The Real Kelly Price - She's A Life Saver!
By Tina Valin
To say that Kelly Price is a seven-time Grammy Nominee – or one of the top R&B singer/songwriters ever is absolutely true – but she abounds in so many other talents that help change the world to be a better place I feel most comfortable putting her into the category of a great human being.
Kelly, you do a tremendous amount of breast cancer awareness and have created an incredibly innovative program called Mammogram & The Mall. I think that’s one of the most creative things I've heard about in a long time.
Thank you so much. Well, when we’re talking about breast cancer, we’re talking about a disease that has affected each one of us in some way. It’s not so much of whether or not you’ve actually had to fight the disease yourself, but we all know someone or have been loved by or have loved someone who has had this disease. The numbers of this disease are increasing, and there is no cure available for it, but there are incredible ways of educating and getting to know about this disease and the measures that can be taken to increase your chances of survival if you are, in fact, ever diagnosed with this disease. So my family has been greatly impacted by it, like many other families in the world. My husband has lost both his mother and his stepmother to the disease 10 years apart. His mother died when he was a senior in high school, and then his stepmother died 10 years later, and when his stepmom was battling the disease, my mother was also battling the disease. They were both diagnosed within 60 days of each other.
Oh, my goodness, That must’ve have been so hard on you and your family.
In 1998, they both had inflammatory breast cancer, which happens to be one of the deadliest strains of breast cancer: It has the least rate of survival, and is actually more present in women of color than in any other culture. So going through that entire process with our families, it was a very painful time. At that point we were grown and our children were already born — they lost their nana to the disease, and it was the first time that they’d ever been touched by death at that level, and they were so young. We wanted to do something more about it than just know that it’s out there and wiping women out and men, from this horrible disease. Our endeavor is to make people aware, to get women in particular to know their bodies, and to not be afraid to go and get their mammograms done, to do self-breast checks, to form groups of accountability with the people that you love and the people that you know, so that we’re not allowing ourselves to get too busy or too afraid to get the mammograms done.
What I found with my research, particularly in the African-American community, we’re being diagnosed too late for several reasons: being underinsured and not being insured. But fear plays just as big if not a larger part in why women of color are being diagnosed so late, thereby enhancing and increasing their chances of not surviving if they’re diagnosed. So Mammogram & The Mall is our movement. It’s our way of getting it out there and, for lack of a better phrase, there’s nothing fun about knowing that you have to do it, but if you can, get with people that you love and people that you care about, and decide that this is going to be a cut day of sorts. We’re going to cut out of work, cut out of school, cut out of our day of responsibility. We’re all going to plan to get our mammograms together . . . we’ll go in the morning or early afternoon and get our mammograms done, and then when it’s done, it’s behind us. We’re going to the mall. We’re going shopping. We’re going to go have lunch. We’re going to window-shop.
I’m going to treat myself to that pair of shoes that I've been eyeballing for the last few weeks, or that dress that I really want, and I’m going to splurge on myself and really make that day about taking care of the business of your body, and then forgetting about it and treating yourself. I’m encouraging women all over the world: Join our online community, form your support group, come, put your stories on the page, post your pictures of your Mammogram & The Mall day with you and your besties, and let’s help encourage each other to eliminate the fear and live! Fear is killing people at this point because 98% of all early diagnoses are success rates of going into remission. So the early detection is very important.
It’s crucial, yes. Well, this is the greatest think-outside-the-box way to help people deal with uncomfortable health issues. What a wonderful way of getting people involved and feeling better about having a mammogram. I’m hopeful it will expand into other areas of health maintenance as well. And Mammogram & The Mall is going on throughout the country?
You know, it started in my brain, and I launched it on Facebook. It’s an online community. We’re encouraging people to post their stories—post even if you’ve lost someone to the disease and you want to share. It’s a movement that literally everyone can participate in because it is based online. Anywhere in the world, people can join this Facebook online community called Mammogram & The Mall. I’m sure there will be meet-up places in the future as it continues to grow.
I have several friends and family members right now with breast cancer and other forms of cancer. Cancer really is a global challenge. You’re also dealing with another sensitive subject that is finally getting some attention – and that’s all the complexities of dealing with body image issues. The sexist judgments and bullying starts at such a young age today. I would love to hear about the genesis for your new series, Too Fat For Fame. It sounds like another creative project that you’re doing to help change attitudes.
Too Fat For Fame is a format/reality show, which is also a competition. I have lived out over the course of the last 21 years, in the public eye, my struggle with weight, from being in the background in the entertainment industry to moving into the front and becoming a recording artist and actress, and doing those things myself as an individual, but I've been a fat girl my entire life, for lack of a better phrase. I was a chubby kid, and I was plus-sized as a teenager, and coming into my adulthood, I've always been what is considered plus-sized or overweight and even in a point in my adulthood, what would be considered morbidly obese, topping out right at about 336 pounds, I think, at my top weight.
It’s been a lifelong struggle for me in having to learn how to live inside of my skin and appreciate myself and love myself and not tear everything down about me because of the way society maybe felt about the way I looked, and it’s not an easy thing to do because there is a standard of beauty that’s been set in front of us, whether spoken or unspoken, and much of it is spoken. I found in my experience— and I’m sure anyone else
that has dealt with this in their own experience—that in a lot of ways, it’s acceptable [to mistreat you because of your weight]. What I've noticed down through the years is that the world changes as time goes on, and we do get better as a society. It is considered a hate crime if you discriminate against someone, or if you do something to a person that’s mean because of their religious affiliation or their sexual orientation and things like that. In that way, the country has progressed and has actually put rules in place that make it not only wrong, but illegal to do that. But you can still discriminate against someone who is overweight and it’s totally acceptable in that nobody does anything about it. Somebody can call me a fat B-I-T-C-H and it’s okay.
If you’re plus-sized In the entertainment business, it’s very difficult to get your foot in the door, and even once you get your foot in the door - in my case, I’m in, but I do know that there’s a lot that I’m never even considered for because I don’t fit the standard of beauty.
That’s how I came up with the concept for Too Fat For Fame. I now want to help somebody else who is just like me many years ago: talented and unable to walk through the door of acceptance in the entertainment business because they’re not a Size 2. How much talent has the world missed out on because someone told a great singer or a phenomenal actor, “No, because you’re not skinny enough.” Plus-sized people buy clothes. Somebody needs to model them. Great music is great music, and if the person can sing and they can play an instrument skillfully, why would you deny them the opportunity to make great music because they’re not thin? If a person can really act and get on the screen, or get on the stage and translate a role and pull on people’s heartstrings, why would you deny them that opportunity because they’re overweight? Too Fat for Fame presents this competition where all you have to be is really talented and plus-sized, and we welcome you to come and participate.
I commend you, Kelly! It’s time to stop the abuse and care about someone’s good heart – their talent - not their waistline. How do people learn about this?
To get more information on Too Fat for Fame, they can go to www.TooFatforFame.com, and all of the instructions are there. Round one of auditions came to an end recently, and we had live auditions as well as people who submitted via the website and YouTube. Round two of the auditions, we expect to do early next year.
You’re involved in many amazing issues and are doing important work with educational campaigns about HIV/AIDS and performed in supportive concerts…
Actually, Kelly, I just want to interrupt you for a second. I’m sorry. There’s one angle about this I just want to raise with you because it’s frustrating me. My single women friends are supposedly well educated, and yet they are having sex without using protection.
Yeah, not a good idea at all. To engage in that practice of unsafe sex literally is to play Russian roulette with your life. There are a lot of people who are having a hard time dealing with what they’re living with and who they are sexually. There are so many reasons why people are not being honest, and they don’t know they’ve been infected by the disease. They don’t know. You never know because HIV and AIDS does not have a look, and it is not specific to a gender or to a sexual orientation. AIDS and HIV can live in any person. You can’t put a face on it, or a demographic, or a culture. You just can’t do it. People try, and that’s a part of the ignorance of the disease.
So yes, Divas Simply Singing, that I've participated in over the last 10 years—I've done seven of the Divas Simply Singing shows, but it’s been going on for 23 years now—it was spearheaded by Sheryl Lee Ralph, who’s a very dear friend, actress, and activist in the AIDS and HIV awareness community. We just did the concert at Nokia here in Los Angeles, and the lineup of performers was absolutely amazing. Just an incredible night of love and support and education, which for me is the most important part. I’m also excited because this year, Sheryl Lee Ralph filmed it.
It will be televised at a later date, and people will not only have the chance to be entertained, but they will have the opportunity to be educated and get real information that will help them in moving forward to know how to better protect themselves, their children, their families, but then also teach them how to live in society and walk among people who are living with the disease, and how to treat them, and how to know them, and what to expect from them, and how they should just live. I call Sheryl Lee Ralph an Ambassador of Love because she does this from the bottom of her heart.
What a great person! Do you have other creative projects that you’re looking forward to doing in the next year?
Well, with everything else that’s going on, I’m in the process of writing new music and preparing another album, which will be out next year as well. I’m excited about that—going into the studio. Making new music is something that I love to do, and although I feel like it is just a very small part of who I am as a person and as a creative force, I love to do it. Music has been really the stepping stone for me to have a voice in all of these other areas. No matter what, whether I can be an activist for HIV/AIDS, or be a voice of awareness for breast cancer, my ability to do that is because of the music platform, and so I’m always excited that I’m able to go in and make music and people love it and they want to hear it. I’m working on two CDs at the same time. There will be a full-length R&B CD as well as an inspirational CD.
Can’t wait to hear them. I’d like to know about your creative process. How do you do what you do?
It’s very interesting because my process, it hasn’t so much changed as it has expanded over the years. Earlier, when I wrote music, I would get with maybe someone who was a musician, and we would sit and we would start from scratch, and we would begin working on a song by throwing around ideas and doing that. There were times when producers or musicians had music that needed lyrics, and they would send it to me and say, “Could you write something to this?” and that went on a lot in the early years. But as I've grown as a writer, I've found that there’s been an expansion in my creative process and that literally, I do a lot more these days of just kind of me walking around in the middle of my day and start humming a melody, and then I’m singing some words and realize that I’m creating in that moment. I've literally gotten to a place in my creative process where it’s just kind of always there, and if I allow it to overtake me in that moment, it really will. There are times when it actually tries to jump on me and I’m trying to concentrate on what I’m doing, and I can’t because there’s a song that wants to get out. I’m sure people don’t appreciate it if they have to try to be in the middle of something with me—a meeting or we’re having a conversation when it happens—because that does happen a lot these days. I dream about music in my sleep, and I’ll wake up having dreamt about a song that I was writing, and I’ll finish the song.
Do you have a pad by your bedside or use an iPhone to hum into and record on so you don’t forget the melody?
Yes, I started maybe six or so years ago keeping a Dictaphone on the side of the bed because I was waking up out of my sleep singing songs that I was singing in my sleep. So it’s weird. It’s weird.
You’re sleep-writing, I love it!
It’s hard to get; some people are like, “What?!” but it actually happens. I get great songs in my sleep. I do.
Hearing that it works for you, maybe you’ll get more people creating music in that manner.
They should just tell themselves, “Okay, when I go to sleep tonight, I’m going to dream of something wonderful,” and will yourself into letting go and being creative even when you’re in your sleep. It’s an amazing thing.
Well, that brings me into the whole positive viewpoint that you bring to everything - many new artists are struggling or they’re just plain lost. What kind of advice could you give to somebody — because I know you had to have had hardship along the way — it’s not like boom, you sing one song in the shower, and it becomes a hit.
Oh, no. One thing I will say is while they’re pursuing their dream, they still have to take care of home, and do what they need to do. So don’t make radical decisions that will hurt you in the pursuit of your dream, but even while working, if you’re working a regular day job while you’re pursuing your dream, then you’ve got to work your dream like it is a job, and tell yourself you have more than one full-time job. I push education and awareness in everything, especially in this business. You hear so many stories of artists who get burned because they’re fully creative but they have no business sense whatsoever. They don’t take the time to learn. “What does this mean in my contract? What does that mean? If I sell you all of my publishing, what does that mean for me later down the road?”
You hopefully are able to surround yourself with people who are masterful in all of the areas that you are not, but when you do that, you make it your business to sit beside them and watch their process and learn what they know, so no one is ever able to pull the wool over your eyes about what’s really going on. We all ended up with the wrong business people at some point. Don’t just tell yourself, “I want to be famous, and I want to be on television, and I want to be like Beyonce. Beyonce knows her stuff. She’s going down in the history books, I believe, as one of the greatest performers of all time, but make no mistake—she knows how to read a contract. She knows how to sit down, and look through her financials, and she knows how to do all of that stuff.
I encourage people to learn your craft. Know what it is that you need to know, and be able to do almost every job that is involved in making you a success.
If you’re a songwriter, you want to own your publishing. If you have to get into a co-publishing situation so that you can get some upfront money and live better, do that, but work towards regaining 100% ownership of your publishing if you can do that. Utilize all of the mass-media outlets that we have out there now because success doesn’t necessarily mean as a singer, particularly being signed to a major label. There are people who have millions of followers via YouTube, so use these methods to promote yourself.
That’s awesome advice. Now, because the industry is the way it is—I’m talking the entire creative industry—everyone goes through emotional ups and downs that can be very challenging. What are your secrets for staying centered so you’re not thrown off track and become emotionally impaired by the negative situations? Do you have any things that you turn to, like your family?
You hit it on the head. I come home to my family and I come home to my real friends, and when I say to my real friends, we all have associates in the business and there are people at the events that you’re hobnobbing with, but the center of my life, what keeps my life centered are the things that if everything for me was to go away concerning the industry, those things would still be standing. If I have to question whether or not anything that is in my presence or any person that is in my presence would still be there if I was not Kelly Price that the world knew, then they’re not a part of that centering process for me.
I come home to my husband I've come home to for 21 years now. I have my children who are young adults now, but I have a very real regular, everyday life at home. I cook the family meals, and I look forward to coming home and being a wife and a mother, just like every other person who comes home to their family at the end of a work day. I do that. When I come home, I’m Mommy. When I come home, I’m just Kelly. Kelly Price gets left at the door, and that’s the thing that keeps me going. My best friend really is my best friend. She gives me a perspective, and she’s always supportive. It also helps that she’s a psychologist too.
Well, that must come in handy.
If I go too far or whatever–
She’ll balance you out.
Yes. She’ll say, “Kelly, this is how you feel, and I understand that, but see it from this person’s point of view. They may have been dealing with something crazy that day, and they may not have meant it that way.” So it’s great to have people like that in your life, and the things that solidify me and anchor me and keep me centered are the things that have absolutely nothing to do with this business. And everybody has to keep that in their life. They’ve got to be able to get away from the cameras, and the paparazzi, and the glitz, and the glamour. Everybody needs a day to walk around with their hair in a scrunchie, and some sweatpants, and no makeup, and no judgment.
I’m grateful to be a writer since I have a lot of those days. All kidding aside, in terms of your spirituality, is that an important influence in your life?
I’m a preacher’s kid. I grew up in church, no secret. To me, there are so many things I think that happen in the world every day, not just the entertainment business, we’ll just say in the world, that would test your faith, test your belief system; and based on what we see watching the news, reading a paper, reading the blogs, stuff that comes across our screen when we log on every day, the things that we see, the things that we hear, for me, if there wasn’t something to gravitate to that spiritually kept me even, something that is bigger than me, something that is greater than me and in my life, that’s God. I've grown up my entire life in a Christian home, and it has been the thing that has reminded me that somewhere along the line, I would need grace from someone; somewhere along the line, I would need mercy from someone because I’m not going to do it right all the time; somewhere along the line, I’m going to need forgiveness from someone because I’m going to offend them at some point. It’s inevitable as a human. We’re going to do these things.
So because I know that these are all things I’m going to need in my life, I seek to try and be the person that will extend grace, that will extend mercy, that will be understanding, that will be passionate, that would be forgiving, that would be loving, that would be nonjudgmental. We all fall short of that, but on a daily basis, I strive to be that woman. I strive to be the woman that I want to have someone else be when they are dealing with me, whether it be a woman or a man or whomever.
My Christian faith has had everything in the world to do with it, and when I say my Christian faith, I’m talking about the real Christian faith, and I say this because there are a lot of people who use Christianity as an opportunity to bash people, but that’s not what it’s really about.
I agree that the haters pollute the world and get far too much media attention. We all need to be more humane human beings. I have a couple of more questions for you before we wrap. If you were blessed with another talent, any idea what you would want that talent to be?
As a kid, because I was musically inclined, I gravitated towards the piano and the guitar, and I picked it up naturally. My mother realized that I had the ability, so she actually started me on some lessons. She found somebody that would work with me on the piano, and I got frustrated because I used to get my hands popped with the little ruler all the time because the teacher realized that I wasn’t learning how to read music, that I was going from memory, because if I could sing it, I could teach myself how to play it on the piano. So I stopped taking lessons because I got tired of getting popped with the ruler.
Ouch. That’s pretty brutal.
Yeah, I guess back then it was totally acceptable. But if I could, I would want to just get up on the stage and play skillfully, sit at a piano and just play–
Be a concert pianist?
I would do it. I would absolutely do it in a heartbeat, and I’m still trying to convince myself to find time to sit down and get with a teacher and pick up the guitar and the piano. But that’s what I would want to do.
I’m sure you will find the time and live out that dream. Now, one final question. If you were whisked away to a deserted island and could only take one piece of music with you, only one, do you know what that one would be?
Oh gosh, oh, my god, there’s so much great music! That is not an answer I can give you, and I’ll tell you why. I think because music has made such a huge impact on my life, there are pieces of music that I relate to every major event that has taken place in my life. I’ll tell you what I would love to be able to do, and I don’t know if it counts as one piece of music. It'd be one really long continuous piece of music. I would want to sit with a hypnotherapist who could tap into my brain and record me recalling every song that I've ever learned in my life and take that with me, because that would probably last until I don’t know when. There is no one song. I can think about, you know, the first song I wrote —I can think about the first song I can remember singing as a little girl. Really, I was just over 1 years old. I can remember singing that song.
I can think about the song that was at my wedding, the song that my husband and I love the most. I can think about the song that I wrote for my children and recorded it several years ago and had them sing it with me on the record. There’s just so much. The happy times, the sad times. There’s a song that The Winans recorded many many years ago. I remember when my dad died, I was 9 years old, I listened to that song over and over and over again. So, I don’t think there’s any one song that I could migrate to.
You gave me a perfect answer, Kelly, because you so poignantly summed up how important music is to your life – to all of our lives.
I’m looking forward to seeing Too Fat For Fame, going to your concerts, listening to your new music, and supporting Mammogram & The Mall. Best of luck with everything. It was a pleasure to get to know the real Kelly Price!