I get lifted with Barbara Tucker

On divine inspiration, musical fair play and doing good whilst doing well

Singer, songwriter, stylist, choreographer, promoter, legend: Barbara Tucker

The standard greeting of 2020: how have you been in these strange times? “What I believe in is good, and what I choose to put my faith in is all good. Amen!” When someone sings with the spiritual belief that Barbara Tucker does, it’s no surprise that her recipe for health and sanity in the COVID era is a heavenly one. “That’s why I can say I feel good, and I feel so creative at this time. It’s strange but because of whom I believe in and my faith has allowed me to be well.” 

There’s a also celestial connection that she believes has profoundly influenced the path of her musical career. “I think it’s that Pisces/Aries thing – we tend to have a lot of creativity about us so we just tend to do everything as we feel and without any goal of where we want it to go!” She began with a promising career in musical theatre. “I’ve done off-Broadway plays in New York and I’ve received an award in 1986 for the most promising artist with a distinguishing artistry through the American Theatre of Actors but I didn’t follow that so much because I was doing background singing and choreographing.” A cover of Strafe’s Paradise Garage anthem Set it Off and work with production icon Tommy Musto followed, but her butterfly instincts remained. “I was able to record here and there, as that was not my main thing because I was doing things like singing, and dancing and club promoting! [laughs] I think that’s why somebody called me the Queen of House because I was embodying the dance scene, the night scene.”

Ironically perhaps it was her diverse range of skills that made her a target as a vocalist for legendary Strictly Rhythm A&R Gladys Pizzaro. “I choreographed for one of their artists, Butch Quick, and also did background for him on his projects and Gladys, I didn’t even know she knew of me, she was like ‘I always wanted to work with you,’ because I was also a club promoter promoting music with my partner Don Welch of The Underground Network.” Given that she’s synonymous with Strictly Rhythm at a time when the label was for many in its halcyon days, it’s no surprise that even her contract was extraordinary. “I was signed for six years, I was the longest serving house artist at that time signed to a house label — people were signing tracks, like now, they don’t really sign artists, they don’t really mould them and shape them. But Gladys said ‘We don’t really know what to do with you!’ because I styled myself, I choreographed for myself, I did my own shows [laughs].” The influence of the Strictly Rhythm family was profound, and is reflected in her own philosophy on the relationship a label should have with its artist. “I don’t believe in, ‘Oh we’re just gonna do one song with you.’ No! Sign an artist for three songs, give them some momentum, give them some play and Strictly was wise enough to have Strictly UK, and also licensing the records, that’s really important because you can’t do it yourself.”

Thinking back to that period, for all I loved Beautiful People like everyone else, I’d always rated her 1997 B-Crew production Partay Feeling as an all time favourite because it reflected the calibre of artist on the roster at that time. It turns out she too has fond memories of the project. “Thank you, somebody knows the song! That’s my concept, I loved that song, I loved what the B-Crew was about.” The selection of the B-Crew themselves was no accident either. “I had chosen Mone because, look, she’s the vanilla chocolate of house, I don’t know where she is these days but you hear that girl? One of my favourite artists is Dajae. She’s fun, I like the fact that she dances when she sings, she’s always fun.” And then, of course there was the other lady of that moment. “This was around the time that Strictly had just signed Ultra [Nate] so Gladys says ‘hey, why don’t you put Ultra in it as well?’” The late Erick Morillo completed the project also at Pizzaro’s instigation to revamp the production. On the subject of producers, she has a few things would-be collaborators should bear in mind when they come knocking. Showing respect is the first thing. “Don’t just say ‘oh, can we do a collaboration?’ And I don’t know your work, who are you? Are you using my branding to move up? What is it that you want from me?” Having a musical vision comes next. “Bring the song, let me see where you’re coming from. Are you looking for my voice to create the melody of the song?” And finally, of course, the commercial angle. “What is the plan? Do you have a label? Are you shopping it because my voice is on it? What is the intention of this project that you are doing? Don’t come empty handed. Amen! [laughs]” 

She’s Barbara Tucker and she’s assertive when she talks but is in no way stand-offish and when she calls for respect it’s clear that with her it’s a two-way street. I’d recalled some years before reading an interview with her where she talked about the term diva having a particular meaning and not to be used lightly. Unsurprisingly she still has strong beliefs the term should not be used without its divine connotation. “A diva is not you with an attitude, ‘Well I asked for this, I didn’t ask for that! Oh I need this in my bathroom not that!’ What is that? That’s a luciferarian spirit that ‘I, I, I, I need it, I’m the greatest and I’m this.’” It’s also a mindset that translates into the energy she puts into her work, for example a commitment to connect with her audience beyond the performance that I found deeply touching. “I like to create moments that someone can remember, because I don’t know what you’re going back home to. We’re here in Ibiza, we’re here at the Blue Marlin or the Children of the Eighties or Glitterbox and you just want to forget about…’I had the worst day at work, I had to work so hard to pay for this vacation…’ I want to create moments and an atmosphere that people can enjoy and forget their troubles or get through them with a strength and a power that is always inside of you. That’s what I think a diva can do.”

A diva it seems can make a positive impact on the world beyond her music, in her case with regard to philanthropy. “You can’t tell me ‘Oh I love God, and I’m singing this song, and it’s gospel house and it’s all this, and you have yet to go volunteer in a shelter, help clothe somebody, help feed somebody, so really?” Working with Dr Glenn Toby, himself a hip hop and garage performer of renown, she’s a major contributor to The Book Bank Foundation which promotes literacy with underprivileged children and adults. “We started off giving one book at a time to homeless families, and from there we collect clothing, toiletries, we bring forth inspiration and song and at Christmas we go round anything up to ten shelters a day.” It’s no surprise to learn also that she’s not one for the proverbial gloved hand of the distant celebrity; she likes to get involved on the ground. “I don’t care to give to million dollar foundations or fundraisers, let’s just get on the street, ‘cos we don’t know how that money will go. Not ‘Oh I just did a track and it had the legends and all these singers and musicians…’ OK, so you did a track and God’s blessed you, now what are you doing for the people? What are you giving back?”

Talking of public service, I was curious to know whether she was aware how well received her track Free Yourself with Birdee and Nick Reachup was in the gloomy lockdown days of 2020. When I asked, her answer revealed yet another insight into recording life I hadn’t expected. “I didn’t know that because, you know, here in New York people they tend to stay with their sound. If you have a producer who’s a DJ he plays his stuff or things he has alliances with so you don’t always get to hear your music, that’s why I love the UK, why I love overseas because the producers, the DJs can be authentic to music in general.” With an album track for E-Smoove in the works, plus collaboration on an album with Georgie Porgie and Kyle “Small” Smith it’s a service we can rely on into 2021 too but typically she has wise words for us DJs. “Don’t just play it because it’s on the label, don’t just play it because that’s what the big boss says. If it’s good, let it play.” 

As the lady herself might say herself, amen.

Published by Martin

Geek, DJ, runner, family man.