The show goes on
Singer Barbara Morrison returns to the Levitt Pavilion Sunday with new tunes
By Carl Kozlowski 06/20/2013
One of the more enjoyable places to see a concert on a summer night in Pasadena is the Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park, where entertainers of every imaginable genre perform under the stars five nights a week.
While most acts on each summer’s lineup are different from years prior, one perennially popular performer is jazz and R&B singer Barbara Morrison, who takes the Levitt amphitheater stage Sunday night.
This performance will be particularly enjoyable for Morrison, because this will be the first time in ages that she will be able to stand during her annual concert. Morrison now has two new prosthetic legs replacing her natural ones, which were amputated due to diabetes.
Speaking by phone from her Los Angeles home, Morrison made it clear that the Levitt, its staff and audiences hold a special place in her heart.
“I’ve been in rough waters lately, amputated both legs. This is the first time without a wheelchair in a couple years. I’m not ready to run a marathon. I’m still in therapy, so it’s coming,” says Morrison.
“The people who work with us at Levitt are very, very nice and attentive, and audiences get up and dance with me. It’s just a powerful connection with people who enjoy music, not just mine, and really enjoy life,” she says.
Morrison, 60, has been making that special connection with audiences since arriving in Los Angeles in 1973 with hopes of becoming a rock singer. That ambition changed quickly after she successfully auditioned to be a nightclub singer at a jazz club called The Rubaiyat, where she fell in love with the music the second she got the job.
“It had a warm, fuzzy tone, and you could tell a story with that music,” recalls Morrison. “Once you learn the little meanings of those songs and why they were written 40 years before you were born, you could tell more stories and paint more pictures with the stories in the songs. Some were super funny, some were serious. You could feel the pain or the joy and happiness. It was the writing and meaning of certain things.”
Caught up in her magical memories, Morrison gives a specific example of a song that held particular meaning for her: Billie Holiday’s “Stormy Monday.”
“I remember being on a show at The Roxy in 2004 with a little 13-year-old girl singing ‘Stormy Monday,’ and when she got to the part that said, ‘The eagle flies on Friday,’ she said, ‘I don’t know what that means,’” Morrison chuckles. “So I told her it’s the eagle on currency and getting paid was when the eagle flies. When ‘Stormy Monday’ first came out and said ‘the eagle flies on Friday,’ it took everybody out. To have somebody connect, that’s the most wonderful feeling in the world, when they say, ‘Oh, hell yeah!’ you know you’ve got ‘em. I have people come up and say, ‘How did you know what’s in my soul?’”
Morrison started performing as a young child, singing at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Wayne, Mich. She recalls her childhood home being filled with music as well, since her father was a “great, great, great singer,” and because she lived near the first black radio station in the country, which played all kinds of African-American artists ranging from Count Basie to the latest soul performers.
These days, Morrison is touring the world, supporting her latest CD, “A Sunday Kind of Love,” so fans should enjoy hearing some new surprises alongside Morrison’s standard repertoire. The album is a combination of her own new compositions and time-tested classics, with all the songs she selects sharing a common thread.
“I go by my body temperature,” she explains. “If someone sends me a song and I get heated up, then I know that’s the one. A songwriter might send me a song and send it to five or six other people and if somebody else likes it, they’ll do it. I don’t do a lot of cussing, but I’ll give secular hints of sex. If it makes me warm and positive, I’m in.”
The tunes on the new record include “Kiss It and Make It Well,” a song about how children run to their mothers to kiss even a little wound. Meanwhile, she also delivers a stirring rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s classic “Smile,” and the timeless tune “Make Someone Happy,” and she blended the two because they both reminded her of her mother. The result has been a hit, climbing as high as No. 7 on the Billboard jazz sales charts.
“I think one of the greatest gifts in life is to make people enjoy themselves with you,” says Morrison. “Sometimes you can see the one person in the front row that really doesn’t want to be there in a club, but when you know you’ve got the majority of the people came to have fun with you, you’ve gotta remember who God is — you’re not God, you’re here to do your job. But I can understand why a lot of people get off track and lose being humble. I feel honored that they do that. That’s the way they make me feel in Pasadena, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world as an entertainer. I feel like Bon Jovi.”
Barbara Morrison will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park, located at the corner of North Raymond Avenue and Walnut Street in Pasadena. Admission is free. Visit levittpavilionpasadena.org or call (626) 683-3230.