Maxine Nightingale may not be a household name but her music was certainly heard on household radio. The 1976 hit “Right Back Where We Started From” propelled Nightingale to the number two spot on the Billboard top 100. She also nabbed a number five spot on the Billboard R&B charts for the soft listening “Lead me on.”
The British soul songstress has had an illustrious career in cabaret, musicals and performances with the likes of Santana, the Commodores, the Temptations and Boz Scaggs.
Metro Times: Is Detroit a special music city to play? Thelma Nightingale: Well this is my first time here. After all these years it’s really exciting. What could be more exciting than playing in Motown. It’s really exciting and let’s count it in decades—- four decades after I came to America. I came to America in ’76. I was 22 back then. I began singing at 16. So almost 50 years it took me to get to Motown. And I’m still wearing 4 inch heels! I’m getting nervous as we speak. There is a lot of talent at this show. All the divas are here.
MT: Since you were a theater performer in musicals earlier in your career, what are some differences between performing as a musician and as an actor? Nightingale: That’s a great question: I began my career in England in Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. The difference is actually really clear. Singing is an incredible joy. For me it’s like taking off and flying. But theatrics when you’re performing musicals you get to do everything. It’s a hundred times as wonderful because you sing, you talk to the audience, and you dance. I would’ve liked to have done more musicals in my career but it wasn’t to be. It’s like using all of your senses. Fabulous.
MT: A lot of Motown musicians went and continue to go to England to perform. Why do you think that a lot of Motown musicians do so? Nightingale: Well, it’s kind of like the reverse for me, right? When I first came here to America, people were surprised to hear me speak and it was English. At the same time when I was back home in England, they thought I was from the U.S. And when I was a kid in my early teens, when I first started collecting 45s or singles, in England we called them imports because they came from the U.S. I would look at all the names like Hayes and Porter, Stax and the like. I actually did a duet with Isaac Hayes before he died and I couldn’t stop remembering how incredible it was to be a young teenager remembering and I’m standing side by side with him on stage. To answer your question, here’s the process: Say you are a young girl like I was and you are looking at one of these 45s and you collect American imports like soul music. We were so interested in black American music in England that we took that music back to England and then we added that English part of it and our understanding of it. Then, it went back to America and became something slightly different. Scientifically speaking, I know this may be getting very deep, but it’s kind of like you have a thesis, an original thought. Then you meet the antithesis, which is the opposite of that thought, and it makes a synthesis or something new. It becomes a new original thing and that’s what happened on both sides of the Atlantic. Because the Americans have the same feeling for like The Beatles for instance. Both sides appreciate the antithesis. Each time it goes back and forth it creates something new. It’s probably a law of the universe. Ideas meet other ideas and blend and they have babies and those are the new ideas. Look at it like The Rolling Stones who loved Muddy Waters. They take that and absorb it and then something new comes out of it. It comes back over here, then everyone loves it here and it goes on and on and on. That’s how it is: People are in love and interested with the antithesis of the idea they were born with. That’s what I think what it is. That’s my personal theory. Religiously, what do they say? A prophet is never recognized in his own land. You have to go far away and people think you’re fabulous. When you’re at home people are not so impressed. So , when I was a kid with all the Motown and Stax records, we lived for them. It’s an honor for me, especially when I sang with Isaac Hayes. He’ll never understand that little girl from England looking at those 45s.
MT: Do you see a strong respectable female presence in today’s music industry? Nightingale: Well, I would say Beyonce. She really impresses me. I love to look at her. I love to listen to her. What I get from her is her joy. There is something so incredible about that joy that goes from the artist to the audience. It’s an electric current when everything is going well. It goes back and forth and back and forth. I can see when I watch her; she is so incredibly beautiful in that way. Every artist has a different gift that they transfer. Look at the difference between Beyonce and Miles Davis. That’s a big difference. But they both are giving certain substance to the audience. For me, my particular gift is that I am very talented in reminding people that they’re alive. I’m not the greatest singer in the world but I know when they get it. They kind of wake up and realize this is my life, I’m alive. Beyonce is obviously number one at giving people a glimpse or a share of the best a being could be. When you get a standing ovation for instance from an audience—- it is simply that you do for the audience what they wish they could do. For a minute, you aren’t going shopping, you aren’t sweeping the floor, you aren’t in a traffic jam. You are a free being that is absolutely beautiful. And everybody shares that. That’s why they jump to their feet. That’s the wonderful part of show business I think.
Check out Nightingale along with A Taste of Honey, Thelma Houston, Anita Ward, Cheryl Lynn and Marsha Wash. $26 lawn, tonight, Friday 24, at Chene Park. Show at 8:30 p.m.You should go!