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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Nunn on One, TV Kelly Price discusses new series, musical roots
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2019-01-30

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American Soul is a new BET television series dramatizing the rise and fall of Don Cornelius, who created the iconic dance show Soul Train. Singer Kelly Price plays Brianne Clarke, mother of two of the Soul Train dancers.

Price is a nine-time Grammy nominee from Queens, New York. She worked her way into the music business by singing background for Aretha Franklin, Faith Evans and Brian McKnight, among others. Her debut album, Soul of a Woman, yielded the hit "Friend of Mine" and led to several other records such as Mirror, Mirror and Priceless. Gospel and soundtrack appearances followed and she formed a super group called The Queen Project with Deborah Cox and Tamia. Recently she has worked on music with Kanye West and K. Michelle.

She stated that she was working on new music for herself when she got the call to play Brianne so plans are to release a single towards the end of the season.

Windy City Times: How did you get involved with American Soul?

Kelly Price: I was asked to audition for it. The role of Brianne Clarke specified an R&B singer who already had a name and a following. What I loved about it was my role was not about singing. It was part of my backstory. I was really excited because this is the longest undertaking I've had onscreen.

I've done episodes on television before and traveled in stage plays, but 2018 was when I decided to curb the music and concentrate on acting. The turnaround was incredible. I got with an acting coach and enrolled in production classes over the summer. I think I did three shows all summer because I was in school. This audition came up in August and I got the call.

WCT: It seems like your character will go on an arc of emotion.

KP: Yes. It's a journey. If anyone thinks that Kelly Price got this job because she can sing they are going to find out something else. As much as it is a part of the backstory, you are watching the journey of a woman who's life changes drastically in an instant.

She has children and has to navigate through that. She has to face her own demons while helping her children come to terms with their careers and their school. The civil rights movement is happening and the war. The draft is an issue and it hits our house.

I love that my character shows the realization of Black families in America during that time.

WCT: I hope there's a LGBT storyline coming up.

KP: I can't say! Well, there's no way to talk entertainment and be truthful about it without that being a part of it. I don't want to spoil it, but I will say this, you are going to love the way it is handled. I loved reading our scripts. We have amazing writers.

WCT: Do you have a favorite song on American Soul?

KP: I love all of the songs, but two stand out. Babyface is our musical director. We have the songs licensed because we are re-enacting a lot of the performances from the show with actual artists. He did a lot of original period piece music.

My kids and my daughter's boyfriend are in a singing group. Many of their songs are original and produced by Babyface. These kids are amazing. I call them "kids" because I'm old enough to be their mom. My oldest in real life will be 25 next week though.

I have a duet with my daughter on the show and that comes up toward the end of the season. The song walks us through the transition while we are singing. Babyface also produced a cover of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" for the show.

WCT: Do you have a favorite costume on the show?

KP: Yes, I do. Because I am a mom and raising these kids while going through stages of grief in season one, you will see my clothes go through a revolution of dark colors with items that are oversized. Stuff starts to fit towards the end of the season.

I do love the '70s pieces, like the bright colors. Our costume department is amazing. Because it is a period piece every extra had to look like they came from that time. On some days they are dressing 70 people in bell bottoms, afros, earrings and tank dresses.

WCT: Was it hot in those clothes where American Soul was filmed in Georgia?

KP: We went through the gamut and hit four seasons during the time we filmed. When we started it was hot as hell and we were sweating out of our costumes.

One scene was filmed outside and it was 37 degrees. It was supposed to be set in San Diego so I was in a dress with no coat and sandals. At every cut someone from wardrobe would run up to wrap me up!

WCT: Tell me about working with George Michael.

KP: He was my first professional job and the best one anyone could ever have. I was 18. I moved to Atlanta then came home to live with my grandparents in New York. I found out I was pregnant. I was singing background when one of the singers for Luther Vandross, Cindy Mizelle, was getting married. My friend was putting the music together for her wedding. Sony execs were there and heard me. When George did the East Coast in '92, he was playing Madison Square Garden and hated the singers supporting him. They were fired. I got a call at noon and had to be there by three, was to wear all black and go on at 7:30 p.m.

It was amazing. He wanted his background to be good and the arrangements made it necessary. He wanted a gospel sound. We took them to church with "Father Figure" that night!

That led me to Sony and was how I got the Mariah Carey gig. I was pregnant and in the studio where I got sick. I sat at the piano and sang while everyone went on a meal break. Mariah Carey, Tommy Mottola and Randy Hoffman walked in the room and heard me singing. They offered me a job that day. I owe my gig with Mariah to my now 26 year old son!

WCT: How did you end up working with Whitney Houston?

KP: She heard my first single on the radio. I was ghost writing for many years in the business. My vocals were on the radio with other artists and people didn't know it. It was just like Martha Wash. Everyone at the labels knew who I was because I was working with their artists, but no one would sign me. The three words I heard about myself were "fat," "Black" and "loud," as in too fat, too Black and too loud. I was told that if I wanted a career that I would have to do house music or gospel music. I grew up in the church and I love it, but I wanted to do the music I was writing. I was told men didn't look at women like me and find them attractive, so no one would sign me.

Lo and behold, I'm writing for Ronald Isley and I got called into a meeting with Puff Daddy. He was trying to do his resurgence, but didn't want to work with young producers. I wrote a song for Puffy and Ronald made me produce it.

The Isley Brothers had me on tour with them and introduced me as his new artist. We had not discussed that. We argued for nine months before Ronald produced my first album Soul of a Woman. The formula was to prove that people would migrate towards good music. With the single "Friend of Mine" we took it back to grass roots marketing. That meant no pictures and there was no social media then. No one saw me until it went to number one. Don Cornelius loved the record and played it. Whitney heard it on the radio while driving down the New Jersey turnpike. She almost crashed into the median.

WCT: You almost killed Whitney!

KP: She knew it was some church kid. She reached out to me and said she had to know me. That's how "Heartbreak Hotel" came together.

WCT: We have to get you singing at some upcoming Pride festivals.

KP: I would love to. I used to do them all the time. I don't know why I haven't been doing them. That was the biggest part of my audience in the beginning, the LGBT crowd and the church people. Even when I wasn't singing about Jesus, it sounded like it, so they liked it!

American Soul runs Tuesdays on BET at 8 p.m.


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