From Stevie To Michael To Prince, Marva King is an unsung hero of the session world. She tells Justin Kantor her fascinating story...
Justin Kantor: This is Justin Kantor of Soulmusic.com and I’m speaking today with Miss Marva King, one of the biggest names in the music industry that you might not have heard yet. Miss King has been working hard in all aspects of the biz, from the stage with Tyler Perry to recording sessions with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince, and finally writing and recording her own unique brand of beautiful funky soul. How are you today, Marva?
Marva King: I’m doing great! How about yourself?
JK: I’m doing pretty well. I’m glad that we finally caught up.
MK: So am I! (laughs)
JK: After a few technical mishaps, it’s all good.
MK: It’s all good. We’re here now.
JK: Let’s take it back just a little bit, to give listeners an idea of where you’ve been, because you have done a lot of stuff over the years. Was there every any question that music was what you wanted to do as a profession?
MK: No, because I was in it for so long. Like I said, everything around me was pretty much music. I already knew that’s what I wanted to do. By 10, I remember saying that I’m going to meet Michael Jackson, I’m going to be around Stevie Wonder, and my cousin is like, “Yeah, okay”. I said that to her. As a matter of fact, I bet her. I said, “I’ll bet you $10,000 I’m going to be writing with all of them. I’m going to be friends with them.” She said, “okay.” Six years later, I was packing up in Michigan, and heading down to California. Stevie was my first job.
JK: Tell me, how did he come into your life?
MK: I was reading a story about Deniece Williams talking about her experience, how she ended up getting with Stevie Wonder, and I was sitting there, poor broke and lonely in my single apartment in Los Angeles saying, “Man, if I could be so lucky.” I kid you not, it was not even 3 weeks later, I was in a competition-type show and this person recorded it on a cassette, and it ended up in Stevie’s hands. It was crazy. I got called to audition for him, and he hired me that night. Wow.
JK: That’s a once in a lifetime thing.
MK: It really is. It was awesome.
JK: Did you go on the road with him?
MK: Of course, and studio. We started in the studio. As a matter of fact, the first song that I ever recorded in my life, in a professional studio was “Let’s Get Serious” on Jermaine Jackson’s album, in the background. That was my first recording ever, professionally. I had been to a couple of little studios before I left Michigan, but this was really exciting. After that, Stevie would have us rehearsing, and then we went on a tour, 2 or 3 months later, we did a small tour that only lasted for a couple of weeks, but it was so great, because I did the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, and oh my god, it was great. We performed in front of a live orchestra, so it was really great.
JK: That’s sounds like an incredible show.
MK: Oh yeah, it was Stevie Wonder, and then he enhanced it with the orchestra that travelled with us. It was crazy.
JK: So no joking, none of that easy stuff that people sometimes get away with these days.
MK: Oh, no.
JK: I guess that lead to a lot of other session work for you, because you popped up on a lot of records that I love from that time period, such as ‘Love Will Conquer All’ by Lionel Richie, ‘Just Because’ by Anita Baker, records with Diana Ross, Phil Collins, so did it all stem from that initial experience with Stevie, or was there a certain method you had to the madness, with getting all those gigs?
MK: Well, it’s funny, people always ask me, “Do you have a management or an agent?” and I say, “No, I don’t have a manager.” I’ve had some theatrical agents, but I’ve never had a manager. It’s crazy how this all worked out, but for me, working with Stevie of course gave me some credentials, and then I had a solo project. I also met some of the bigger session ladies that had been around for years. They used to tell me the Ike Turner stories and the Ray Charles stories. It was great. I got a lot of good mentoring. They would take me around on the session set, and from there, the producers would refer me to other people like Maurice White from Earth, Wind & Fire referred me to Lionel Richie, and that’s how I did ‘Love Will Conquer All’ with Lionel Richie, because Maurice said, “You’ve got to use Marva”. It’s crazy, because one referral, it was word of mouth referrals, and I ended up doing a lot of projects and it just kept going on and on.
JK: You mentioned the solo project ‘Feels Right’. How did that come about, signing with Planet Records and working with Richard Perry?
MK: I had been with Stevie not even a year, and as a matter for fact, that first tour we went on, which was 3 months later, after I joined with him, there was a saxophonist that was also a producer, and his name was Trevor Lawrence. Trevor heard me on the road, because Stevie featured me on a song, and Trevor said, “Have you ever thought about doing a record?” and I said, “Of course!” so he introduced me to Richard. He was actually part of the production team with Richard Perry, and so he introduced me to him, and wow! When I met Richard, he said, “You’re exactly what we’re looking for.” I was offered a deal, and of course Stevie wasn’t too happy with me.
JK: So, you had to go off the road with him then to complete that project?
MK: Well, it was just abrupt in his mind, because I hadn’t even been with him long. I had been with him about 9 months. I think he had made plans for me to be there for a little while. As a matter of fact, he was recording with me, but I know for Stevie, it takes forever to get around, so I said, “I don’t know when this is going to happen.” I was the one who he wrote this song for me and I recorded it. “Looking in my mirror. Took me by surprise” (singing).
JK: Oh wow! ‘I Can’t Help It.’
MK: Yes, he wrote that for me. He wrote 2 songs for me that were absolutely beautiful. The other one, I’ve never heard that one, but after I left, he gave it to Michael. “Ask Stevie if he’ll give you that song” but he didn’t, he gave it to Michael. I’m glad, still, that he wrote it for me. I can still say that.
JK: Timing is everything. You have your pockets on the line and you have that opportunity. I imagine one of the other things that might have got their attention was a project you did called Madagascar, with Gerald Albright and the guys, which had a soul and jazz/funk fusion thing going on. Was that something that was just something that happened by coincidence? You ended up singing 4 songs on that album, or what was the deal with that one?
MK: Actually, the person who put the gig together was John Barnes, and he actually was a musician on my project. He used to work for Richard Perry quite often. He did a lot of stuff on The Pointer Sisters, he’d do these crazy keyboard solos and I’d get so excited. They have him in the video and everything. He was the keyboardist that would come in and play on my project, my Feels Right album, and he asked me to come and perform with their group, and as a matter of fact, he was instrumental in talking me into leaving Elektra, and I was briefly signed Clive Davis at Arista. Clive put one record out with me and this guy named Chuck Cissel and we had a duet.
JK: I can’t remember the name of it now. Was it ‘If I Had A Chance’?
MK: ‘If I Had A Chance’, yes that’s what it was called. It charted, and it actually did pretty well. He put together a whole plan to have me produced. I had met with Luther Vandross, he wanted Luther to produce, he wanted Ray Parker to produce, and then he said, “I want this guy named Prince to produce you”. Well, the person who brought me there was John Barnes, and his attorney said, “If he doesn’t produce, then she doesn’t have a record? so I kind of lost my deal. That was not a good thing.
JK: It’s interesting, all the stories from artists that I hear, about record deals gone bad, so I’m glad that you’re doing your own thing now and finding new ways to do it, because you’re able to get your product out a lot quicker, and do your own thing. Tell me about your association with Michael Jackson, because somewhere in there, you recorded with him on the Bad album. How did that come about, and what was that association like for you?
MK: Well, it’s funny. Of course I met Jermaine first, then I ended up meeting Marlon, and I worked with Marlon Jackson in New York on this artist named Betty Wright; he produced her record. From there, I ended up meeting their entire family, all of them. I would go and do sessions sometimes for Tito, and Jackie, and as a vocalist, they were just passing me around. “You gotta use Marva!” “No, I want to use Marva!” It was fun! I got to work with all the Jacksons! Then, I met Michael. One day I was invited to the studio and I met Michael. I was like, “Oh my God! I’m here with Michael Jackson!” and then my childhood thoughts and dreams just went through my head and Michael was admiring this beautiful waist top that I had. It had so many different panels of lace and he said, “It’s so beautiful!” He kept walking around me, and I froze! I couldn’t even talk. I think I’m star struck! I did pretty good until I got to him, because I had a crush on him as a kid.
Oh my goodness, I’m like, “Michael Jackson is admiring me!” It’s so funny. We ended up getting to know each other. It took a while, because he had a lot of security and stuff, like, “What does she want?” and “Why is she really around?” You know, they watched me for a while. They studied me religiously, but then they learned, “Okay, she’s not so crazy and she doesn’t have any other motive, except she wants to work and she’s friends with Michael.” Michael ended up taking to me, so I ended up becoming one of his playmates. We had too much fun! We were two young adults that were real childish, but we had so much fun! I would travel with him sometimes, and we would torture the press, we would hide and do things (laughs) and just have a lot of fun.
He wanted me to sing on some records, and I ended up doing the song “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” that he did with Siedah Garrett. Well, Michael put me on the record, I recorded that, and I was so excited, and I came back to the studio 3 days later and Quincy had taken it off and put Siedah on there.
JK: So you had done the lead part originally?
MK: Yes. So, I just ended up being in some of the background.
JK: So, you were on the backgrounds on the record, right?
MK: Right. We did backgrounds. Because it was such a political situation going on at that time, some kind of way I wasn’t listed. Stuff happened with me on a few projects like Whitney Houston, her first record, I did several songs on there, but my name did not appear. That hurt.
JK: Why do you think the reason was for that?
MK: I know why, because the group of people that worked on a regular basis and still does, see here’s how you work: it’s credit. When you become a backup singer, or an artist that works on big mega-products, then people read the credits and of course you just get automatic calls for a lot of work. So, these were all family members, and actually they were told to replace one family member, so I was brought in to sing, but that person’s name still appeared on the record, instead of mine. I was really upset. I was like, “Oh My God! You’re kidding!” and of course the record went through the roof.
JK: Do you recall which songs you sang on, on that first album of Whitney’?
MK: Oh yeah! ‘Saving All My Love For You’, and name some of the records that were singles.
JK: Well, she had ‘Greatest Love of All’.
MK: I sang on ‘Greatest Love of All’, I didn’t sing on ‘You Give Good Love’. That was recorded in New York by LaLa. I would have to hear the rest of them, but those 2 were singles, I remember because those were 2 that I sang on, and I sang on 1 or 2 more, but unless I heard them, I couldn’t tell you the names of them.
JK: I guess that’s something that maybe goes on a fair amount, or at least back then, like you were saying, when people replace someone else and they just kept the original credit on with no mercy for the real person. Did you get paid for it?
MK: Oh, of course. I got paid for it, but I didn’t get the credit. That’s most unfortunate, because like I said, that’s how you get other work, and it was painful, but it was already after the fact when I found out, and they’re not going to go reprint any covers for the backup vocalist. (laughs)
JK: On the solo front, you did have your first taste of success, well I guess with Chuck Cissel was successful, but you had one on your own, with actually the song that got us in touch, which was ‘Back Up’, that you did with John Barnes I believe. You produced that with him, and it pretty much made the Top 40 R&B for you, so how did that project come about with Tri-World Records?
MK: I found out 5 months later why Clive didn’t proceed with my project, and I think they felt kind of bad, so I think they got with some other really big promotion guys in the industry at that time, and they put together the label Tri-World, which was supposed to be all of our labels collectively. I recorded that song, and it was crazy. They put it out, myself and another lady, Jocelyn Brown and Steve Arrington, who played in the group Slave. Okay, they put myself, Jocelyn and Steve out at the same time, and at that time, they used to just throw things against the wall and see what sticks, and ‘Back Up’ took off! It went crazy, and it would have been probably a #1 Record. I remember looking on BET and I saw my face, and it says “Marva King has a hit” and I said, “Yeah! Oh my God! Look what’s happening here!” The problem was, because they were not expecting the record to take off, there were no records pressed, and when you’re on the Billboard charts, the only way for you to pass the 40’s is if you have records in the stores and they’re selling, because everything from there is sales, up to the #1 spot.
JK: So it was going on the strength of airplay?
MK: It was called a turntable hit. That’s when I learned that name. So, it was playing on all the radio stations across the country, but there were no records in the stores for people to purchase, so it kind of killed the record, and I was devastated.
JK: It was a really solid track. I didn’t hear it until after the fact, but when I heard it, I thought, “This has got that magic that at that time, made a good R&B hit.” In other words, that label just wasn’t equipped to do the distribution and the promotion and all that?
MK: Right. I had some of the greatest people working on it, except for one area, and the person admitted to it. He said, “I am so sorry. I didn’t know this record was going to take off.” He didn’t have any pressed in time.
JK: I guess in your usual form, you bounced back really quickly, and you started doing more production work, because I read in your bio that you attained your first production position at a record label, with Sony around that time.
MK: Yes, it was around that time, as a matter of fact. Randy Jackson was actually doing a solo project on Philip Bailey from Earth, Wind & Fire, and he asked me, because he had me do some work on this group called Five Star, another guy called Kiddo, and then Philip Bailey, so Randy gave me my first job, and he said, “ I believe in you. I know you can do it.” I had already done a lot of production, because everything that I wrote, of course I was doing production, I just didn’t know it was called production. I quickly jumped on that opportunity and then from there, I got more into it. At that time, I was doing more vocal production and I would just tell them some of the arrangements I had for some music, but from there, I got further into cutting tracks. MP3’s came out, and I got a lot of training. Nobody wanted to show me how to use it, they were like, “you won’t need us!” but there was one great songwriter and musician who came through and said, “Marva, I’ll show you how” and from that day forward, I started cutting tracks.
JK: Who was that, that helped you?
MK: His name was Jeff Byrd. Actually, Jeff Byrd co-wrote ‘Piece of Love’ on Lionel Richie’s record with me.
JK: Was that the comeback album that Lionel Richie did?
MK: Yes, that was his comeback.
JK: Were you credited for your production with those acts like Five Star and Philip Bailey?
MK: Oh yeah, I was credited.
JK: Were you credited as a vocal producer or as an actual producer?
MK: As a co-producer.
JK: Were there any songs that you remember specifically producing for those acts?
MK: Oh yeah. There was a song called ‘Right Over’ that I did for Five Star.
JK: I like that song! That’s on their ‘Shine’ album. I really like that one.
MK: And then, I wrote ‘Shine’.
JK: I really liked that album. I know it didn’t really take off for them here, but those were some great songs.
MK: Thank you!
JK: Shortly after that, you made one of your big career moves, which was singing with Prince, both on the road, and on his ‘New Power Soul’ album. Was that just through networking or fate, or what brought you to Prince?
MK: I’d have to say that was fate, because I was absent from Stevie as a vocalist for about 10 years, and in ’97, we were sort of on hiatus, but he had a big birthday party as he does usually every year, and I went to the party reluctantly, only because I was exhausted, but I went anyway, and I’m so glad I did, because there were 6 vocalists that he worked with sometime in the past, one gentleman and 5 lades, and all the men were like, “Wow! Look at all these ladies on the stage with Stevie!” and Stevie said, “I want to write a song” and everybody cheered. He called a couple of people, and they were like, “Nope! I’m not gonna write with him.” It was a huge party. Then he said, “I know who will do it. Come here, Marva!” So I went up to the front, and I started writing with him. I couldn’t tell you to this day what it was, I know somebody recorded it, but we made some song on the stage, and he featured me, and it was weird, because this man who had bumped into me as I was coming into the party, I thought, “How rude” and then I looked, and it was Prince. I know now, knowing him, he did it on purpose to get my attention, because he’s not a rude person, he’s very much a gentleman. It’s funny, because I didn’t see him anymore, but when I got offstage, these two big bodyguards came up and said, “My boss wants to talk to you.” I said, “Who is your boss?” and he said, “The Artist.” I said, “What artist?” He said, “The Artist”. I said, “What’s the artist’s name?” and he said, “The Artist” (laughs). It was hilarious. Then he said, “The Artist formerly known as Prince” and I said, “Okay.” So, it was weird, because I wasn’t being facetious. I was like, “What artist? Why does he want to speak to me?” Actually, by the end of that week, I was in Minnesota, recording. He tested me to see how many songs I could do. He gave me 11 songs, and he went and played with his band somewhere, they did a jam session, and he came back and I had recorded like 6 of them. He said, “Oh my God! You did 6 songs!”
JK: So, he was impressed with your stamina.
MK: I think so, and just the fact that I had completed lead and background on 6 of those songs that fast. He was like, “Oh my God” so of course I started working with him.
JK: You’ve said that was the hardest you’ve ever worked in your life, the time that you spent with Prince. Tell me specifically, what about it was so challenging.
MK: Well, the first thing is that some of his crew that worked with him, they actually thought he was an alien. They honestly did not believe he was human, because he can work so hard. Man, he has stamina, like I’ve never seen in any human being. He worked almost round the clock, so everybody was saying, “He doesn’t sleep, he doesn’t eat” well, he does. He sleeps and he eats, but he can endure like I haven’t seen anybody, and I have yet to meet the person who can rival Prince. That’s just how he is. He has a drive for life, and he used to always say, “You sleep when you’re dead.” I guess! I just don’t want to get there too quick! But, we worked hard, and he was very excited, so I started going out and hanging out with him on the road, and he said, “Why don’t you be in New Power Generation?” I said, “Well, okay.” I joined the group and went out, because at that time I was working with so many people, I was all over the place. I was working with the Isleys, I was recording with Lionel Richie, I was still recording with Stevie, and then threw him into the whole mix, and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m all over the place!” I was working with Jeffrey Osbourne too at that time.
JK: Were you touring with all these people?
MK: Yes, I was touring. With Lionel, I was actually recording though. Prince said, “I can do this. I do this on a big scale. Why don’t you come and work with me? What do you think is really going on here?” I was like, “I know you’re Prince!” It was so funny. I said, “Okay, I’ll work with you. I’ll try it out.” I had fun! I mean, we travelled, and I had never seen audiences like I had seen with Prince. Oh my gosh! Of course, I’ve worked with a lot of great people, but my goodness! I said, “What kind of fan base does he have?” It was such loyalty, such excitement, and I’ve never seen an audience so thrilled. I’ve never seen anything like that.
JK: Just like he does with his music, the audiences were devoted like that, I guess.
MK: It was crazy! It was deafening, actually.
JK: So you were worried about hearing your own notes coming out, then.
MK: Oh, I was worried about hearing anything, once I got off the stage, but it was so great, and I was so excited. At that time, he gave me a setup where I could do percussion, and then I sang, and he featured me as a dancer. He said, “We don’t have anybody that can just do one thing here. We can’t have just singers” and I said, “I’m up for the challenge. Let’s go!” It was great. I stayed up there with him for a couple of years. I was more tired than I had ever been in my life, and one day melted into the other, for 2 years.
JK: It took you a lot to recover from that.
MK: Yes. It took me about 3 months.
JK: What was the main thing that you took form that experience, moving into the future after that?
MK: The main thing I took was that hard work does pay off. I also learned from him that if you have ideas and have your own concept about things, do it, believe in yourself and go forward, and don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done, because that’s how he is. No one can tell him it cannot be done. He doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, he’ll go for it, and if somebody else doesn’t want to help him, he’ll go and try to make it himself. I learned that, because I used to think like the people who would say, “No, Marva, No.” You have your own ideas, but he encouraged your own ideas, and that kind of drove me even more in that area, which is probably the reason I got more into production. I thought, “I’m going to make my own things happen” and I see what he’s saying, and that encouraged me to do independent. People wanted me to try to go to major labels again, and I’m not 100% opposed, but I said, “Let me go and do it my way, because I’ve been told what to do every time I’ve signed with a major, and I just want to get my own thoughts and my own ideas and visions out there, my own image of what I put out there, and I’ve done that. I learned that.
JK: That’s the way it should be I think, but I think it’s really hard to see it through, with external influences coming at you to do things another way. You did make a big transition when you went to the stage with Tyler Perry in ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’. Was that a positive intention you had, “I’m going into this realm of the entertainment business now” or was it another way that it came about?
MK: I had no intentions of ever doing any theatre; that was just not in my mind, to be honest with you. I had already done stuff in the acting world on television in small parts, for sitcoms and commercials and things of that sort, and I used to write music for television as well as for film. I used to work with Stanley Clarke on film, and another gentleman named Kurt Farquhar, who was very big. He writes for many of the black sitcoms, he writes music for them still today in those areas, but that was as much as I had planned to do at that time, but one person who used to work for Prince on the road, I ran into him in Las Vegas Airport, and he said, “There is a project for you” but he couldn’t talk about it, because he had to run and I had to run, but he said, “please call me” so I called him. When he told me what it was, I said, “I don’t think so”, but he told these people about me, and for 2 or 3 weeks, I wouldn’t even take their call. When I finally did, he talked me into going down to Atlanta, and the role was there for me. There were other people that wanted the role, and it was originally written for this artist called Millie Jackson. She was supposed to be the Mad Black Woman, in fact her role was more like Madea. She was more like the Madea. She declined the part. They had already done one production and she declined, so they were desperate for another person to replace, so they made me the wife to the husband who was an abusive person, so I’m supposed to be the Mad Black Woman, but it’s not me. Madea, that was the Mad Black Woman.
JK: Your character had a lot of sass.
MK: Yes, she has a lot of sass. I gave her a little sass (laughs). I was supposed to be the abused woman, but I thought, “Come on. I’ve got to get a little something in there” so all the comedic stuff that you saw me do, I created all those lines. I just kind of threw those in there. Those were improv. The audience loved it.
JK: It was written as more of an innocent role, but you spiced it up and gave her a little bit of defiance.
MK: I had to give her a little! Come on! Man, that’s unrealistic. A black woman is not going to take that much abuse. (laughs).
JK: So, it was all about the real.
JK: You put out the ‘Soul Sistah album after that, and I guess there was a difference in the direction from the Light of Day album. It seemed to me that with ‘Light of Day’, you had more of that hip hop edge to it, or maybe a little bit of reggae, but with ‘Soul Sistah’, you took it back to a pure soul and funk kind of vibe. Was that a result of one of the labels in the UK pursuing you? It was Expansion, right?
MK: I approached Expansion after I had already recorded the CD. I had it done, when I met this gentleman from Amsterdam, who had the Soul of Amsterdam and he’d been following me for years, and he said, “Oh my God, why don’t you let me hear a couple of your things” and I sent him a couple of tracks and he loved them! I said, “Oh cool!” and he said, “How about you let me have a copy of the project”, and I sent it to him and he loved it. He said, “This is the Marva King that the Europeans know about.” So, that was the influence of that one investor I was telling you about. He said, “We’ve bootlegged Marva King” and all that. He said, “Be Soulful Marva King” and I did that, so that’s how I ended up recording Soul Sistah. He played it for a few labels over there, and Expansion said, “we would love to have your project” and that’s how it ended up. It was supposed to be released in the UK only, but it ended up all over the world. It helped, in a strange way helped, because that wasn’t the plan, I had plans of my own, but it ended up helping a lot. Even over in Asian countries, like Japan, Korea and China. I got emails, are you kidding me? I got stacks and stacks of emails from everywhere!
JK: One surprise after another.
MK: Oh yeah, everywhere, Africa, everywhere.
JK: So it was very far-reaching.
MK: Yeah, it was.
JK: Some of those songs ended up on the Grown & Sexy project, right?
MK: Yes. Sistah is one that, until that record is actually magnified to the degree it deserves, I’m just going to keep putting it on every project, because it’s such a great song for women, young women, older women, it’s such a powerful song, and it’s positive, and it reflects the foundation and the basis of who Marva King really is. That one, and also I did another version of ‘Big Ups’, which is another song that I am very proud of. It’s talking about other artists, and everybody should really do what they do best at their ability, not be a clone, do like you are, as they say, do you. I really focused on that with that particular song, so that was another one that carried over.
JK: Sistah was the first one I was going to ask you about. What inspired that song?
MK: You know who inspired me, was Jill Scott. I love Jill Scott. I love her positivity and her whole aura, her whole energy that she exudes, and just listening to her, listening to her projects, and I just think that’s the kind of energy I gravitate towards, it’s positive and confident, and I want to say good things to encourage everybody, not just women, and that’s how she is. I said I’m going to write a song that encouraging, and empowering, and that’s how I came up with ‘Sistah’. I told one person that I’d been working with for 15 years, named Lloyd Tolbert, my Pro Tools engineer, I named his studio the Toll House, because his last name is Tolbert, and I credit it on my CD too, but I told Lloyd, I said, “Why don’t you come up with a track that gives you the whole vibe, of that jazzy soul” He did. He started it, and I finished the end of the track, the extended outro, and he had created the initial part and I just wrote it in about 5 minutes. I was inspired, I guess!
JK: Do you find that a lot of times, the best ones come quickly like that?
MK: The ones that seem to affect most people, yes they usually do. I’ll either dream them, or they’ll just come to my head really fast.
JK: What about ‘The Flesh’? That was one that I really like a lot.
MK: Oh yes, ‘The Flesh’, which I did a little more of a House-vibe on. That was a track that he had initially presented to me, and me having my own ideas about things, I went and re-did the track. It’s actually talking about love beneath the flesh. It’s how people go, “Woo-hoo! Sexy Sexy!” but that’s not what it’s really about at all. Let’s dig deeper than the flesh, because we all can be attracted to the flesh, but it’s what’s inside us and other people that appeals to people, and really and genuinely it’s everything that we are; everything beneath the flesh.
JK: I got that out of it when I listened to it.
MK: Okay. You’re a careful listener then, because most people don’t get that.
JK: I think on the surface, maybe at first, that was probably how it struck me, but then you’ve got to do a little bit of inferring when you listen to it.
MK: I’m singing it very sensually, so I’m being a bit deceptive, because I’m singing very sensually, and people hear they’ve drawn a hand, and drawn a flush. That’s all they hear.
JK: Tell me about ‘Afro’, because that’s one that’s done really well for you, that I think you did specifically for the ‘Grown & Sexy’ project, right?
JK: What inspired that, because it was a different turn for you as far as the lyrical. How did you decide to do that, and what had you hoped to convey with that one?
MK: When I worked with Prince the second go-around, which was from ’07 up until last year, actually I put on this afro wig and went to his show in Vegas, and he saw me, because I had a bad hair day, and he saw me and just came out in the audience and just freaked out like, “Oh My God, look at Marva with the afro.” He said, “You know you’ve got to come back and work with me now” and I was like, “What?” and he said, “You’ve got to. You’ve got to.” So I ended up going back out with him, and we went over to Europe. The lyrical content of course, I’m talking about my afro, the history of afros, and how people embrace afros. Since I had to wear it, I told Prince, “Guess what? Since you made me wear an afro, I just wrote a song about it.”
JK: The inspiration comes about through coincidence sometimes. Since ‘Grown & Sexy’ has been so successful and I’m sure there are more people that would like to hear it, is it strictly a download release, or where can people find it?
MK: Here’s where they can find it: of course, downloads. It’s on so many stores, about 15 stores online, of course the typical Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody, iTunes. It’s on many, many stores. You’d have to go out there and look. Some of them, I didn’t even know about myself. Our online distributor set them up and it worked. He did a lot of work for me, or kept me from doing a lot of work, I should say. Having a distribution company takes a lot of the burden off you; you can be free to be creative. Usually, I’m in there, nose to the grindstone, working everything myself on the computers and the phones, and it’s tough.
JK: Hard lining.
MK: Hard lining, yes. It’s been years of me doing that, so I lifted the burden, and I’m going to get more in the creative area. I’m actually starting to write for different people now. I’ve been asked to write for Kool & The Gang and a few other projects are coming out. Some of them are new, so I’m actually focused more on that now, instead of always being an executive everyday. So, they can find it online, but there’s also some FYE stores. There’s a lot of FYE stores that are closing down now, but I have a deal with FYE, where they are selling the ‘Grown & Sexy’ CD.
JK: Is it on their website as well?
MK: I don’t know if it necessarily says it on the website, because I didn’t sell it online with FYE, I put it in the actual store. If someone is in a particular location, they can just call and ask if they have Grown & Sexy by Marva King. Also on the West Coast, they have Amoeba, so I’m also in Amoeba, which is an incredibly great place.
JK: I lived in LA for a year, and I went there every week.
MK: You know what I’m talking about. (laughs). I love Amoeba! They are so indie artist-friendly.
JK: What are you working on right now?
MK: Besides getting ready for the release of an upcoming EP called ‘The One’, which is coming out February 9th, I’ve been doing some shows, and I’m planning even more here on the West Coast as well as on the East Coast and some parts of the South, mostly the Southeast. I’m also in the studio, trying to grind out that next project, so I’m doing that, and I’m having a lot of fun, actually. It’s good, because I’m really trying to grow in my areas of production and things like that, so it’s some pretty exciting stuff that’s coming up; some really soulful funky stuff. I just recently had a relationship breakup, so there’s something emotional that almost puts me in the mood of Sade. Sade can sing a sad song like nobody, and I couldn’t believe I was singing a sad song, but it’s pretty!
JK: So, there’s some good that came out of it, in terms of inspiration for your music.
MK: Yes, it’s a very sweet song, but I would call it an emotional song, probably a tearjerker for some.
JK: You mentioned The One, and I saw that you have that for sale right now on CD Baby.
MK: Yes, it’s already up on CD Baby and iTunes, but the official release is February 9th, so it will be in some of the retail stores, Walmart and things like that.
JK: So you’re taking it to the next level.
MK: Yes, and radio. I actually have a company, I’ve been putting my projects out independently for the last 6 years! It’s 2010 now, so since ’04, I’ve been doing that, but now I have an actual company who is taking over The One project. I’m doing a on-off with them.
JK: What is the company?
MK: It’s called Thompkins Media Entertainment.
JK: Have they worked with anyone else that the listeners might know of?
MK: They’re in Houston, Texas and the executive used to be a Sony executive, the CEO I should say, used to be a Sony executive, and he’s put out a lot of the Southern Rap/R&B and even Gospel. If you look up Thompkins Media Entertainment, you’ll see that they have a roster of independent labels like myself that they are co-partnering with, and then they signed some acts to their company.
JK: Are they mostly taking care of the distribution aspect?
MK: They’re taking care of the media aspect, they’re taking care of marketing and promotion, and then they acquired some publicists, so they’re dealing with the media aspect as well, and they have acquired another distribution company.
JK: So they cover a lot of bases for you, which makes your workload a little easier?
JK: Well, I really thank you for taking the time and talking with me, because it’s been really educational for me, and a thrill after enjoying so much of your music. Thank you Marva, so much.
MK: Thank you, Justin!
About the Writer
Justin Kantor is a freelance music journalist with published works in Wax Poetics and the All-Music Guide. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Business and Management program, he regularly writes liner notes for reissue labels.