Nicole Hart: A Marvelous Instrument
AAJ: Are there any vocalists in the blues today whose style you admire? If you were to point out what they are doing correctly, what would that be?
NH: I think Janiva Magness has an impeccable singing style. She really uses her voice beautifully, and sings with so much character and soul. See, I think she is what's new in blues music; she is a hybrid. Absolutely, she mixes soul with the blues and rhythm and blues, and she has a beautiful technique. I know the blues purists would shoot me on sight for saying this but, as much as I respect them, the fact that she is the number one female blues artist as voted by the BMAs [Blues Music Awards] two years in a row just says what time it is, if you know what I mean.
Also, I truly do appreciate Susan Tedeschi. Another hybrid, taking the best in blues and rhythm & blues and singing with a funky soul sensibility. She is a very fine vocalist. Bette LaVette, another totally terrific artist who, again, comes with a soul and R&B background. Marcia Ball...I love her! Now you are just asking me about contemporary blues vocalists, and I have just touched on a very few. I could go on but then I would just be opining for hours over here.
AAJ: As well as performing with the Shirelles, you have also performed with other big names in the recording industry. Who?
NH: I recorded a live video with Billy Joel. I was booked for the session at Sony Studios in New York City. It turned out to be a live shoot for a music video at the same time for his River of Dreams (Columbia, 1993) CD. While we were between takes, Billy wandered over to the piano and started playing classical music that I happened to be familiar with. I started naming, one-by-one, the tunes he was playing by the composersBach, Chopin, Debussy, Satie, etc. He never spoke a word, just smiled at me, and then would play another tune until I named that one, too. It was a pretty fun game.
Singing backup for Michael Bolton at the famous Red Ball at Trump Plaza in New York City was a great experience. That man has a tremendous amount of soul...much more so than you hear in his records.
Sharing the stages with Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry were both absolutely incredible experiences. Bo Diddley is a pretty frisky guy...he hit on me. And, of course, there's only one Chuck Berry. I have also worked with Harry Belafonte and Michael Monroe. I did work on a soundtrack for director Jonathan Demme. Those are some of the big names, as you put it. They were all great experiences for me.
Nicole Hart with NRG
AAJ: Outside of the blues, what other vocalists do it for you?
NH: I have very eclectic tastes: I range from listening to everything from Arethabig time, most especially Aretha Sings the Blues (Columbia, 1980)to Chaka Kahnunbelievably funky, soulful phrasing and rangeto growing up listening to Linda Ronstadtgreat tone, great tunesand Bonnie Raitt, of course.
I discovered Janis Joplin only recently in the last five years, as many people have compared me to her and are always asking me to cover her and sing her tunes in my set, which I take as quite a compliment. She is truly great, but I am definitely not trying to sound like her. Ella Fitzgerald has to be, right next to Aretha, one of my all time favorite vocalists. She had attitude and love for life with a great sense of humor, and great depth, plus great technique and she was an innovator. Between Aretha and Ella, there you have it. Desert Island Discs, along with Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia/Legacy, 1959).
Of course, I will always love Etta James. What a stylist. She slays me. I respect Sheryl Crow a lot, for her diversity and her songwriting and producing, and also for her technique vocally. She is always interesting. Shawn Colvin, a very expressive singer who uses many colors in her voice, and has deadly technique besides. Koko Taylor, though I sound nothing like her. Again, great attitude. Eva Cassidy is one of the greats, too. Do you know her? Just an unbelievably gifted artist who sang folk to gospel in a heartbeat, and I don't mean namby-pamby gospel, I mean get down, throw down, on your knees gospel.
Oh, man, and while I'm at it...Dusty Springfield. When I hear Mary J. Blige sing, my soul just gets her. Though I am not ordinarily drawn to her genre of music, there is no denying that she is truly a great female vocalist who sings from her soul and who just absolutely moves me.