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Born to shine
Before the popular label “diva” became an easily acquired superlative for female singers, she was a true diva. Domiciled in Brooklyn, New York for the past 32 years, Carol Addison returned home last week to perform at I Am Woman 3, staged at Queen’s Hall on Saturday night by Class Act Promotions.
Taking time out from her hectic pre-concert activities, the celebrated songstress paid a visit to T&T Guardian for a sit-down chit chat. “I am very excited to be back home,” said Addison as she sat with her husband Phill Lewis. “I am ready for the reunion. This visit brings back so many memories.”
Reflecting on her more than three decades away from home, Addison said: “In 32 years so many things have happened. I got married, have two grown children, a boy (Harmony) and a girl (Mercedes). I will give you one of my surprises for the concert. Mercedes, who is fondly called ‘Mercy’, is going to join me on stage at the concert. She’s a very good singer.”
Like her daughter, the love of singing has been in Addison from childhood. She recalled: “From a little girl, I always used to sing. My father would tell me to shut up at times, as he wanted to sleep, and I would be singing non stop. Interestingly enough, my father used to play the guitar, and my brothers were also involved in music, so music was always around me.
“My first exposure on stage was with my big brother, Winston, at a community show in Tunapuna. He pulled me on stage from out the audience and I sang a bit of a song. After that I did the Auntie Kay contests, television shows, and Radio Trinidad’s Sunday Serenade with Sam Ghany. All of that happened before my first recording, a 45 disc featuring My Love (Paul McCartney) and Tricked and Trapped, my own composition, done by Arawak Records.
“After that, my first LP was Born to Shine, released in 1976. I remember that prime minister Dr Eric Williams attended the launch of Born to Shine, held at The Penthouse, Independence Square, Port-of-Spain. That event opened up a whole new dimension to my career as people began taking even more notice of Carol Addison. “After that, doors which weren’t open before, swung wide open. Promoters were willing to put me on stage with big international names, like Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five, Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, and Lionel Richie & The Commodores. That was in Trinidad but outside I also shared the stage with names like Chaka Khan, Phyllis Hyman, Cyndi Lauper and Patti La Belle.”
Addison has been successful at establishing a balance between her singing career and academics. She said: “When I first arrived in New York, my first focus was school and I enrolled in Syracuse University, majoring in Music and the Business of Music. I came back home after graduating for a little while, and worked at the Board of Inland Revenue. Upon my return to the States, I got married and started my family.” Addison flashes her well-known, trademark smile as she reminisced on her personal life. She revealed: “I met my husband through running track with Burnley Athletics Sports Club, out of St Augustine. I used to run 60 and 100 yards, and also did hurdles. I think I was decent at hurdles, and would usually place second or third in the sprints. This is a part of me that not many people know.
“Phill used to do track as well but it seems that he was also running his eyes on other things even back then, me. “Phill and I reconnected in New York. My brother, Hugh, was close to Phill and set us up. Instead of showing me around the Big Apple, Phill had other ideas. We’ve been married for the past 30 years and it’s been great. Our marriage encompasses all—the good, the bad, the indifferent. But, that’s what’s life is all about.” Aretha Franklin is Addison’s female singer and mentor.
“Aretha has been my idol from childhood,” she said. “Later on, I also liked Whitney Houston. I was devastated by what happened to Whitney. I even met her once, at Sweetwaters Restaurant in Manhattan.” So, outside of singing and performing, what does Carol Addison do as a hobby? “In my free time I love to experiment cooking nutritious foods, blending vegetable juices and stuff like that, and making grain breads and cakes. I love writing.
“One of the things I have observed with my life is that when music is absent I am miserable. I have gone through periods in my life where music was non-existent and during those times I’ve been miserable. I love basketball. I love Kobe Bryant and Le Bron James, and my favourite team is the New York Knicks. Carmelo Anthony and I are Syracuse alma maters, so that helps.”
Disclosing that she wasn’t a avid church-going young person, Addison said that Christmas and Easter were two occasions she definitely attended church. She said: “What is interesting though is that I always felt in touch with God, because of my mother as she was always praying. I have a very close relationship with God and, I do nothing without consulting God. I am in perpetual contact with God. Where I am right now is about living the life and being centred on where God really wants me to be. “It’s not surprising to me where God has taken me, beginning with that single Take Me Back. That song was introduced to me by Martina Cowie after she’d travelled to Australia and somebody introduced her to a new singer who she found reminded her of me. She brought the song to me, and I immediately fell in love with it, put my own spin on it, and recorded it.
The was the beginning of a whole new era of my life. That song became one of the most requested in my repertoire. I always have an encounter with God whenever I sing that song, as the lyrics are so real.” Addison thinks that her native land has changed significantly to the days of the 70s. She said: “The most striking thing to me about Trinidad is the crime rate. I feel a deep sense of sadness over what crime is doing to my beloved country. “I feel that love is missing in this country. Maybe it’s because there are so many homes without fathers? Maybe it’s because of economics? When there is love there is sharing, there is caring, and people looking out for each other. Back in the day, your neighbour always looked out for you; they corrected your children, and you could have gone out and left your home open. Now, it seems that people are just detached from each other.
“We seem to be missing love as love is synonymous with God, because God is love. Maybe that’s the price of progress. I think there’s an absence of God today in people’s lives.
“Looking in from the outside, I am also feeling a return of a divide along ethnic lines. I thought we’d overcome that many years ago, but it seems to be returning.” “On the positive side I admire the social development of the country, the advancement in educational opportunities, and there are some amazing buildings. The youth of today is so much more advanced than we were mostly because of the expanded academic opportunities available to them. “Long ago, people had to go abroad and return home to be more advanced and evolved. Now they remain here and accomplish education and skills. Some of the most brilliant minds I’ve encountered abroad have been nurtured right here in T&T.”
The last time Addison performed in Trinidad was about five years ago, on San Fernando Hill at a jazz show. Aaron Neville was the featured artiste then. She recalled: “That was a trying time for my family as Phill was suffering with colon cancer, but he still made the trip. “I am really looking forward to this show, especially to share the stage with sisters. It feels like coming back home to be with family you haven’t seen for a long time. There’s really no place like home. Denyse (Plummer) and I have always respected each other. When my career was big, Denyse was already an outstanding ballad singer. Unlike Denyse, I have never considered getting into calypso singing in a serious way. I have dabbled a bit in gospelyso and have a medley which I intend including on my next CD.”
Addison continues to expand her horizons in music and is working on her first movie which will be premiered in New York in September. She said: “The movie’s called The Pastor’s Secret, directed and produced by Emerson Saffa. The CD is being released on the same day of the premiere. Actually the movie is based on a story I wrote, based on some personal experiences I had in church, in New York. It’s a depiction of the average man who wears the priest’s collar and functions in leadership in the church. “Although a pastor leads a flock and is expected to be perfect, they’re usually not, and make lots of mistakes, just like the average person. I play the pastor’s wife who doesn’t know about his secrets until they are exposed. This is something I wrote about five years ago, and it was actually staged as a play in New York. I met Saffa and he showed interest in this piece of work. We’re looking for doors to open right now for distribution. I would love to get it to be part of the T&T Film Festival.”
Addison was scheduled to return to the US last Sunday evening.