Stacy Lattisaw won the hearts of soul-music lovers at the tender age of 13. Her powerful delivery of the ballad “Let Me Be Your Angel” made her a household name among R&B fans. Before long, she was on the road with The Jacksons. She went on to achieve a number of career milestones throughout her teenage years and early 20’s — including signing with Motown Records; a #1 duet with Johnny Gill, “Where Do We Go from Here”; and recording 10 albums over a 10-year span. There was a personal price to pay, however, for all the success: one that Stacy talks about in-depth in her newly published autobiography, I Am Not the Same Girl: Renewed. (You can listen to the interview on BlogTalkRadio.)
You grew up in southeast Washington, D.C. How would you describe your personality as a child?
I’ve always been very shy and soft-spoken. When I started kindergarten, it was very tough for me. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad worked. It was difficult for me to make that transition to elementary school. I cried every single day. My mother would cry, too, when she would peep in the window and see me crying!
But I was always very quiet. When I started middle school, things really began to change. I was 12-1/2 when my first album was released. I always stayed to myself, and never had very many friends. The girls would call me names: “red girl,” “white girl,” “yellow girl.” They would call me conceited and say I was stuck up. I went through this for two years. This one girl who sat behind me picked on me every single day. She would pull my braids. She was real tall; I was short and kinda skinny. I was afraid of her.
Even one of the teachers gave me a very hard time. I believe it was out of jealousy, because I never picked with anyone. I did my schoolwork, stayed to myself. This history teacher told me I did not turn in one of my tests. My mom went up to the school to find out what was going on. They had words, and luckily my dad was there — because things could’ve gotten ugly. Those are the things, that as a child star, you deal with. When you become successful, there are a lot of things that come along with it. There are people that hate the fact that you are doing well.
In the eighth grade, once things were really out of control, my mom and dad thought it would be best for me to have a tutor. So, I finished my schooling years at home. That was difficult. I was 14, on the road mostly on weekends. I missed out on my childhood. That’s why I don’t want to put my daughter, who’s a singer, through what I went through. People talk about Michael Jackson, and the things that he went through and was accused of doing. I was fortunate to tour with him in 1981 on the Jacksons’ “Triumph” tour. It was a great opportunity for me, though at the time I didn’t see it that way. I wanted to be at home and be a normal child. But I can relate to some of what he went through. I couldn’t go anywhere by myself — the ice cream truck, or up the street to my friend’s house to play — because my parents were afraid that someone would try to snatch me and take me away. I didn’t have the high school prom, go to basketball games. I went to my son’s football game last year, dropped him off, sat there in the car, said “Wow, these are the things I missed out on.” Those were supposed to be some of the most fun times in my life. You can’t get back those times. I wasn’t able to date. I was always on the road; and my mom was very protective of me.
When you started in the music industry, did you feel prepared to be in the limelight? Was it something you had aspired to; or did you have other career plans?
At 10 years old, I had this passion for cash registers. It was something about pushing the buttons, hearing the “ding, ding, ding” when the drawers would slide out.” We used to play school and use stickers as price tags. I always said, “When I get older, I want to have an ice cream truck and be a cashier.” This whole music industry thing was my mom’s idea. She used to sing here in D.C. with Marvin Gaye. They went to high school together and were in a group, in which she was one of the lead singers. She began to have kids, and her priorities changed. I think when she realized I could sing, she really wanted to live her dream through me. She never recorded an album, though she wanted to. That’s how it all happened.
Tell me about the first time you went into a recording studio: when you recorded the Young and in Love album with producer Van McCoy. What was that process like for you?
That was an amazing time for me. At 12-1/2 years old, walking into a studio in New York CIty with this big room in the back where the vocal booth was. I just looked at it as me singing. It didn’t seem like there was much to it. I recorded two songs a day, and finished the whole album in five days. Van McCoy was a pleasure to work with. I’ve worked with a lot of different producers throughout my R&B career. He was one of the nicest. Some producers make you wanna sing a certain way. He let me be who I was.
Throughout your career, could you sing how you wanted, or were you frequently under direction to sing a certain way?
That happened to me twice. One producer said to me, “Sing this part like Janet Jackson would.” I will never forget that. I looked at him through the vocal booth and said, “Huh? I’m not Janet Jackson. How in the world can you tell me to do that?” I felt it was an insult. There were a few instances like that. I refused to do that.
On the subject of the Young and in Love album, I always really liked “Spinning Top” and your remake of “Downtown.”
Those songs are so cute. My favorite one is “Three Wishes.” It’s such a sweet song. [Singing] “If I had a lion’s mane, or a genie to give me…three wishes…” It’s a beautiful melody. Those songs to me are priceless. Music has changed so much. When you look at the lyrics in most of today’s R&B, they don’t sing about love and staying together. It’s more about “if you wanna leave, just go.” As opposed to working things out.
As opposed to “You Ain’t Leavin’,” which you sang!
That was one of my favorites. I was able to sing it the way I wanted to.
You started branching out on that album, Take Me All the Way, with a more gospel-type approach.
Yes, I’ve always been a belter. Whenever I sang those kinds of songs, I felt free. Most of my favorites were written by Narada Michael Walden. Narada is one of the nicest, easiest people to work with. He didn’t have an ego. He was just authentic. I remember the first day I met him. He was a drummer with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Henry Allen, the president of Cotillion Records, found out he had written some songs. Narada said maybe he could do some songs with me. He came to our house in D.C. with an eight-track. My mom had bought a piano. He started to play the chords to “Let Me Be Your Angel.” It was written in our home.
My voice was still very soft and being developed then. The more I sang, the stronger my voice became. I grew into the songstress. That’s how I considered myself. I never cared as much for the uptempo, techno-style music. I prefer singing ballads and midtempo’s.
Did you have much input in song selection?
I had none. That’s a part of the business that started to wear on me. I would tell Henry that I didn’t like some of the songs. But it was like, “This is what you’re gonna do.” I never felt that was fair, even though I was only 15. Even up to my last album with Cotillion, I’m Not the Same Girl, produced by Michael Masser. It was a complete failure. He had worked with Whitney Houston and Diana Ross. He gave me the hardest time in the studio. There were songs that, in my opinion, were rejects that maybe Whitney had turned down. Me and my mom would tell Henry, “These songs are not working, are not for Stacy, not the direction that we feel she should be going in.” They didn’t listen. Some of the songs were just terrible.
Interestingly, Diana Ross had recorded “I Thought It Took a Little Time” and “Together,” while Dionne Warwick had recorded “Starting Over.”
That was a beautiful song.
What about a song like “Attack of the Name Game,” on which you rapped?
That was fun. All my friends from my neighborhood came to the studio. My brother, Jerry, did a part. My other friends did the background part: ”Slack you back, I’ve gotta slack attack…”
Mariah Carey sampled that on her hit “Heartbreaker.”
Years ago, I was in New York. Mariah was on the radio doing an interview. They asked her some of her favorite singers, and she mentioned me. I thought it was a blessing that she would say that.
What about the Sixteen album?
Kathy Sledge did “What’s So Hot About Bad Boys” with me. She was one of the nicest people I met. Natalie Cole, as well. We had so much fun. We did a show together in Atlanta: me, Natalie, Sister Sledge, and Shannon. We all went out to dinner at a seafood restaurant. I’m giving a little of my book away! Natalie’s always been very outgoing. My mom was there, too. Natalie decides to take the crab knocker and start tapping on the table. Next thing you know, she started singing. Then, Kathy started. Shannon and I joined in. We had a concert in this restaurant. People were standin’ up, dancin’ and clapping. It was very spontaneous.
Lionel Richie is another one of the most down to earth people you ever want to meet. Success and money tends to change some people. I remember the time I met him backstage at the American Music Awards. I was telling him how much I loved his music. He has such a beautiful personality and is such a humble man. Those people to me stand out. They’re rare jewels. Still today, I love his music. I’m also a big Kenny Rogers fan!
How aware were you of popularity? Were you conscious of what level you wanted to be at? Did you feel pressure?
I felt very pressured. I didn’t want the kind of attention I was getting. But it comes with the territory. I couldn’t go any place alone. I had a bodyguard, a big, 6’4” tall guy. Sometimes you wanna be by yourself. I had just bought my first car at 16. My mom was terrified. She didn’t want me to be by myself on the road. The attention became overwhelming.
What about the business side? When decisions were made, were you involved?
Not until I was 20. My dad was my co-manager, which was a blessing. The management I had at the time they beat me out of lots of money. I was stuck in this contract for seven years. It was very unfortunate.
Earlier, you mentioned the experience of opening on The Jacksons’ 1981 “Triumph” tour. What are your memories?
That was awesome. As I look back now, I tell my kids, “It was a privilege and honor to be able to meet Michael.” But to be called to be opening act was amazing. I didn’t want to go on the road for 13 weeks. We went to 36 cities. They could’ve asked anyone; but they chose me. It was a tremendous opportunity that took my career to another level. To be able to go backstage and talk to Michael after the show, to be in his presence. Later, he called me on my 16th birthday. I didn’t think it was him. He said, “Hello this is Michael Jackson. I just wanted to call and wish you a happy birthday.” I said “No way, this is not Michael Jackson.” But it really was him. The group sent me flowers. I kept the card.
What was it like performing in those big arenas?
Incredible! 25,000 to 30,000 people, four nights a week. Jerry would sing the background on “Love on a Two Way Street.”
How did you feel on stage?
Are you kidding? I was terrified, tore up! It was a huge step from what I had done before. Getting out there performing on pure guts. One time, I forgot the words to a song — the whole first verse. I just went blank. I tried to play it off a bit; but I think the audience caught on. It wasn’t a single, luckily. As time went on, the stress of the performing so much started to take a toll on me. I started to have panic attacks. It had become more overwhelming for me — and for my mom.
We traveled to Europe, Japan, and Africa. When I was 18, I opened a show for Connie Francis. She was a beautiful person. I talk about that in my book. When I sit back and think about opportunities I was given at a young age: who would not want to open for her? Inside and out, she was beautiful.
Did you like any part of the traveling?
Nothing. I couldn’t stand flying.
Were you able to enjoy the places you went to?
I basically performed and went home. I had to be home in time for school. Most of the time, I got back on the plane the next morning to go to the next show, or home.
When Cotillion Records folded, you moved to Motown. Was the decision yours?
Berry Gordy was still president of Motown at the time. He contacted my management company, Buddy Allen Management. I was signed a few weeks later. I knew it was a great opportunity. Some of the top acts were on there, lots of great musicians.
Did it change your career notably?
I think so. People began to respect my music more.
On your first album with Motown, Take Me All the Way, you worked with many producers: Kashif, Steve Barri, Jellybean Benitez, and Leon Sylvers. Previously, you had worked almost exclusively with Narada.
Those were the choices of the A&R department: “We’re gonna try different producers and see what happens.” I think it took away from the consistency of the album. I’m more inclined to stick with two or three producers. Some of the songs didn’t fit well together. But once again, I was told, “These are the songs you’re gonna do.” People don’t realize, though, when and if the album doesn’t do well, the artist is charged. It goes against your royalties.
What also surprised me was, as successful as the singles “Nail It to the Wall” and “Jump into My Life” were, there were no more releases from the album.
I never understood that. A lot of people from Motown had been fired. Jheryl Busby had become president. There was a transition. When that took place, my album got pushed to the side. Another female recording artist came along, and they began to focus on her.
When you recorded your next album, Personal Attention, you co-wrote a couple of songs: “Changes” and “He’s Got a Hold on Me.” Did you have to fight for that?
That was interesting. “He’s Got a Hold on Me” came from personal experience. At the time, I was dating someone in Maryland. We broke up. That song was birthed out of the pain I went through. I caught this individual cheating on me. I just took a pen, piece of paper, and wrote what I felt in my heart. That was my first heartbreak, and I got a song out of it — the first song I ever wrote!
Then you released the What You Need album. You achieved big success with “Where Do We Go from Here,” a duet with Johnny Gill. Was that song written for you two specifically?
Yes, personally for us, by Lemel Humes. Johnny and I dated for awhile when we were in school. We broke up, moved on. Lemel produced it, sent both of us a copy. We decided to go in the studio and record it it. Johnny was in Minneapolis at time; he put his vocal on it there. You’d think we were in studio at same time, but we weren’t. I did my part in New York. Lemel put it together. It’s one of my favorites, because I got to be me. Lemel let me sing the way I wanted to sing.
The follow-up single, “I Don’t Have the Heart,” was also produced by Lemel. James Ingram released the song as a single several months after yours; but I felt your take on it was very special.
That song was so special to me. That’s the kind of person I am. When you sing about things you can really relate to, it makes a difference. It comes across in the song. “I don’t have the heart to hurt you//It’s the last thing I want to do//I don’t have the heart to love you//not the way you want me to.”
Around that time, you had problems with Motown promoting your product. What happened?
“Where Do We Go from Here” was #1 on the R&B chart for two weeks. Motown told us that it only sold 30,000 copies. I found that hard to believe. It was played heavily on radio. And when you get that much airplay, you know that people are buying the record. I was so frustrated. That just put the icing on the cake for me. Johnny wanted to have his attorney go in and audit the company. I don’t know if he pursued it or not. At that point, I walked away and never looked back. I said, “This is not for me anymore.” I felt as though the record company abused my gift, and didn’t appreciate my talent. I left on a #1 record. My career could’ve gone to the next level; but I had become so tired of the bad representation and my music being put to the side.
I had started another album. I had a four-year deal. But the contract was up, so I didn’t re-sign. My life is in another place now. I have two teenagers. I’ve been married to the same man for 18 years. I’m a loyal wife; I stay at home and take care of my children. I have a big old German Shepherd. I’ve been blessed. I’m content with where I am.
Continued in Part 2…
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