Susaye Greene Exclusive

Susaye - Times Square

The last member of the Supremes sits down and talks about music, love and inspiration

To many Susaye Greene is known for being the last lady to join the Supremes. Alongside original member Mary Wilson and Sherrie Payne, Greene helped the group add even more hit songs to its legacy, including High Energy and I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking.

The latter almost amplifies how Greene has always lived her life. Whether it’s singing, writing, painting or being a wife and mother, Greene has always allowed her heart walk her down the right path.

I caught up with Greene after she had lunch with her “hubby” on a beautiful afternoon in California. In her soothing and still school-girlish voice, Greene was eager to discuss her upcoming projects, including writing music for the indie film, Nostalgia, which will be released early next year. She’s also been commissioned to paint the film’s poster.

But even with all of the new ventures she has her hands in, she still took the time to look back and reflect on some of the events that helped her become the woman she is today—a woman she says is the happiest she knows in the world.

Dustin Fitzharris: We just have to jump right in and talk about the Supremes. Upon joining in 1976, replacing Cindy Birdsong, you were the last official woman to sing with the group. After all of these years, what do you feel your significance with the Supremes was?
Susaye Greene: To straddle the old with the new. My viewpoint of entertainment, I think, was a refreshing one in the Supremes. Disco was life, and yet there was an under current of sort of a freedom song that for artists was the moment at Motown and around the world where they were really getting a sense of taking charge of their careers—not having the big company handling and doing everything for you. I really believe that the time of my coming into the group was important from that aspect because having worked with Stevie Wonder just before and having worked with Quincy Jones, I made a musical difference.

How do you think it affected the group?
Mary, for one thing, I think really reached into herself as an artist. It was when she gained confidence. I know it’s because Scherrie and I are very, very strong singers. I’m a feminist. I’m a very modern-thinking woman. I came up in a time when women’s liberation came to the fore, as well as the sexual revolution, and women found their personal power. I was brought up to be a powerful woman. It’s a tremendous thing for me to have been the last member of the Supremes. I’m proud of it, and yet it is a part of a whole picture of what I have always been, what I still am and still wish to become.

Do you still keep in touch with any of the other women?
Of course. I’d say everybody except Diana—only because we’ve never been close. We’ve seen each other. We’re pleasant, but we really don’t know each other. We hung out a few times at her home, but we’re just in different worlds. But the other ladies I’ve kept in touch with. Scherrie, Cindy and Lynda—very, very often. Mary, not so often, but we speak and we e-mail each other silly stuff.

Nine years ago Diana Ross went on tour with Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence as part of the Return to Love Tour. Were you asked to be a part of the tour?
Oh, yes. Everyone was asked.

You’ve always been involved in something artistic. Where do you find your inspiration?
I think a common thread among artists of all kinds is inspiration. So many people say, ‘I can’t find it.’ Well, I’m a firm believer that [you can] if you look around you—particularly if you look at the beauty that surrounds you in nature. I’m inspired by very simple things. Things like my garden. I got interested in that when I was in England. Gardening is a tremendous past time there, particularly organic gardening. I plant particular flowers and trees and herbs and all kinds of fruits and vegetables because I want to photograph them. I surround myself with these amazing flowers, and of course by having a wide variety, you attract the animals. Then I can go out and see something that I created that’s always changing. Inspiration for songs comes from things I’ve experienced in my life or things that I see around me that I love and enjoy—or not.

Who were some of your early influences?
I have a very broad-based set of influences because on one side, my mother, Viviane Greene, was a blues singer and a classical pianist. She was a child prodigy. She made quite an impact on the blues. She had a big hit with a record called Honey, Honey, Honey. That was Ray Charles’ first recording. Then my father, Al Greene, sang with big bands.

 Al Gree—
Al Greene –no, not that Al Green! We always say the real Al Greene! Since he was such a big fan of jazz, I learned about people like Illinois Jack Hampton and Willie the Lion Smith. I’m a tremendous Mozart person, and of course Ella. They inspired me in a way that was different from the way that Motown inspired me. I was a Temptations fan. But as a singer, the people who really taught me to phrase a song were mostly men. Tony Bennett. Johnny Mathis. Smokey Robinson. Then on the other side Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland.

You started in show business at 12-months old. Were you a prodigy?
Not in the same sense as my mother. She was playing Mozart at age 4. She trained me from a tiny girl. She said I always sang in the crib. I was one of those obedient kinds. Children who are successful in show business have to be because it’s a business. It takes you out of the realm of the silliness of being a kid. My voice hasn’t changed. I listen to the songs I did when I was 12, and it was much too mature for my age. I imagine on certain levels I was [a prodigy], but I wasn’t aware of that. It’s just that when some kids were out playing, I’d be singing, doing scales, learning piano, and painting.

What is one of your earliest show business memories?
That’s an interesting question. No one has ever asked me that before. Ummm … it wasn’t the first thing that I did, but it was something that is one of those moments in your life that you recognize. I was in a choir in junior high in a school in Queens. I couldn’t have been more than 13. The choir director encouraged me to audition for Harry Belafonte for his album Streets I Have Walked. Most of the kids who sang on the album were from my chorus, but I was the only one who was asked to go on tour with him.

At that moment, I can remember sitting in his office in Manhattan with my mom. I had on a green cotton dress that had a very tight bodice all the way to the waist, and my waist was so tiny at that point. It had one of these huge skirts—I looked like a bell. My godmother had sent it from Houston. It was just fabulous. Anyway, Anthony Quinn came into the office to meet with Harry. After we talked a while, he said to my mother, ‘She’s quite a girl.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Ohmygod! That’s Anthony Quinn!’ I think it was at that moment that I realized show business wasn’t just staying up all night. It was a real thing that could mean a real career for me. 

You wrote the Michael Jackson song I Can’t Help It from his Off the Wall album.  How did his passing affect you?
I’m still floored. I think we all really are. It’s something that is so huge and weird. It hits me. My mother taught most of them [The Jacksons]. She was a vocal coach for a lot of show business kids. We’ve been to Michael’s house many times in Encino. We lived on the same street. I don’t think even yet the impact of Michael Jackson as an entertainer has reached the world. It has, but it hasn’t. I think it will take years like it did with Elvis. I feel very happy to have had the opportunity to meet him, write for him and have him perform one of my songs.

 What other children did your mother coach?
Remember Webster [Emmanuel Lewis]? She would go to the studio where he was filming. I went with her many times. I gave him the Lord of the Rings trilogy for his birthday because it had changed my life. It’s the kind of book that changes your perception of creativity on a literal level.

Currently you are working on many projects, including collaborating with Matti Roots. Who is Matti and what are you two working on?
Matti is a UK artist who really is just starting to break out on a big level. He’s extremely soulful and his lyrics are intriguing. He’s got a wicked sense of humor and a great laugh. Primarily Matti and I are writing together. He allowed me to hear his new CD before it’s actually out, and I can still remember that it was on a Friday that I got it. I listened to it all weekend long. I’m a real sucker for a good pop song. I heard this one particular song and in one of our back and forth e-mails I mentioned to him that I was jealous of the vocalist who he is singing the song with. He said, ‘Well, if you’d like to do it, I’d love it.’

What is the name of the song?
Dope.

You’re said you’re a sucker for a good pop song. Name something you love?
Fergie’s last CD. That was just marvelous for me. You know, you can put that on in the car or you can dance around the house. That kind of music is invaluable because it’s upbeat and it gives you hope. Anything that makes you get up and feel energized is a tremendous thing.

 You were recently selected as Imagekind’s, one of the fastest growing art sites, artist of the day. What did that mean to you?
To be on the front page and be pulled out from thousands of artists and recognized from photographers with such high standards, is just stunning to someone like me who is primarily self-taught. Art was the way that I made money as a kid to support my art habits. I would do portraits for people.

Next year you will release a new CD. Do you enjoy recording?
I’m always excited about recording. As my husband likes to say, I’m a ‘Muso.’ I love the studio. Of all of the things I’ve done, besides flying a small plane and sex, it’s one of the greatest things on earth.

Did I hear you right? Sex?
Why yes! We’re talking about life’s most satisfying experiences.

Well then, let’s talk about your husband. You’ve been married since 1984. What is the secret to a lasting relationship?
I think you have to be pretty much in love in the beginning and have a sense of commitment that just has depth. It’s so easy these days to have immediate gratification in all the ways. It takes sort of an old-fashioned look at things and a certain perspective of commitment.

You had a lot of nurturing in your career. Many young artists today don’t have that kind of support. What do you think of American Idol?
Oh, I love it! It’s like a dream for all of us who are mushy and romantic. Anyone who has won American Idol hasn’t won just because they were talented. It’s that certain humanity that they brought with them—That charisma.

Who are your favorites?
I had a few people I really liked. I thought Fantasia was just the most amazing. She’s the closest woman in the new generation to Aretha Franklin. And then there’s Carrie Underwood. She’s soulful singing! She was born to be a country singer. The nights on the show that she was really on was when she was singing country because it was from her heart and soul. Now of course she’s all polished and just Miss Diva.

Any final thoughts on the Supremes?
It’s really a surprise that we’re all still thought of and considered, and all of us are still out there doing it.  But I would love a reunion of some kind with Diana and Mary. And I hope for the fans for that to happen. I don’t know about anybody else being involved, but I know the fans would really love that, and I think they really deserve it. 

What are you the most proud of?
That I’ve been able to maintain a real life. I have a husband, a 23-year-old son and three big dogs. It’s all of my happiness and madness put together. And that’s what counts. Were you loved? Were you cared for? Did you love and did you care for someone else? For me that’s what matters the most.  All the rest is just fluff.

 

For the latest on Susaye Greene, visit www.myspace.com/susaye. For more information on Susaye’s artwork, visit Imagekind
Photo by: Samantha Isom
Published 2009

 

Advertisements

One Response to “Susaye Greene Exclusive”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. « dustin fitzharris - October 28, 2009

    […] exclusive interview: susaye greene […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: