Liz McComb
 
 

I had no idea that my life would take me from my childhood home and church to an international life of singing and music . I've been singing for as long as I can remember. Singing along with Mahalia Jackson records at home and using the broom for a microphone. I even remember my first solo … 'Do You Know Him'…maybe I was 3 or 4 years old , but being so little and having a big voice made a big impact on the church crowd.

My church was a small neighborhood Pentecostal church . Small or not we would rock the house with Drums, Guitars , Pianos, Tambourines and later on an Organ . The church choir was made up of different families of the church and everyone could sing . I was the littlest one in the choir . One day, we got a new choir director and he had a new way of teaching us. He tested every ones voice except mine and told me I was too young. I went home broken hearted and told my mama he didn't want me in the church choir.

She said 'Baby, God is gonna make a way for you' …Way or no way … I cried .

One day, our church was invited to another church to sing. My sisters were special guest. Evelina , Charlina and Stella, known a 'The Daughters of Zion' could really sing but they were interested in boys at the time . This Sunday was Easter Sunday and they had gone to the park with a group of friends. In the meantime , their name was called and they were not there . So the director came over and asked me could I sing in their place. I said 'Yes'…They called me up to sing and I sang 'Jesus Met The Woman At The Well'. After I finished, the director said ''I didn't know you could sing like that' and I said to him 'You didn't ask me ! !' So that was that and I was back in the choir.

I was a quiet and shy child but I spoke when I sang . So music became my way to communicate. Gospel music yes but 'all' music. My very first instrument was a school violin. I didn't connect so well with the violin…I couldn't make it do what I wanted to do, but my heart eyed the piano…My sister Evelina played it. She had a teacher that would come to our house and besides all this, she also played for the church. She was the churches' first musician and she was beautiful. I would always stand near her when she played at home just to watch .She let me tag along and even showed me a thing or two (true story).

I had a dream that she placed her hands on my hands and she said 'play the piano, Liz'…Not long after that I began to play by ear. My mom took it seriously and made arrangement for me to take lessons. I didn't realize that what was burning in my soul was passion …

At the age of 12, I asked our Pastor could I begin a junior choir…He said 'Yes' ! ! ! (The Song Fight :) The new song I choose to teach the choir was the same song the adult choir had chosen. Well they outranked us and I went home and cried and my mama said 'Baby, God will make a way for you' There she goes again with that 'make a way business' …Well I was mad enough to say this will never happen again. I'm gonna write our songs and I did ! ! ! So we sang songs nobody else sang. We would march in and bring the house down and everybody was saying they are great , and we were, but those little kids said 'You know…We Badd ! !' (Here comes the big head ! !)

My experience let me to an amateur theatre in Cleveland called The Karamu House. But even before this there was Jazz. My brother loved Jazz and tried to play the trumpet and he had records of the Jazz greats. Some of his favorites included Max Roach ; Wes Montgomery and most of all, Nat King Cole . He forced me to listen and said to me ; 'Learn Jazz baby'. Well I was listening and learning and the Karamu House brought things more in focus. I met a lady musician and teacher and was a part of a choir - the Karamu's -'Voices of Living Sound' of which she was the director. We sang Gospel but we sang other songs as well.

Working with the Karamu House placed me more in the community as a solist actress choir director and artist at large. I was also singing with other groups and my church choir. Europe was the farthest thing from my mind or so I thought.
My cousin Annie had lived and worked in Europe. She asked me for a tape to send to a Swiss agent. Well I sent him a tape of my singing and creative songs in the studio and he hated it. My cousing asked me to send another tape of me singing and playing Gospel music in the way I grew up doing and he loved it.

So I was going to Europe but not alone mind you, but with Clemetine the choir director from Karamu House . By this time, she was living and working in New York City playing in clubs and a real blues singer . I stayed in New York for a few days before flying to Europe. Annie took me around to a few auditions to see a few Broadway shows and to the club Clementine played. She asked me to come up and sing. Well I couldn't think of a thing to sing but a Gospel song and I sang an original song nobody had ever heard . I sang with gusto and guess what ? ? ? They looked at me like I was crazy and nobody clapped but the club owner. He later came over and said…'Young lady , you have a lot of nerve' (Balls !) ;

My cousin patted my hand and said, 'Liz, I think this means you're a Gospel singer !' On the Bill in London 'Roots of Rock And Roll), Bessie Griffin , Helen Humes, Randy Weston and others. I had no idea who I was among but I learned fast and we held our own. (The Gospel Part :) I was the opening act for Bessie Griffin. I'll never forget her ! ! She had big hips and would rare back and sing a song like an earthquake. This was the beginning of a new life for me …A life of which I felt perfectly at home. I loved Europe, its history and culture. Experiencing London, France, Switzerland and Germany , I toured almost every year. I stayed and learned what it meant to sink or swim and how to live an artists' life.

This life settled me in Paris. Long before I met Ray Charles. I met Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, Hal Singer, Louisianna Red and other famous ex-patriots. In Paris, I was a part of a Gospel group called 'Psalms' four musician singers. It was easy because we were different than any other group. There was too much struggle among ourselves, so it was short lived.

I continued with one of the guys as a duo - Greg Hunter, formally of New York and Broadway. Greg was a genius of which I had a great respect and a deep spiritual love . Our album received the French's 'Mahalia Jackson Award' not long after , he died.

During all of this, I met a Frenchman who would soon be my producer. But before I agreed to work with him, I prayed about it because I thought he was Crazy…and…he is Crazy…Crazy like a Fox ! ! !* And so it goes, some things are destiny…

I have played some venues unbelievable for a Gospel artist…artist and servant of the people. I have been privileged to perform at the Casino de Paris, Opera Comique, Theatre of Champs Elysees, Madeleine Church, The Lyon Opera Ballet with Bill T. Jones ; The Acropolis Theatre in Athens ; in Guyana at Papillon's Camp and the day just after in Kourou (the European Cape Canaveral), in Lebanon, Beyrouth ; Morocco , Festival of Sacred Musics in the antique city of Fez ; Roman Coliseum (El Jem) in the Tunisian Desert ; Christmas Millenium in Bethlehem in the Holy Land ; then Gaza in the weary land ; The Roman Theatres of Vienne and Lyon . There also were so many different Jazz Festivals such as in Marciac , Nice , Juan les Pins ;in Canada ,Montreal ; in Spain :Victoria and Barcelona ; in Italy, Milano and Sicily (a church specially built to sing with no microphone , you could breath a note and be heard) . There were places in Africa, the Ivory Coast and St.Louis (Senegal) and requested performances in London at Queen Elizabeth Hall and the world meeting with the Pope and Youth in Paris. I was invited to The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and at the 50th Anniversary of The United Nations in San Francisco.

I have participated in so many 'famous' things just for Love, because for me, that is what it is all about . The concert at the Olympia in Paris for the Homeless was one. I wanted to do this because its never really about me, it's always been about God's love for all people .

I like to live 'the' Music, but home is my beginning and my end . I have to come back for nurturing and to hear those famous words …GOD IS GONNA MAKE A WAY, BABY ! !! !

 

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An autobiography by LIZ Mc COMB
Published by Inside Arts
Novembre 2000