I basically went for the jugular vein, meaning I was using my voice in a way that it was not intended — so the more I belted, the more problems I had. I got nodes several times on my vocal chords. I would have to stop singing for a few weeks and take cortisone until the nodes went down. This went on for years. Then, it became difficult for me to even attempt to sing classically. It reversed itself.
I read in that same Jet article you that at one point you had smoked.
Yes I had, from age 12. I started smoking behind the school building with my then-running buddy. The first puff nearly killed me, the second puff got easier, the third puff, I was hooked. I remember Mrs. Russell saying to me, one day when she smelled it on my breath,“You’ve been smoking.” And I said, “No, no, Mrs. Russell.” She said, “Vivian, you’re young and it may not have an effect on your vocal chords now; but as you get older, you’re going to see — it’s not going to be so easy.” And you know what? Just like she said it, that’s how it was. Because as I got older, I noticed that my voice would give out quicker—and this was before Bubbling Brown Sugar. When we were doing the showcase, by the third show I was whispering “God Bless the Child," as opposed to singing it.
So this girl in the cast, Ethel Beatty, who played another one of the major roles in that show, used to take and hide my cigarettes. I would beg her, and then she’d give them back. Finally, when the showcase was about to end, she went and got a bible. She said, “I want you to swear on this bible that if we get picked up and we are heading for Broadway that you are going to stop.” So, I promised. But then on the other hand, I don’t play with God! When I got the call from Danny Holgate, who was the musical director, telling me that we were going to Broadway, that was my last cigarette. I stopped cold turkey.
I was so happy that I was able to have the willpower to do it, because there was no way that I would have a voice, which today is actually better than ever.
After high school, you continued your formal education at Juilliard School of Music, correct?
Yes, I went to Juilliard for three years. My teacher saw to it that I was put out of the school after the third year, because I had auditioned for a summer stock theatre. I was all excited about it. I'd never done theatre in my life.We were going to be using our classical training, as well. They wanted to hire me. Well, I shared this information with my teacher at Juilliard, and he was livid. He was very upset, because, he said, "You’re a classical singer, and that’s what you must be. You must never try other styles." They’re purists there. So what he did is, he found a way to get in touch with the director and producers, and tried to get them to not hire me. The director called me and told me what was going on. I said, “No, no, I want to come. I want to work.” I was probably 18 at this time.