HELLO AMERICA!—When one is fortunate to meet an artist who takes you on a magic journey of music and ideas, you’re transfixed in a space of no return. My exchange with singer actress, composer Cydney Wayne Davis definitely rocked my moving ship!
MSJ: Cydney before actually coming to Hollywood, what was your impression of the place and how did you feel you might fit in as a young neophyte in the business?
CYD: When I thought of “Hollywood” I thought of stars and celebrities and spotlights and stages and adoring fans and I hungered for that life. I felt that I had “star” quality and that Hollywood was where I belonged. I believed that I was good enough to take the stage with any of the heavy weight artists because, even as a young neophyte, I had a strong desire to be in the entertainment business and the talent, drive and the work ethic to succeed.
MSJ: Who were some of the icons in music or in film and the theatre who impacted your creative passions and why?
CYD: Judy Garlard first haunted me with her voice singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and caused me to say within myself, ‘I want to do that’, meaning I wanted to have a beautiful voice and move people emotionally as a singer as she did for me. Lena Horne let me know what a true star was and that as a black woman nothing could hold me back. Tina Turner showed me how to put my whole self into a song and give all of my energy and might on the stage with pure passion. Marvin Gaye’s beautiful way of telling a story with his voice and his words inspired me to want to sing and write my own songs. Mahalia Jackson lifted my soul and lit a desire within me to let God’s light shine through me.
MSJ: Many youngsters years ago didn’t have the necessary family support nor teachers during their daily school experience. What was your situation when slowly discovering your passion for music and possibly becoming an actress? Were their many bumps?
CYD: There are always bumps in the road to your destiny and I have had my share of hurdles to leap over. However, I have been blessed to have had such loving support from my family, teachers and mentors along the way while developing my talent and carving out my path for my career. I started singing in the church choir at age 10 and was encouraged by my choir director and church mothers to sing solos during Sunday worship and I did just that. I was the lead singer in many of our high school productions and had a wonderful and encouraging teacher in glee club who saw my talent and offered me lead parts and solos.
My father thought I was so good that he put a “star” on the front of my bedroom door when I was a teenager. That lingering image gave me a lot of confidence in myself when the bumps in the road eventually popped up. Knowing that my dad thought I was a star got me through many a rough patch. I was an elementary school teacher in Toledo, Ohio before my singing career and I would often sing to my 6th grade students who told me to quit my teaching job and pursue my music career. They said, “Miss Davis, you sing so good, you should move to Hollywood”. I listened. That’s when the teacher became the student. Once I moved to Los Angeles my sister, Cynthia Davis, was so supportive of me and had such faith in my talent that she quit her job in Ohio and moved to Los Angeles to manage my music career and helped me shape my style and image negotiate my contracts. As an actress I studied my craft for many years with Ben Guillory of the Robey Theatre Company in Los Angeles and performed in several Robey plays eventually winning the NAACP’s Theatre Award for “Best Supporting Actress” in 2013.
MSJ: What was your first break-through as a singer and what was it like? Did it change your sense of direction as to how to make producers and directors view you or better yet, HOW you might be more marketable as a talent?
CYD: My first big break as a professional singer came in 1983 when I landed a gig singing background for the legendary, Marvin Gaye, on his “Midnight Love Tour” featuring his Grammy hit “Sexual Healing”. It was like a dream come true. I met Marvin by chance in Los Angeles at the 25th Grammy Awards back stage. A 9-year-old girl struck up a conversation with me I was patiently waiting to meet my idol and shake Marvin’s hand. I didn’t know that the little girl was his daughter, Nona Gaye. She tugged on his jacket and said, “Daddy, this is my friend, Cydney. She’s nice can she come with us?” Marvin said, “Sure, baby girl….anything you want.” That night changed my life. I became Marvin’s volunteer babysitter.
Eventually when he found out that I was a singer he auditioned me for the job of background singer and I made the cut. He said, “If you can sing in tune, have good pitch, sing in harmony and blend with the other ladies, then I’d like to hire you, Cydney, because you’re good people.” That set a standard for me to first be respectful of any artist I would work with and be a team player. With Marvin Gaye on my resume I was validated and landed background gigs with Ray Charles, Barry White, Donna Summer, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder and Marliyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. to name a few. I have tried to create a legacy of not just being a good singer and performer but also being “good people” as Marvin put it.
MSJ: You’ve worked with some high-powered “names” in the music industry. Who were the easiest to deal with creatively as well as business-wise? Was it easy to deal with the likes of Marvin Gaye who was a well loved and respected musician but had well publicized personal problems? At times did it effect the creative work that had to be accomplished?
CYD: Barry White taught me much about the business. He respected that I had aspirations beyond just backup singing. He liked that I also wrote my own songs and encouraged me to learn about publishing and copyrights and gave me tips on how to start an independent record label which I still aspire to do someday. Donna Summer was the only recording artist I’ve ever worked with who gave points from her album to the background singers and band members. I learned from her to respect and be generous to the people who help you make the music.
Ray Charles was a genius and perfectionist and I learned to do my homework and study my parts and sing correctly to avoid getting cursed out by Mr. Charles for hitting a wrong note. (Love you, Ray) Joe Cocker was a lovely man with a full, soulful, and passionate voice. I had to use my full range of voice to sing his songs and I loved challenging and pushing myself vocally to rock out with Joe. Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. are such amazing singers and true “stars” on stage but the most beautiful, down to earth, full of love people I’ve ever worked with and I love them like family. I have learned how to walk by faith and not by sight and handle myself with grace and class in this business from both Marilyn and Billy. As for Marvin Gaye, he was wonderful to work with. He was such a blessed soul and a talent like no one else on earth. Despite his personal problems, whenever he hit the stage he poured out his heart and soul every night to his fans. I believe that Marvin was so creative that whatever his problems were they became a part of his creative process and the subject of his music.
MSJ: There has always been so much controversy about Diana Ross even during her days as a “SUPREME” member, but you composed a song for one of her albums, was it an arduous task?
CYD: As far as my experience with Diana Ross it was amazing. I co-wrote the song “You’re Gonna Love It” in 1990 with Lloyd Tolbert who’s uncle had produce a few of our songs on up and coming Motown artists who were still trying to get deals. So I told Lloyd that I didn’t want to shop this song because I wanted it for myself as an artist. I told him that I would only considered shopping the song if it was going to be for a big name recording artist like Diana Ross, for instance. Three weeks later I got the call that DIANA ROSS had heard the song on one of our demos and wanted to put it on her up-coming album.
I fainted in my living room. I couldn’t believe that Diana Ross had heard me singing and wanted to sing my song. During recording I did all the background vocals, however I did not get the chance to meet Diana in the studio. But after the release of the album during her live tour she performed “You’re Gonna Love It” at her concerts and I got the chance to experience her singing my song live and I LOVED it. You can pull her performances of “You’re Gonna Love It” on YouTube. In my opinion, Miss Ross is the BOSS.
MSJ: You’re recognized as a singer, actress as well as a producer, what is your ultimate goal as an artist? And why?
CYD: My ultimate goal is to launch myself and other seasoned talent into the main market to tell our stories and show our worth as artists. I want to not only produce songs, but plays, musicals, television and film. I feel that I have so many stories inside of me and so many creative ways to express and share all the stories that inspire, motivate, educate, and entertain. I think it’s important for us in the entertainment business to stand for quality and substance and offer entertainment that changes people lives for the better.
MSJ: Since being in the business for so long, what have you learned most concerning survival?
CYD: My faith in GOD is my survival. I’ve learned to be thankful for everything I have and trust God that the blessings will come as I become a blessing.
MSJ: Cydney, when you’re alone and look in the mirror, what do you see?
CYD: When I look in the mirror I see God’s child. I see the strength of my father, the grace and beauty of my mother, the wisdom of my sisters and the wit of my brother. I see a bright and shining light. I see a STAR who’s time to shine is now.