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Issue 1084

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Queen Emily: Queen Bee

Queen Emily @bluesandsoul.com Photo - Tom Sheehan
Queen Emily @bluesandsoul.com Photo - Tom Sheehan Queen Emily @bluesandsoul.com Photo - Tom Sheehan Queen Emily @bluesandsoul.com Photo - Tom Sheehan Queen Emily @bluesandsoul.com Photo - Tom Sheehan

Having delivered her first solo performance at the tender age of five at her auntâs church, Houston, Texas-born-and-raised Emily David - aka Queen Emily - finally came to belated national prominence after entering the 2008 auditions for top-rated TV talent show âAmericaâs Got Talentâ. All of which - following her making it to the final and ending up fifth - has ultimately resulted in this monthâs release of her eagerly-anticipated self-titled debut album.

Released on veteran Jackson, Mississippi-based independent Malaco Records (home to the likes of Bobby Bland plus the now-sadly-deceased Johnnie Taylor and Z.Z. Hill, and today widely referred to as âThe Last Soul Companyâ), âQueen Emilyâ finds a now-40-something Ms. David recording a mix of new compositions (like the pounding âKeep Gettinâ Upâ) alongside covers of such old skool soul gems as Bill Withersâ funky âUse Meâ; Dorothy Mooreâs poignant âAngel In Your Armsâ; and Johnnie Taylorâs emotive âStill Crazyâ - all overseen A&R/production-wise by Malacoâs Tommy Couch, Jr. and Seventies Stax legend Frederick Knight.

Indeed, with Emilyâs powerfully smouldering, downhome âsoul womanâ vocals having already been compared to Seventies Southern soul sirens like Dorothy Moore and Denise LaSalle, the album (released first in the UK) represents a fitting flagship release for Malacoâs current 40 Years Of Hits Anniversary - with its instrumentation coming courtesy of the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. A collection of soul, R&B and country musicians based in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, whose line-up (including such ânameâ players as keyboardist Clayton Ivey; guitarist Jimmy Johnson; and drummer James Robertson) has over the years impressively played with such bona fide icons as Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett.

All of which leads to âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis hooking up with a spirited and bubbly Queen Emily. Who enthusiastically discusses her aforementioned new album; her time on âAmericaâs Got Talentâ; plus how her now-thriving singing career was put on hold for years while she took time out to raise two daughters as a single mother.

PETE: What primarily did you want to achieve with your debut album âQueen Emilyâ?

EMILY: âWell, I knew that there werenât too many people today singing this type of Southern soul that goes way back to the Seventies and Sixties. So I basically wanted to let people know that there ARE still some great soul singers out there and that they shouldnât forget about this type of music. Because this is exactly the kinda music I grew UP with! You know, I remember running through the apartment with my mom sitting there with her friends, listening to Aretha Franklin, Bobby Bland, Z.Z. Hill⦠So yeah, the fact that that music is now coming out again, and that Iâm the one thatâs gonna have a lot to do with it bringing it back to the forefront, is a great FEELING! I mean, I recently did the Jools Holland show in London, where there were a lotta young people in the audience. And the fact they all thoroughly enjoyed what I was singing made me realise Iâm definitely doing something right!â

PETE: The players on your album include the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section - who in the past have played with the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickettâ¦

EMILY: âWell, the whole experience for me - in terms of being able to have these guys play behind me - was just PHENOMENAL! I mean, the fact that theyâve played for Aretha Franklin and other greats like Dorothy Moore was just a great FEELING! You know, the moment Malaco decided to call these gentlemen in was the moment I knew that this project was very special! Like when I first went in the studio and opened my mouth, Clayton Ivey - the keyboardist - was like âWow! We have somebody in here that we donât have to tune up! You have RAW TALENT!â.. You know, from the off he RECOGNISED that! And, though the fact that we were going through the songs so fast at first made me wonder if he was being impatient and just wanting to get it over with, what I later realised is that it was because he had CONFIDENCE in me and knew that I could do the project! It was like he was saying âWeâre not gonna waste any time! This lady is great! Letâs just get TO it!â⦠And I really respected him for that.â

PETE: Equally interesting is the fact the albumâs A&R/producers are Malaco Recordsâ Tommy Couch, Jr. and Seventies Stax legend Frederick Knightâ¦

EMILY: âYeah, the fact that Tommy Couch specifically mentioned that I was very, very easy to work with was important to me. Because a lot of times in the studio I was tired. I was under a lotta pressure, because I was having to leave the studio and go straight to Vegas to join a show. And so we basically just did what we had to do. Then Frederick Knight also had the same attitude. You know, he was just a great guy - though we did record his songs a little differently, in that I had to sing the lines in exactly the way he told me to. So weâd do it like word-for-word, line-for-line; then weâd stop, and heâd be like âCan you sing this line right here like that?â... Which was very difficult for me. Because he was very firm and he didnât play in the studio at ALL! He just got right down to business! But in the end I learnt a lot FROM him, and his songs came out sounding great... And fact that I was standing there with the man that wrote (1979 worldwide disco smash) âRing My Bellâ - a song I grew up with and that Iâd been singing all my life - and he was writing songs for ME, was just a wonderful feeling!â

PETE: So letâs talk about your early background is the projects of Houston, Texasâ¦

EMILY: âWell, I had a great childhood! You know, though we didnât have much, my mother shielded us from a lot of the problems she was having and just allowed me and my sisters to have a great time as children. We went to the movies, we went to the swimming pool... I mean, while itâs not like that any more, when I was coming up there was a lot of LOVE in the projects - and I was very, very loved as a little girl. Like I can remember when I was in church, theyâd put me up to sing - and Iâd be so loud theyâd have to take the MIC from me! But then - after Iâd sung - somebodyâd always come, take me by the hand, and sit me down in the church like I was something very, very precious! And at the time I was like âWhy are they treating me like this? Theyâre not doing it to anybody ELSE!â⦠But looking back now I UNDERSTAND! I guess I WAS something precious!â

PETE: So when did you decide to pursue a career in music?

EMILY: âIn school, any time there was anything going on with singing, Iâd try to get INTO it. Like I was in the school choir, I entered talent contests - some I won, some I didnât... But it wasnât until 1999 - when I entered a competition in Houston, Texas and won a Sammy Davis, Jr. Award - that I began to take it very seriously as a career. You know, though a lotta people had seen it in me as a little girl, that was when I began to see it for myself and was like âWow! I must really have something special!â... And so from there I began to pursue it as much as I could.â

PETE: So how did you then becoming a single parent with two daughters change your attitude towards your musical aspirations?

EMILY: âWhile I guess I could have pursued the singing thing while they were young, who knows what would have happened to them if Iâd left them with someone else? You know, theyâd probably have been abused. So I basically just said âOK, I canât do both. My Children need a parent thatâs gonna be in their life full-timeâ⦠So I just did what I had to do as a parent, and put the singing thing on the backburner - though I never put it out of my mind. It was always in my heart.â

PETE: Your dreams of a singing career then suffered a further set-back when you also become responsible for your two nephewsâ¦

EMILY: âYeah, just when my daughters got to an age where I WAS able to get out and travel and do whatever I felt I needed to do, my sister came to visit me for a summer - and abandoned her children! You know, she just didnât come back to get them! And so I was there with these young boys who were running away, behaving badly in school, fighting⦠And so a little bell went off in my head that said âIf you wanna give these boys what you know they need, youâre gonna have to quit your JOB!â⦠So, because I had a theatre job in San Francisco at the time, I went to the supervisors, explained what was going on with my nephews, and told them I had to RESIGN! Everybody thought I was losing my mind - especially my daughters - because it was that job that had brought us out of poverty! But, because it involved staying sometimes until 12 at night and being gone all day, I knew I couldnât just leave the boys home by themselves... So I resigned - and once again my music career got put on hold!â

PETE: So what was the story behind you then entering the 2008 auditions of âAmericaâs Got Talentâ?

EMILY: âOne day I was flicking through the channels, and took a glance and was like âHmm! Look at THAT show! Thereâs no age limit; you can have any talent you want; you can go on and show people what you HAVE! One of these days Iâll go on that show!â.. So then I got up, walked off, went away and did something else⦠But then later I started to look online to find out when the auditions would be - and ended up getting me, and one of my daughters, a Greyhound Bus ticket to go to Los Angeles for them... But then all of a sudden I got CHICKEN! I was like âThis is gonna be another dead-end. Nothingâs gonna happenâ - and I just changed my mind!.. But then my youngest daughter was like âMom, do we already have the tickets?â - and when I said yes, she was like âThen weâre GOING!â!.. So, after me having encouraged my daughters all their lives, she turned it around and was the one who ended up encouraging ME to move forward, and to go on âAmericaâs Got Talentâ!â

PETE: You ended up in the final of âAmericaâs Got Talentâ and coming fifth. What was the experience like?

EMILY: âI was very emotional doing that show. For some reason, after all of the struggling and all of the trying and all of the other talent shows, I knew that that show - if I stuck with it - was gonna do something to my career that had never been done BEFORE! I just felt it all along - it was a feeling I had down deep on the inside⦠So I cried a lot, I was happy, I was full of joy⦠Because I knew that, even though it may be hard afterwards, this was âthe oneâ!.. And sure enough, thatâs how it turned OUT! It DID do something to my career that had never been done before! I got a RECORDING contract from that show!â

PETE: So how exactly did your current record deal with Jackson, Mississippi-based Malaco Records come about?

EMILY: âIt was funny, because after âAmericaâs Got Talentâ I got calls from so many entertainment people - you know, Cirque Du Soleil called; people were calling wanting me to do movies... And I think around a year after the show, Tommy Couch from Malaco Records made a call to me out of the blue saying âWe wanna record you, and we wanna give you a contract!â⦠And I was like âGet OUTTA here!â ⦠You know, they had so much confidence in me, they signed me before even MEETING me! Like I signed the contract with Malaco talking to Tommy over the phone after heâd faxed it to me in Las Vegas! Thatâs how hard they wanted to sign me to the label!.. So yeah, it was great! And while for a minute - around maybe a year ago - I thought things were moving kinda slow and I started getting a little impatient, at the same time I thought to myself âWell, they didnât sign me to the label for NOTHING! Iâll just have to be patient and WAIT!â⦠And sure enough, a year later things are definitely MOVING! Iâve been to London; Iâve been talking to a lot of great people like you⦠Plus theyâre currently trying to work it out for me to perform on the BRITISH version of âAmericaâs Got Talentâ - which would be FANTASTIC!â

The digital EP âQueen Emily Singsâ is released November 15. The album âQueen Emilyâ follows on November 22, both through Malaco Records

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Read Emrys Baird's Queen Emily review
Words PETE LEWIS

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