Some people are destined to be stars. Songbird Miki Howard was born to sing. Her mother was a member of the legendary gospel group The Caravans, while her father sang with the renowned Pilgrim Jubilees. As a child, Miki was privileged enough to hang out with such luminaries like Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples. It is no wonder that Miki Howard would go on to international fame, garnering multiple hits and landing a role in a major motion picture. Justifiably considered one of the premier female soul stylists of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Howard developed a devoted fan base with such recordings as her 1993 tribute album to Billie Holiday (who she portrayed in Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X), her 1987 hit single and remake of the 1940s Glenn Miller standard “Imagination,” an original R&B Top 10 charted singles like “Come Share My Love,” “Baby Be Mine” and “Love Under New Management.” Howard further endeared R&B devotees with her stellar remake of the Aretha Franklin classic “Until You Come Back To Me” which was a Top 5 R&B hit for Miki in 1990. She also had a string of No. 1 hits like “Ain’t Nuthin’ In The World” and “Ain’t Nobody Like You.” Howard’s highly anticipated Shanachie Entertainment debut and first new CD in five years, Pillow Talk: Miki Sings The Classics, is a refreshing reminder that she is a soulful singer who knows how to fuse the best elements of jazz, gospel and R&B.
Pillow Talk: Miki Sings The Classics showcases Miki Howard’s distinctive treatments of ten memorable compositions from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The album gets its title from Miki’s slinky rendition of the 1973 gold single by Sylvia. “We started out with a list of thirty songs,” says Miki, a resident of New Jersey. “I drew from songs that were among my favorites. It was very exciting to make this record and I’m really happy with the end result.” The material featured on Miki’s new recording ranges from jazz-inflected tunes like George Benson’s 1976 smash “This Masquerade,” to the upbeat “Which Way Is Up?” from the Richard Pryor movie of the same title, that was popularized as a pop/dance hit for Stargard in 1977. Miki’s happy to explain her song choices for the project, her first new project since Grammy-Nominated Three Wishes, her 2001 Peak album. “We started out with “I Can’t Stand The Rain” which I’ve been hearing from way back. I based my version on Tina Turner’s so you could say doing the song gave me the chance to have my ‘Tina Turner’ moment!” Captain & Tennille’s pop chestnut “Do It One More Time” is unquestionably one of Ms. Howard’s favorite songs. “I always liked their music and I thought Tennille was kind of soulful!” Referencing her longtime love affair with jazz, Miki turns in a stylized treatment of the Goffin-King standard “Go Away Little Boy,” originally brought to the mid-’70s’ airwaves by the inimitable Marlena Shaw. Notes Miki, “Although mine is more similar to the version done by Nancy Wilson, it was Marlena’s record that I heard during my high school days. In a way, that record by Marlena introduced jazz vocals to young people of my generation.”
Also included on Pillow Talk: Miki Sings The Classics is Natalie Cole’s No. 1 pop/R&B 1976 classic “Inseparable,” which brought back many fond memories for Miki Howard who relocated to Los Angeles during her teen years. “I won so many talent contests in the ‘70s singing that song!” she recalls.
“I mean, that was the song we all sang when we were trying out in those shows. Natalie was such an inspiration for me musically and personally so this is my way of paying homage to her.” Miki grins as she talks about the album’s title track and Sylvia Robinson (who was responsible for kicking off the whole rap scene with The Sugar Hill Gang). “Sylvia Robinson – I guess she was the original Lil’ Kim…a milder version that is! My Mom used to think I was a bad kid because I loved Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk” so much!” confides Miki.
Boz Scaggs’ 1976 smash “Lowdown” also has a personal reference for Miki. “I started my professional career singing with the group Side Effect and the group’s leader Augie Johnson – who’s the father of two of my children – sang on the original version by Boz. I’ve always loved the song and I still think it has a great lyrical message.”
Surprisingly, it was not George Benson’s reading of the Leon Russell composition “This Masquerade” that was the catalyst for Miki to revisit the song. She says, “I always thought it was more of a song suitable for a female singer to do and then I heard Shirley Bassey’s version of it. It’s just a great tune.” The same could be said for “Misty Blue,” the 1976 pop/R&B hit for Southern soul singer Dorothy Moore. “My mom played it so much till we wanted to throw that 45 out!” laughs Miki. “I remember seeing Dorothy sing it on “Soul Train” so she was one of the lesser-known but important musical influences on me growing up.”
Miki has just one statement to make about including “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely,” recorded by Blue Magic and Ronnie Dyson among others but made most popular by Main Ingredient in 1974. “No can sing a melody like Cuba Gooding!” referring to the group’s lead singer. Rounding out Pillow Talk’s ten selections is “Which Way Is Up?,” another interesting selection by the singer who was featured on sessions by such notables as Wayne Henderson, Roy Ayers and Stanley Turrentine during her years with Side Effect. “That’s just been a very inspirational song for me. I used to play it all the time during my journey in dealing with different personal challenges – and that’s why I really wanted to do it,” shares Miki.
Pillow Talk: Miki Sings The Classics represents the latest step in Miki Howard’s musical journey. After her work with Side Effect, she signed with Atlantic Records in 1987 and immediately experienced success with Come Share My Love. After two more best-selling albums for Atlantic, Miki cut two sets for Giant Records, Femme Fatale and the critically-acclaimed Miki Sings Billie, a tribute to Billie Holiday, one of her primary influences along with Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and other gospel-trained vocalists. Indeed, Spike Lee cast Miki in the role of Holiday for his 1992 movie Malcolm X.
Subsequent albums have included 1996’s Live Plus, the 1997 recording Can’t Count Me Out and the afore-mentioned 2001 release Three Wishes. Now comes Pillow Talk: Miki Sings The Classics and Miki notes, “I’ve been through my share of peaks and valleys, singing since I was a young teenager. I’ve spent quite a lot of the last few years raising my children. Now they’re grown and they’re all in the their twenties, pursuing careers in music –and they insist on being in music no matter what I say!” confided Miki. “When Shanachie came to me and said ‘do you want to do a record?’ the timing was great so I said, ‘Sure, let’s do it!’ I’m in a good space now and very excited about this new record. The album has given me the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do musically, by singing songs that have been favorites for so long.”
'Come Share My Love' (Billboard #5)
'Imagination' (NAACP Award)
'Baby Be Mine' (NAACP & Soul Train Awards)
'That's What Love Is' duet written and produced with Gerald LeVert
'Ain't Nothing In The World' (Billboard #1)
'Till U Come Back to Me' (American Music Award Nomination)
'Love Under New Management' (Billboard #2)
'Three Wishes' Grammy Nominated (2002)