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What Ever Happened To… Melba Moore?

In 1970, singer Melba Moore made history as the third Black woman to win a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Purlie). Over the past four decades, the New York native not only rocked the theater world, appearing in the original Broadway production of Hair, but went on to earn four Grammy nods as well. She has starred in big- and small-screen productions, and graced stages across the world. JET caught up with the 68-year-old entertainer as she prepares for the release of her forthcoming R&B album, Forever Moore, her first in 20 years.

JET: Your recently released single “What Can I Do to Survive” is dedicated to victims of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. How were you impacted by the storm?

Melba Moore: I had just moved into my new apartment, right by the Hudson River. It started raining and I watched the water steadily increase on the sidewalk. I was born and raised in New York City. I had never seen water come up that high. Water was rising by the minute. I didn’t realize how devastating it was going to be. To experience it was really eerie. I woke up at around 1 in the morning and I looked out the window again. I could see the tremendous flooding and the damage from the strong winds. Houses were destroyed. Trees had toppled power lines. It was very surreal. I was fortunate in that all I lost was power. Last year, I began a campaign to raise money to help people who are still recovering from Sandy. I donate the proceeds of “What Can I Do to Survive” (Available on iTunes on Amazon.com).

JET: After 40-plus years in the business, what advice do you have for young artists?

MM: I’ve done it all, just better and consistently. My advice is to get as much information as you can from your school, place of worship or community center about dance or drama programs so you can get lessons and support your talents. It’s also key to study the business aspect. Of course, you can get a lot of this information online.

JET: What has been your toughest challenge as an artist?

MM: The business part. I come from an artistic family. My mother was a singer, and both my father and stepfather were musicians. After my divorce, I had to reestablish my career myself. I hadn’t developed relationships with record company executives and booking companies. I’ve earned my current manager, Ron Richardson. If you don’t know how the business works, you won’t make a living from it.

JET: When you were met with difficulties in your career, what helped you get through them?

MM: I didn’t quit. I followed God’s principles of how to do business— through reciprocity. When you have no money, you offer services.

JET: You were seen as a fashion plate back in the day. Are you still into fashion?

MM: I got my sense of glamour from my mother. I’ve become the muse of an haute couture designer named Bill Boland. I wear his gowns during my shows.

JET: What do you love about being a performer?

MM: The joy of it. I realize now that I’ve matured that it’s a gift from God. Performing connects you to people in such a powerful way, especially when they let you know how much a song has meant to them during different times in their lives. You get to fellowship with them. It’s a heightened experience of living.

JET: Did you ever want to pursue a different profession?

MM: After I received a bachelor’s degree in music education from Montclair State University, I was a music teacher for two years in Newark, New Jersey. I was good at it, but it wasn’t my passion. Once I came to that realization, it was like someone took the Empire State Building off my back. I met Valerie Simpson early on and she inducted me into studio work. I knew there was no guarantee in making a living as a singer. Fortunately, I got a role in the Broadway musical Hair. When Diane Keaton left the production, I got the female lead. That’s when I knew I had the chance.

Visit melbamoore.com to find upcoming performance dates and follow her on Twitter @MelbaMoore1.