Melba Moore stepped back into my life on May 28. In her sixth performance at the Metropolitan Room, Tony Award winner and four-time Grammy nominee, Moore proved it’s her time again by seducing and wowing a packed house with a multigenerational audience.
As those of us who grew up with her remember, Moore burst onto the Broadway stage in 1967, a petite body with a huge voice in the original production of Hair (in which she first played a supporting role and then took the lead away from Diane Keaton) and Purlie (the original Lutiebelle). When she belted “I Got Love” from Purlie, the intensity of her youthful version was augmented by her gratitude about the love she’s had in her life.
Old standards were delivered fresh (“Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Misty,” and “Lean on Me”). After sustaining that looong note in “Lean on Me,” Moore shimmied as she laughed and said she still has the notes; that’s an understatement, she’s got the vocal range for all the notes and the moves that bring out her passion for her repertoire.
In between songs, Moore artfully revealed some of the joyful and difficult parts of her journey. After winning a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical in 1970, Moore went on to shine as an R&B and rock artist and continued in musical theater (in 1995, she played Fantine in Les Misérables, the only African-American to have done so) as well as acting in film and television. For many years, she performed a one-woman show, I’m Still Standing.
Moore presented her repertoire with her able band – pianist and music director, Levi Barcourt; upright bassist, Leon Dorsey; drummer, Rodney Harrison Jr; and back-up singers – Clayton Bryant, Andrea Renee, and Irene Blackmon. In one number, Moore provided a live vocal to the instrumental track of one of the songs on her new album, Forever Moore (produced by George Pettus). The slight awkwardness of seeing her band idle during “It’s My Time Again” was dispelled as she conveyed a determination and joy about performing at this time in her life. Moore has great examples to follow; for one, her stepfather, jazz pianist Clement Leroy Moorman, is 100 years old and although they sometimes perform together, this time he was booked elsewhere.
Still beautiful and fit at 70 (look at her midriff!), Moore has an intense connection with the material that made every song sound new. It was no surprise that Moore got a well-deserved standing ovation. Go see her when you get a chance.
Anne Larocca is a professional writer based in California, a long time music enthusiast and occasional vocalist.
Photos by Fred R. Cohen. To see more of Fred’s photos, go to his website.
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street