MINNIE Riperton's press bio reads: "The lady with the five and a half-octave coloratura soprano voice is a star". Without taking away from her talent in any way, your first impression of Minnie is that she's regular, down to earth people.
There is little to suggest the affection and phoniness that goes with being a "star" and, in fact, when you ask Minnie to speak about her career, inevitably the course will lead you back to the things that are of paramount importance in her life: her family — her husband and children, people, friends.
Sure, she'll tell you, she regards music as very much a part of her life. After all, it is her career and it's her way of communicating with the world at large. But even through that, you sense that it's the other things in life that go to making Minnie an all-round person.
Note, we said all-round person, not all-round entertainer. Entertainer she may be, but what seems to be at the centre of Minnie's life is life itself — well-rounded, not hung-up into the 'image'.
Over the last year, there has been a noticeable silence from the lady. For good reason: she's been hospitalized for some of that time after enduring a bout with cancer which she confesses "was a tough time for me and the people around me".
In fact, she was honoured by both President Carter and the American Cancer Society for her struggle in the fight against the disease with a citation as "Most Courageous Woman Of The Year" on April 4 at the White House. Minnie doesn't say too much about it but then, it's really not necessary for her to do so.
She does point out, however, that her hospitalization brought about one of the songs on her latest Epic album, "Stay In Love" (subtitled "A Romantic Fantasy Set To Music"). "Aside from my family, only Stevie (Wonder) knew what was happening with me in terms of the operations. He's always been real close to me and really sensitive.
"The result of the way we were all feeling came through in "Stick Together' because, yes, it was a hard phase for us to get through."
Minnie's original plans to record a follow-up album to "Adventures In Paradise" were obviously temporarily shelved until she was in a physical condition to go back into the studios and around the autumn of last year, she was ready.
"I'd known Freddie Perren really as an acquaintance for some time and when he saw me last year, he asked me when my next album would be coming out. Well, we started talking and after I left him, I had a thought. Why not have Freddie work with us (myself and my husband, Dick Rudolph) on the album? So we approached him with the idea and he said fine."
The trio got together and came up with the concept for the album. "Freddie and I have so much in common that it was really no problem for us to work together. We do things that are similiar and our backgrounds are also the same in certain respects: we were both trained and studied the classics and at the same time, we've both spent time out there as street people, regular people.
"I guess in a sense we've led paralleled lives in that regard. I would have to say that aside from working with Stevie, Freddie was easily the best! Sure, they have different ways of working — you have to remember that Stevie has so many people around him and they are different people.
"Freddie works to the maximum whilst still being calm, definitely very cool. And Stevie's always got people around him which can sometimes be difficult if you want to be calm and cool."
Most of the material on Minnie's new album was written by herself and her husband — with a little help from different friends in some cases.
"Basically, I guess I'm the melody maker in the team though it depends. We write together and although sometimes we put aside time specifically just to write, it depends on the situation. We worked on a couple of songs with Freddie and the song we did with Leon Ware happened in my basement! I guess I'm one of the few people with a basement in California!
"I was telling him that I wanted to do a song that would be in the vein of music from the late 30's, the 40's, in tango style. I just happened to say, 'can you feel what I'm saying' and boom! we had the song!"
Speaking about the album's subtitle, Minnie relates that she has incredible fantasies about everything — and stresses that fantasies don't always have to be sexual.
"It's like my four-your old turned round to me and said he was thinking about being in my stomach as a baby and about travelling in space. Well, we all have fantasies and when I write, I try to write simply. That way, what I'm saying won't be above people's heads.
"There is so much to write about too. Relationships, for example. You know, it's so important when two people get together that they get to know each other — in all respects. And before you can get into someone else as a person, you've got to get into yourself. Learn to like yourself, then you can like other people."
Words of wisdom indeed and Minnie has learned a great deal, by her own admission, from experience. "You have to learn to deal with people, understand them and understand that sometimes they may want you to do things for their own reasons.
"I've been lucky because basically, I've always known who I was, what I wanted, where I was going. That doesn't mean it was always easy but it helps."
Minnie credits the fact that, in her own words, "I've been blessed with good people around me. My husband, my family. We share our lives together as a unit. That's enabled me to work with my career as well as with my family.
"You see, I'm not interested in making a $100 million just to say I've got it. It's like my home: it looks like it's lived in and that's the way it's supposed to be! I was always raised that way — to deal with people and life as it is."
The lady has many plans for the future but the essential bond that ties them together is communication.
"Creativity and organization can go together and even within my own organization, we have that working. Because the energy is there and it's just a question of channeling it correctly and working with people who are compatible, because everyone isn't.
"Certainly, one of the things I have in mind for the future involves creating workshops which will give people the chance to learn about entertainment, what goes into it. There's really very little in that respect for people right now: it's just learning from experience and you can certainly avoid pitfalls if you know about them ahead of time."
Additionally, Minnie sees herself working on a movie at some point in time. "I would like it to be a real gut-level kind of movie because I find that there's still not enough realism in black movies — or in movies that deal with mixed racial situations. In fact, I may end up having to write my own script.
"The problem is simple: within the entertainment industry, you're only accepted for what you do — people seldom see you doing anything outside of that. Personally, I regard myself as a better actress than singer!"
To which all those who've heard Minnies incredible singing will find themselves more than curious to check out her acting ability!!
In conclusion, the lady states quite simply: "I'm glad for the opportunity to be able to communicate with people through whatever medium that's available, be it music, movies, whatever. It's good that I can represent young people in today's world because that's what I see myself doing.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.