a letter from Madeline
written for Dublin's Big Issue
Growing up in Newark, New Jersey was good for me. It was a city with a lot of singers and entertainers. I was raised by my grandmother (Gram) who had been a dancer in the famous Cotton Club in nearby New York. Our house was always filled with music and friends of my Gram would often 'drop by' to chew the fat about the old days.
I was allowed to be seen but not heard during those times. They struggled, never had money, were always underpaid, weren't treated with respect, but they all loved it. Deep inside I wanted that kind of life.
My chance came while I was a member of the Alex Bradford Singers. We arrived in Europe in June 1962. Having performed Black Nativity (BN) off-Broadway in December 1961 we'd been booked for six weeks total before returning to the USA. Thankfully, BN was a huge success and we toured Europe till August 1963 when the entire cast went back to the States. I returned to the UK to become 'an overnight success'. That took longer than I'd hoped, and I'm stilling waiting. I've paid my dues to Show Business and I think I've earned a lot of respect from my contemporaries.
Fifty years later and I am still in Europe. I have lived for short periods in great cities whilst touring. France, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain, though I resided in London for thirty seven years. This is where my solo career started in the mid sixties. London had many recording studios and I worked in most of them. Everything from backing vocals for Dusty Springfield, Joe Cocker, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, Elton John and so many others, to vocally selling Wonderfuel Gas, McDonald's (3x), among others. A song I recorded (All That Love Went To Waste) for a film (A Touch of Class) was nominated for an US Academy Award.
Being in "Blue Mink" was an enjoyable part of my life. It let me be a mini star (1969-1974) and work with the best musicians and songwriters of that time. We had 4-5 UK top twenty hits which kept us on the road till we all got tired of travelling. We'd performed on the cabaret circuit, promoted our latest releases on many European pop television shows, toured New Zealand, played the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
Over the years The Netherlands has been where I spend a huge part of my time. It was 1989 when I starred in the musical 'A Night At the Cotton Club'. As you now know the story from my early days listening to my Gram and her former colleagues, it will be no surprise when I say "I loved every day of that tour. After 500+ performances with no understudy I was very sad when it ended. I gained a new family of beautiful people. The cast were great. The producers, not so great, but to give them credit, they always paid our salaries on time.
I'm a very positive person with no patience for negativity. 'Life' really is too short. Every morning that I wake up, I am blessed. So many, too many of my friends and loved ones have gone. The Lord touches me each day. Losing my husband Barry in 2010 felt then, and now, like half of me died. I know I have changed and will never get use to living alone. Considering my lack of a high school diploma, I am extremely proud of myself and what I have accomplished. Barry was my best friend who knew me better than anyone and from whom I would take any criticism. He would be honest and tell me if and when something wasn't right. I miss that. I, unfortunately was never blessed with children. But, I have 23 god-children of various colours and religions, ranging from seven to forty five years. I held everyone of them in my arms soon after they were born. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count my wonderful friends. I know who they are, and they know I am 'there' when they call. My music hero is..Stevie Wonder. No explanation is needed. I'll just say he is a Genius. I hope anyone reading this will find my story as interesting as I believe it to be.