*Certain eras in time are marked by certain mental stimuli. In our minds the sights, sounds and vibes of the past can become more vivid than they ever were when recalled from the present.
Our memories are funny that way. When viewing the screening copy of “Unsung: Miki Howard” my memory went to a place of junior high school angst. A moment nearly 25 years in the past when I first heard Miki Howard flashed into my mind. I saw her singing on “Soul Train” and the voice, the lips, the cheek bones … wow! A 12 year old boy in Trenton, NJ was smitten with by a chocolate angel.
Yes, that’s how I remember it, but after watching Howard tell her story on TV One’s “Unsung” I realized this heavenly body went through hell on earth. Now her story is finally being told.
“It was humbling, purging in fact. The chance to just get it all out,” Miki says when asked of her initial emotional response to the show. “People say so many different things. And I’m just hopeful that now people will get a chance to know and understand why things went certain ways and why I may have behaved a certain way. People are critical and ridicule you for things and they don’t even know what’s going on.”
This “Unsung” episode is, like most of the others, a self-contained work of art that is designed to frame the life of a tragic genius. Miki’s genuine pain is apparent throughout the show, but she tells EURweb.com’s Lee Bailey that she is over the old pains now.
“I am a happy, wonderfully enthusiastic woman,” said Howard. “I’m in transit with life still, I am still passionate about singing, I love it. I am thrilled to look at my children, see that they’re all grown up and doing well for themselves. I mean what else is there?”
In watching the drama filled show, and listening to the testimony of her loved ones, the impact all of the turmoil had on Howard’s family was apparent. It seems to resonate deepest with her son Brandon, who is seen giving an emotional testimony and stating his disdain for those he feels have wronged his mother.
“Of course he’s not healed,” said 49-year-old Howard. “That was traumatic for my children and myself, but that’s not his problem. He’s healing, but those are not his problems. Those are my problems. My children are grown people and are doing their own thing now. It was especially traumatic for him because he’s in show business, he’s a producer. He’s worked with a lot of people and he’s been around. He’s heard people say awful things (about me) when they didn’t know he was my son. It was more devastating for him, but he’s good.”
Miki Howard’s towering vocals are a testament to growing up in a musical household. She is the offspring of Josephine Howard, of the gospel group the Caravans, and Clay Graham of the Pilgrim Jubilees. Both her mother and father were gospel mainstays, and her sister could hold her own as well. Though Howard credits God with her emotional resurrection, here’s what she had to say when asked whether she would consider singing gospel.
“I do gospel! Gospel is your life. I don’t separate my life and church. I grew up in that situation where people lived one way and preached another,” said Howard. “Well, I’m not perfect and I’m not going to be perfect unless God gives me some super-duper blessing that makes me perfect. I feel like all my songs are gospel, they are true. You can apply them to God, you can apply them to your love life, you can apply them to yourself. The truth is the truth. Your values, your morals, your spirituality. You should live by that and not just preach it. I’m not that person that’s going to sing ‘I’m going up yonder’ because I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t think I’m going to hell, but then again my beliefs are different than a lot of people. I have studied the Bible, have studied people, have studied my sins, and my behaviors. I’ve learned what God and myself can live with because that’s our personal relationship. So, I do sing gospel in my mind and in my heart. The Bible doesn’t only talk about your spiritual needs. It talks about your physical needs, the needs of your heart, and things like that. When you constantly call yourself a spiritual being, and you’re not a spiritual being, you’re going to fall short. Everybody talking ’bout ‘I’m not of the flesh, I’m not of the flesh’. Well, I’m of the flesh!”
Part 0f Howard’s story is having grown up in a household where homosexuality was being practiced. This subject was far more taboo in the 60s than it is today. Couple that with the fact that her mother was a lesbian gospel singer and one can begin to understand why she may be torn about her relationship with gospel music. But she’s not only shunning singing “for the Lord,” she’s shunning performing secular concerts as well. She tells Lee that she would much rather be doing something on television.
“Promoters are very unkind these days, they don’t have a lot of money, people are just don’t have a lot of money to spend on going to concerts and things like that. And I’m certainly not in the public eye like I used to be. So, that’s just not my druthers. So I want to bring the audience to me instead of going to the audience. I love TV. I understand it and that’s what I really want to do right now.”
She told s2smagazine.com that her TV show is currently in development, and it’s based around her relationship with her sisters played by Kelita Smith and Bernadette Stanis.
And just how confident is Howard in her chances at landing a television deal?
“Honey, they’re as good as anybody else’s. Shoot, you keep looking out for me and tell me how good my chances are.”
In watching the “Unsung” episode it became apparent that Miki Howard craved love. As beautiful as she was as a young woman, she reminded Mr. Bailey that she was pretty naïve back then when it came to men.
“You’ve known me since I was 16, 17 years old, Lee. You had your cassette player way back then,” said Howard. “Most people, at that age, are out going on dates and they’re learning about men and boys and things like that. I was learning about singing, I was learning the music business and I didn’t have the opportunity to learn the things that you should learn. I lost my mom at 18 years old and the show says it was later, but it was 18. She put me out by the time I was 16. So, there was no parent to tell me. Besides that I grew up in a completely gay environment. So, I had no idea about men. I knew nothing! When I tell you nothing, I mean nothing. I just put them on a pedestal and held them in high esteem, whether they deserved it or not. That’s not a good thing, so I had to learn the hard way that you don’t cast your pearls among swine. There are men that are swine and, most likely, they’re the first ones that come up. When you don’t have a lot of time and you don’t have a lot of knowledge you kind of go with the first Joe. ‘Hey you like me, you love me? Ok, let’s do this!’ I didn’t go to the movies, smooch in a theater or fondle in the backseat of a car. I didn’t do any of those things that teenagers are supposed to do in learning about your sexuality. So, in all of my 20s and early 30s I made serious mistakes with men.”
Howard was discovered by Augie Johnson of the group Side Effect. She sang vocals on some of their greatest hits. Though Augie’s testimony on “Unsung” paints one picture, Miki tells EURweb.com of a slightly different one.
“Augie Johnson,” said Howard as if making a grand announcement. “He held on to me until I was 25 and he wasn’t righteous in terms of being a man, but he was a fantastic mentor in terms of show business.”
Even though she and Johnson ended up having two kids together, he wouldn’t marry her. However, Miki credits him for showing her the ropes of the industry, but still feels he took advantage of her. Despite that she says she holds no grudges.
“Doesn’t everybody take advantage of people that don’t know anything and they have the upper hand? Even if you don’t mean to, sometimes you just do,” said Howard. “I don’t want to put anything bad on anybody. We all pay the same wages, the wages of sin are death. I’m still here, I got two great kids out of the relationship with Augie, a great career and it was not anybody’s fault. It just happened!”
Eventually Howard did get married to a guy named Eddie Phelps and boy was that ever a wrong move. It was such a bad situation that she completely blocked a lot of it out of her mind. But in speaking with the producers of Unsung, a lot of the ugly memories came flooding back.
“They asked me things I forgot had happened. When I was married to this guy we used to have horrible fights and they reminded me that he tried to hang me.”
There are some things we couldn’t mention for the sake of space, but let’s just say Gerald Levert played a prominent role in her career, her life, and her recovery from the abyss of drug abuse.
“He gave me more life with his death,” Miki said. “He always wanted me to stay in the game and it just made me want to be better and not disappoint him.”
Watch clips from “Unsung” featuring Miki Howard:
For more on Miki Howard, log on to www.mikihowardmedia.com.