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
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 ! !! !
An autobiography by LIZ Mc COMB
Published by Inside Arts