Interview with Laranah Phipps Ray
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I grew up listening to music constantly. Both my Mother and my Father were jazz musicians. The first movie I ever saw was Lady Sings the Blues in 1972. I was 7 years old and I was hooked, I knew the lyrics to most of the sound track. Ms. Ross’s portrayal of Billie Holiday reminded me very much of my Mother. The following year, I was taken to NYC to see “Raisin” That theatre production opened me. If I had not gotten into music, I don’t think would be alive today.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I enjoy studying ancient history, theocracy and creation myths. I’ve always been extremely fascinated with thinking about the why and how of contrasting perspectives. My Mother was an esoteric Catholic and my Father was a Rosicrucian. As a young child, I was consistently in tune with vibrations.
How long have you been making music?
My very first instrument was a Magnus Organ, I used to sing and play “And I Love Her” with my Mother, who accompanied me on her red Fender guitar, I was about 4 or 5 years old. I joined Our Lady Queen of Angels Jr Choir the day I turned 6 years old. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had been bugging my Mother ever since I could remember about joining the choir. She and the director, Emory B. Tinley, were good friends. It was the best birthday present I have every received. At 12, I received a Yamaha piano, which my Mother said came from my Father. That same year I wrote my first three songs: “Look at the Moon”, “So All Alone” (Which I have always wanted to record and perform) and an untitled tune, which was really a premonition of my mother’s death. I’ve been writing music every since.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am a “Brick City Jazz Chick”, born, raised and initiated into the Newark Jazz Scene. My Father’s pedigree, The Phipps Family, affectionately known as “Newark’s First Family of Jazz” influenced generations of musicians and jazz lovers. I was equally influenced and prepared from childhood to continue to pursue my Phipps heritage.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
1982 Amateur Night at the Apollo, I was seventeen.
Emory B. Tinley took me to NYC for the audition. So, here’s the backdrop: From the time I was six years old, I had rehearsals every Saturday with the QA Jr Choir. 10a – 11a was always vocal warm-ups and vocal strengthening techniques, taught by Ms. Emily James, 11a -2p was Choir rehearsal, then from 2pm – 7pm was secular rehearsals for soloists, dancers and musicians, Every Sunday we sang for the 2nd Mass and afterwards we had secular rehearsal until about 5pm (Jazz, Show tunes and the popular tunes of the day) I wasn’t allowed to joined the secular sessions until I was about 8 years old. We were always rehearsing for some show, cotillion, pageant or some function of the East Coast Archdiocese. What I didn’t realize then, is that Mr. Tinley bred us to be artistically disciplined, professional and highly competitive.
I had a lot of fun doing the Apollo audition, watching the varying degrees of talent. It was at that very audition that I realized our level of performance skills and training. I gained a newfound respect and appreciation for Mr. Tinley after that whole experience. As I sat and watched the performers audition, I realized that most of them were mediocre, I mentioned to my mentor, “They just don’t cut the mustard”, a phrase that Mr. Tinley drilled into all of us, all of our lives. That was the first time I had ever said or thought it, however, it had rolled off of my tongue with ease and wisdom. Just then, a girl was called up on stage who was about my age, she was poised, scantly clad and she seemed very sophisticated to me. Her audition was good and I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I made the audition and was told to come back for the show in a few weeks. We rehearsed non-stop. The night of the show was surreal. They put us in dressing rooms across from one another, on the highest floors, with only that huge Apollo stage between us. I was calm and focused. The audience was booing acts left and right. The sirens blazing and Sandman yanking people off of the stage. It was all terrifyingly wonderful, until the stage manager came to get us. The Gods had shown me favor because they called her first. She looked beautiful and very sexy. She was from New York and she had people in the audience supporting her. They cheered when she went on. She sang a Chaka Khan song and I could tell that she was very nervous and her voice began to shake and then all of a sudden, all of those lovely people cheering for her went nuts… For me Everything seemed like it was in slow motion, They started jeering, the sirens went off and then Sandman ran her off stage. Then they introduced me, I turned to Mr. Tinley and said “I AM NOT DOING THIS” He then pushed me on stage and the band immediately started the intro. At that point it was, Lights, Camera, Action. I sang Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache” My Mother had been murdered the year before, I sank deep into the song and connected with everyone in the room. I won the Apollo that night. And I carry that moment with me every single day of my life. The Saying is absolutely true, “If you can make it at the Apollo, you can make it anywhere”
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I don’t have a favorite venue, I have a special affinity for New Orleans and I love intimate settings best. I want to play Carnegie Hall and I want to do a Blue Note Tour
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Mariam Makeba, Stevie Wonder, Sarah Vaughn, Alice Babbs and Michael Jackson
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
To someone just coming into the business I would say “Study Music”, Have a set practice schedule and train like your life depends on it because it does. Learn to swim with the sharks without becoming fish food. Have a back up plan. Eat healthy, Stay away from All drugs. Don’t sleep with anyone in the business. Keep your day job.
To my younger self I would say (and I do on occasion) Grind harder, Keep your eye on the prize. Make friends. You are not alone. Yes, You are a Jazz Artist, and you are also Funk and Soul.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
For me, that is an impossible question to answer. My songs are another aspect of my children. When the song is young you have to give it your undivided attention, but once it grows, your relationship blossoms and changes depending on the circumstance.
Which songs are your favorite to sing and which get requested the most?
My favorite songs change as swiftly as the seasons do. I especially enjoy a beautifully written modal minor balled filled with intriguing lyrics and haunting melodies. The kind that lingers, long past the moment. Usually someone me to sing and old jazz classic, which always warms my heart.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
If I am working on someone else’s project which requires me to write lyrics, I listen to the music hundreds of times. I need to understand the writer’s intent for the piece. What were they thinking, feeling. Who was the person, where was the place, what was the thing? I interject what their music is saying to me and how it is making me feel and then the lyrics start to reveal themselves and I write them down. When I am writing my own music, sometimes a feeling comes over me and the chords and lyrics start flowing out of me. If it is something from outside of me, I play on piano, or hum until it takes form or it starts to consume me. Once I have the foundation. I can, re-write, edit and or compose which can take hours, weeks or months to complete. I take it in the studio and do a work tape and listen and edit until I am satisfied. Sometimes, I have to figure out which musician I want to give it, so they can write an arrangement or a chart for musicians to record.
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
My music is about being in harmony with the Universe: Give, Live and Love with every ounce of your being. Fight injustice with every breath you take. Tap into Creation and Evolve. Allow my sensuality to take you upward and onward. I am not a Rib! I am Woman, Divine Femininity. Love is Always the answer. Voice and Music fueled with Love are aspects of the Universal language of Creation and is with the imbued with Authority to heal.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I intend to increase my catalog by continuing to write and collaborate with other artists. I want to reinterpret some of the great Jazz and Soul Classics. I am looking forward to touring with my band La Funkalicious. In addition, I am also touring Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts with a full band, vocal ensemble and dancers.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
I invite you to come visit my website, a Star Gate to everything connected to Laranah Phipps Ray. There you will have access to all of my social media platforms www.Laranahphippsray.com