With the release of her new studio album, “The Promise”, the birth of a new daughter and a successful Broadway career under her belt, Deborah Cox’s life stays in the fast lane.
Deborah Cox was introduced as a Clive Davis protegée in the early ’90’s and manfully sported the “next Whitney” moniker as she dutifully did the rounds supporting her debut self-titled album in 1995. Early on, though, it became apparent that unlike many a “diva in waiting” in the bling bling era ’90’s R&B music scene, Cox was cut from a different cloth. Firstly, there was no drama. Engaged and then married to her high school sweet-heart and now manager, Lascelles Stephens, she stayed out of the tacky celebrity dating circuit focusing instead on delivering three well executed albums over a seven year tenure, highlighted with the 1.7 million selling “One Wish” in 1998 featuring the hit single “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here”. Enduring the vagaries of the business during a highly competitive era her stability personally may well have contributed to the lack tabloid grabbing headlines and her thus a limited public profile. However, she was to have the last laugh. As the music industry imploded with the advent of the internet, Cox was to redefine her career in an arena where talent and talent only ensures success – Broadway. Her lengthy tenure in the lead role in Aida, kept her name, literally in lights, when many of her peers had fallen by the wayside.
Leaving the largely defunct Arista Records, Cox released “Destination Moon”, a tribute to jazz legend, Dinah Washington on her own label, Deco. Her return to contemporary R&B is 2008’s “The Promise”. A sterling collection of songs released again on Deco late last year featuring production from Jam & Lewis, The Avila Brothers, Shep Crawford, Big Jim Wright, John Legend and Devo Springsteen. One of the highlights is the meditative, somber single, “Did You Really Love Me”.
Jeff Lorez: Congratulations on baby number three (Kaila Michelle, born February 23). Are you getting any sleep?
Deborah Cox: Anything before five (pm) is a challenge but our new daughter is a great baby. She’s got into her rhythm and sleeps in regular intervals.
JL: I know how difficult it is balancing kids and a career. How do you manage?
DC: In the beginning it was tough because I have a son who’s five and a daughter who’s two and a half. As she got older it became easier because they were able to play together. I think with this third one it will be the same thing when she gets older and can play.
It’s a juggling act. It’s important to have a really good support system. My mother in law takes out months at a time to stay with us. We have a good routine going. My son is in kindergarten. My two and half year old is ready for hi-school. She’s two and a half going on seventeen!
JL: Are they aware of their mom’s career?
DC: Oh yeah, they’re aware of it. My son calls my “Mommy Cox”! They hear me singing all the time. They see me do shows, so they know. They’re not too thrilled when I have to travel. My son professes to be a songwriter himself. He’s getting around learning melodies on the piano. My husband plays so he picks up and copies what he does. Now the playing is sounding a little better.
JL: With a new album and a new baby how do you plan to do promotion?
DC: I’ll take a couple months up and slowly get back to doing shows. I’ll start doing some shows and by this summer and have a promo tour scheduled.
JL: And if that wasn’t enough you have to run your own label, too!
DC: It’s been a challenge because of the economy. A lot of retailers have shut down. The intention for this CD was to have something out sooner rather than later. I’d been working on the album for 3 years and as I was shopping the record to the majors a lot of people were dropping like flies. I said I didn’t want that to happen to me where someone signs the album and is in to it and a month later they’re gone and my album is shelved.We decided to start Deco Recording Group and we funded it ourselves and got to distribute it. It’s been selling consistently. I realize it’s going to be vitally important to get out and perform in front of the audience.
JL: But even though it’s on your own label, you managed to pull in some heavyweight producers. How’d you do it?
DC: That’s where the relationships come in handy. Most of the people I worked with are people I’ve worked with before - Jam & Lewis, Big Jim, Shep Crawford. We’re all frustrated with the way the industry is going. We decided to just go in the studio, write songs and not trip about what’s going on in the industry. Newcomers like Devo Springsteen and John Legend are people that I knew even though I hadn’t worked with them before. I met the Avila Bros through Jam & Lewis as well. The album was really ballad heavy in the beginning then towards the end of the project in Feb ’08 I wrote “Beautiful You Are” and “Down For You”.
JL: What are the main differences from being on a major and now being on your own?
DC: Not having all these departments to go through for approval. You can get a lot done more quickly. On the business end it’s very difficult when you don’t have a marketing department
JL: I don’t think there’s any denying that you were really one of the main reasons Aida was as successful as it was on Broadway. How was the experience?
DC: It was so exhilarating. It was really important for me to maintain and make an impact on Broadway. I’m the kind of artist that always wants to maintain longevity. Aidia has 16 songs, you’re on stage 95% of the time. To be able to maintain a run of a show like that is commendable. I wanted to make sure I could rise to the challenge. Before I became a musical artist I was doing musicals and acting so it wasn’t foreign to me.
I’m actually in talks to be in another Broadway show in 2010.
JL: How does Broadway and the industry of Broadway compare to the music business?
DC: Financially, you don’t get paid as much per show on Broadway! It’s very grueling and there’s a certain amount of discipline you have to have to do 8 shows per week. Thankfully I negotiated 6 shows per week but it’s still a demanding schedule. If you’re constantly out and the understudy’s got to do it, it’s not a good look. It’s very tough if you’re not trained for it. It’s a great platform for resilience. A lot of these artists, especially the new ones coming up, aren’t trained for it. I’m used to touring and singing every night and I think the newer acts are used to doing a show here or there.
JL: What are you currently listening to?
DC: Classic soul. Stevie, Aretha. I like classic stuff when I’m in creative mode so I’m not influenced by the new stuff. I can be fresh and original. I’ve been listening to a lot of Aretha actually and a lot of jazz.
JL: What events in your life, growing up, would people get a kick out of knowing about?
DC: When I was with my first band. We were 13 years old doing a church function. They asked us to play some gospel music. We did a mish-mash of the traditional gospel. When we did the contemporary gospel, they paid us $10 to get off the stage! I was devastated.
JL: What would be surprising for people to know during your years at Arista, working with Clive Davis?
DC: Just the many different discussions about how to sing a song. Coming from the school of Clive you have to go in and re-sing over and over. People would be surprised how many times I had to sing “Who Do You Love” which was the second single off my first album.I can’t even remember how many times I had to go in and sing the lead. Clive is very specific and wants a certain type of performance.
JL: Ultimately, though would the public even realize one take from another or is there a method in the madness?
DC: A bit of both. It depends on the song too. Sometimes there is a method when he wants to song to soar at a certain point. What would help in a situation like that was that if he was in the studio.
JL: Which artists living or dead would you love to meet and why?
DC: Marvin Gaye – I’d ask him what his next project would be. Dinah Washington I’d ask when her next show is and if we could do some dates together. Bob Marley I’d just want him to and play with his guitar and vibe. Then there are some non music ones too. Oprah, I’d wanna know what other goals she has and I’d also want to ask the young guy who started Facebook, where technology is going.
JL: Are you a tech head?
DC: I can get through certain things. I’m an Apple user I have my i-phone. I’m just getting on the twitter thing. All my family is on Facebook, even the ones who never thought they’d be on the computer. My husband and I have been away from our family for 15 years. We moved away from Toronto in ’93 so it’s a great way to stay connected.
JL: What made you want to decide to move to Florida?
DC: I was living on the west coast and it was brutal having to fly everywhere so much. Flying in a day early. Obviously the weather’s great in Florida. I just spend so much time on a plane. I had a show one night at this underground gay club in Miami and I didn’t get out of the club until 6 in the morning. I turned to my husband and said “You know what I could live here”. A month later we were looking for houses. It’s been 10 years now. I love the Caribbean weather here. Every time I travel I feel like I’m on vacation when I come home.
JL: How have you and your husband planned financially? A lot of artists made the mistake of thinking it would be forever and weren’t prepared for the industry downturn.
DC: We’ve been really smart with our money. We don’t squander it. We got into real estate early and even though it’s going through a tough time it’s still better than the stock market. It’s ridiculous what we’ve lost in the stock market. The deals that are happening now in Florida are unbelievable. We don’t want to get over our heads, though. A lot of the artists when I was gettin’ started aren’t around any more and they are struggling. In the early days I was in those music business books. The one by Don Passman (“This Business Of Music”). I swear by the book. It taught me so much. A lot of people are swept off their feet by the fame. They don’t think that that advance has to maintain them ‘til the next record.
A lot of my knowledge I got from bad experiences. I only have to go through a bad situation once. I’ve learned a lot through autobiographies - Patti Labelle, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner. I got so much comfort from these women’s stories. How to balance a family life, business, the ups and downs of the business. A lot of the knowledge I got and the ideas of how to stay afloat came from those autobiographies.
About the Writer
Jeff Lorez has enjoyed a long and varied career in the music business. As a journalist he has written for a slew of publications and web sites including, Blues & Soul, Billboard, Yahoo.com and the Daily Telegraph and as a music publisher he has been involved in recent chart topping hits by Alexis Jordan and Cher Lloyd.