got some aunts in Trinidad who can snatch very quickly. And I LOVE them for that. You can’t be pretentious with that. You need that, you really need that. I can come home and be a wife. Get in the yard. Go to Costco. Live a very regular life. My son also helps to keep me grounded. I was breastfeeding him when I won my Grammy — and this is one of my favorite moments — right when I found out that I had won the Grammy, my son blew out his pamper! It was such a reminder of what is real in life.

On making room for motherhood
“I was deathly afraid of having a kid. There was time where I really didn’t think it was in my future. But I wanted to have my husband’s child. We had a tough time getting pregnant and it showed me how much I wanted our baby, how much I wanted to be a mom. I kept telling my team, “listen to me, this child is not going to stop me from doing all the things I need to do!” And then he showed up and, I had him I was like….OK, I need a little time (laughs). I love this little person, he is my joy. He is also part of this gig and he has to understand what mommy does. And that means flying with mommy, spending time with grandparents when mommy and daddy are working. He’s always in loving care. It’s not easy balancing it all. My mind always goes back to Trinidad and thinks, my mother raised 2 kids in Trinidad with no stroller, no TV or iPad to distract us, and she would go grocery shopping with us. I don’t know how they did it.”

On her latest album, Only One in the World
“I was intending to do a new album and then The Bodyguard came up. Album got put on hold. So I decided you know what, I’m just going to bring it out. I put together some of these songs, and songs that I perform. I put it together for the fans because I’m leaving for a while so it’s a memory for my fans to hold on to while I’m gone – new songs and cover songs. People like to tell people what they should sing or do based on appearance but because I grew up in Trinidad – a melting pot – and watching Donnie Simpson on Video Soul and all of those things that shaped my musical sensibilities. I do covers of Superwoman by Karyn White, Home from The Wiz, Stephanie Mills, River Deep, Mountain High, One Last Cry…I even do Run to You on the album. It’s just a little independent album – with amazing producers. There’s something to be said for the independent thing, Norah Jones just did an indie album, Adele…it’s kinda like opening your own doubles stand. This is Heather’s doubles stand!”

On hair in the entertainment biz
“When I started out, I had a relaxer in my hair. Then I cut it all off for Aida. I think from that point I’ve been natural – my scalp is horribly sensitive. Two years ago I figured out this keratin thing. And when you have to be all over the place for interviews and for work, and people are up in there with curling irons and heat, I use extensions to protect my real hair. But I want hair at the end of this process. I don’t want to look in the mirror and wonder what happened. I have always made sure the health of my hair is paramount. Keratin straightens out the curl but when I get my hair wet it goes curly again? I won’t have the curl of my natural texture, it’s a looser curl. And I can straighten it myself with the Brazilian products. I love it, it’s really worked out for me. I don’t want to be in a stylist’s chair all the time, I need a home regimen. I need to do my hair and makeup at home. I want to be home with my husband and child. To maintain it you use sulphate free products, I use Aveda, and of course Brazilian has a line.”

The Queen
Singing for the Queen was quite the experience. It fell in the middle of three of the craziest weeks and I was just praying I wouldn’t wake up that morning with a sore throat or worse. I must say that singing in that hall will be etched in my mind for a while. The Royal Albert Hall is one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the great pleasure to sing. Being on that stage with those amazing artists from every part of the business was amazing. And then, having the great honor of singing for and meeting the Queen was beyond me. Ato Bolden was doing something during the Olympics and tweeted, something like “Trini, look where yuh reach, nuh!” and I think I would have to borrow the phrase Smile. But I’d go a little further and say that the only reason I’m where I am…and reached where I have… it’s only because of God!

 

 

The Bodyguard
This has been a rewarding and yet unbelievably challenging time for me. The show is very difficult. I sing 12 songs, and let’s just say that the lady who sang them before me was REALLY good. Then there’s all the scene work and everything else. Not to mention living away from my husband and home. It’s tiring. And most days, like today, I on vocal rest so I can save my voice and have it rest from the night before. However, the cast and crew are amazing. And the audiences love the show. And as tough and tiring as it is…as much discipline as it demands…as much as I miss home, I’m blessed to walk on that stage every night.

The End

“I will end my contract here in London, in August and then I’ll race home. The next stop for the show is Broadway, so God willing, I’ll take it there and introduce the show to New York and America. We’re also looking at releasing Only One In The World here in England, so that will be another little addition on the plate.”

Heather is amazing, and is SO communicative with her friends and fans! Click here to visit her official site. Click here to check out her official YouTube channel and Facebook page. Click here to find Heather on Twitter and on Google +. Thank you for everything, Heather – we liming whenever you come back to Chicago!

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Comments

  1. St George’s College represent!!!! I remember when she visited George’s on a trip back home. I had already graduated and was covering it, as a news reporter. She gave an amazing speech and really motivated students who were into the arts. She also made a sizeable donation. Proud to share the same alma mater with her. She’s phenomenal.

    Love what she said about the ‘majority complex’. I had it in England too. Lol. And I also love CeCe. Great interview Patrice.

  2. Jesus-in-the-City says:

    I love Heather Headley so much! I only became familiar with her through her Christian album, Audience of One. I listened to it over and over again! She is so talented! I am really excited for when The Bodyguard comes to Broadway and my husband and I (also an interracial couple, my husband is Scottish and I am American) get to go see her in person!

    Wishing her all the very best! Congratulations! And thank you for this feature!

  3. This was such a down to earth and honest interview. So happy for Heather, wishing her all the best! Great interview bella and happy new year!

  4. Real. Honest. Lovely.

  5. I love her! Ever since The Lion King on Broadway! She has a very versatile voice. She can tour internationally as Andrea Bocelli’s singing partner, win a Grammy for Gospel music, win a Tony for musical theater, have R&B hits, sing for THE Queen…the list goes on. Kudos Heather!

  6. Love HH! and yes you both have some amazing similarities to your lives.

    This was a great interview – she was “kept real”. Thanks for bringing Heather to her fans and I am also sure that both of you made new ones.

  7. I remember first seeing Heather Headley in the video “He Is” and thinking that finally there was a brown skinned girl, who had similar bone structure on TV who could sing! I remember thinking it was about time because she was one of the first brown skinned ladies with head wraps and a ‘earthy’ vibe that I could relate to. I was hoping she would open doors to the many other various skin colors of singers in the US.

    Her music was great and I have been a fan since. Great interview Afrobella!

  8. I really enjoyed this interview! Her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” took my breath away. Simply beautiful. My mom went to George’s–can’t leave that out. ;)

  9. I love her – big up to being a “majority” in all every day actions!

  10. She has a beautiful voice!

  11. As a Trinidadian, I have a deeper love for her work and her story. I connected with having many choices in what you want to be in life. I choose what I wish to see.
    Blessing to her and her family.

    Love
    Ginger-vee (part of the majority)

  12. She’s MY girl!

  13. An amazing testimony on a spell caster who brought my wife back to me..
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