By: Ramona Maben
Vivian Reed aka, Ms. Bubbling Brown Sugar, is a performer extraordinaire. Originally from Pittsburg,
this singer, dancer, actress, producer and model has been nominated twice for a Tony. Just a few of her multi-award winning accolades include the NAACP Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Theatre World Award, and Drama Desk Award. She also received the Dance Education of America Award and is currently a professor at Marymount College, teaching performance and voice. Ms. Reed began her classical training at the Pittsburgh School of Music and Performance and later studied at New York’s Juilliard School of Music.
Q: What was your entre into singing?
A: Ms. Romaine Smith Russell of the Pittsburg School of Music started teaching me at the age of eight. I studied with her until I was in high school. I started at 8 and by the time I was 13, I could sing in three languages and perform some Arias from Madame Butterfly and La Boeheim. God had given me a tremendous gift.
In speaking to Vivian Reed, it is enlightening to discover her many levels of commitment toward a craft she so passionately loves. Under the tutelage of legendary Honi Coles and Bobby Schiffman, Ms. Reed honed and refined her artistry.
Q: You studied under the legendary Honi Coles and Bobby Schiffman?
A: They were my managers. I was still going to school and an agent thought she could get work for me at The Apollo Theater. At that particular time all I could sing was classical music. She took me to the Apollo Theater and they fell in love with me for my talent. Recently, I called Bobby who is now in his 80’s and asked him what was it about me at 18 that he was interested in promoting. He said there was just something and they wanted to be a part of nourishing me. This they did. If I wasn’t studying, I had to watch the shows as they came in. Bobby took care of the business part, Honi took care of the stage. When Honi saw me doing something wrong, he corrected me. For instance, I had a bad habit of singing into the wings (of the stage). I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it. Experience is what takes care of everything. You have to get out there and grow in the business. Every job becomes a learning experience. Even when you get up in age, you should be learning.
Q: What do you attribute toward your longevity?
A: Hard work, perseverance. I am a very hard worker and I am adept at many different areas, not just one particular thing. I was trained as a classical singer. After that, I got a record deal and along the line I became very comfortable in nightclubs and recording studios. There are a lot of different things. As situations came up I could do it. Sometimes people go into theater and that’s all they know and nothing else. I tell my students don’t just study one area because show business offers you several things to do.
Q: You speak and sing other languages?
A: I sing in Italian and French and many years ago as a classical artist, I could sing in German. I used to speak French very well. I went back to Paris to do a concert about five years ago at what was called The Lionel Hampton Jazz Club. It might have changed names now but it was in the Meridian Hotel. At that time my French started to come back but now it’s a little sketchy. (she chuckles).
Q: And you sing Opera…
A: Yes, I can although I don’t do it as much as I used to. I would have to go back to studying. If someone wanted me to sing a classical piece, it would have to be something I could manage. Classical music, just like classical dance is something that you continue studying. It is a whole different technique.
Q: Tell us about your yearly concert, Singers Night.
A: It was something I established in Berkley. They had been asking me to come there for a few years. They did not have a performance class there, so I established one. The students told me about a singer’s showcase. When I saw it, there was nothing unique, so I offered this team of men my expertise and suggested I direct one for them. They looked at me like I had two heads. They were not amenable to this at all, so I went to the Chairperson and said I want to start Singers Night. That’s how it started. It was a total success because they had never seen a show like that. I brought my whole knowledge of lighting and staging, concentrating on Hip Hop dancing and R&B music, which no one was doing.
Having received critical acclaim for her performance in ‘Bubbling Brown Sugar’ on Broadway and internationally, Ms. Reed continues performing in various venues. Having seen her “Standards and More” show at the lovely Metropolitan Room, Ms. Reed triumphs in her rendition of “My Funny Valentine” and “Almost Like being in Love”. A consummate performer, Ms. Reed’s hilarious spoken word introduction into “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, titillated roars of laughter from the audience, as well as her show stopping, “You Can Have My Husband”. The hauntingly, unbelievable poignant duet of “Strange Fruit” with notable Soprano, Janinah Burnett, sent chills that reverberated around the room, and her wistfully tender “Mon Dieu” is not to be missed. The four-piece band conducted by pianist Mr. William (Billy) Foster McDaniel, Bassist Gary Foote, Drummer Damon Duewhite and cellist Karen Poleshuck. Vivian Reed will be performing these songs and many more at The Metropolitan Room on May 23rd, June 17th, and July 21st.
For more information, please contact The Metropolitan Room located at 34 W 22nd St, New York, NY 10010