Liz Mc Comb


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Cleveland-born singer has fame in France,
but her mother is here
, by Karen Sandstrom

Liz Mc Comb, what a thrill !, by Alain Thomas



Cleveland-born singer
has fame in France,
but her mother is here

Thursday, March 22, 2007
Karen Sandstrom
Plain Dealer Reporte


The appointment is for 3 p.m. at a Cleveland Heights coffee shop. Wires cross. An hour later, there is singer Liz McComb, dark curls flying, black coat buttoned against a biting wind.

She apologizes once, twice, three times. "I owe you," she says.

She doesn't owe me; I'd been vague about the location. But being kind is part of what McComb sings about in her bluesy gospel repertoire. It's what shows up on her new CD, "Soul, Peace & Love" (GVE/Sunnyside Records).

It's how she lives. Her mother, a Mississippi-bred minister with a strong, Southern voice, confirms this.

"She always believed in the right way, from a child," says the Rev. Fannie McComb. "She loved to go to church, to do the things that is right. Yes indeed, I can truly say that."

Well into her 80s, the Rev. McComb still preaches on Sundays at First Church of St. Luke in Cleveland, and she won't shy away from an opportunity to brag. Her Liz is the sixth of seven children and the one who has made a career belting out smoky praises for God.

"She's always been sincere, whatever she do," Fannie McComb says. "She love to sing, play her own music. It's been all of her life."

This sincerity has traction with more than just her mother. Liz McComb's last four CDs have hit France's "hot 100" pop-music charts, and she regularly fills 2,000-seat theaters there.

Her publicist, writer Bil Carpenter, is the author of "Uncloudy Days," a gospel music encyclopedia. Carpenter has seen both sides of McComb - the demure, private woman and the fearless performer. "When she hits that stage, she becomes another person. Bold. Authoritative," he says. "She can slay dragons onstage."

Yet in the last 20 years, most of those dragons have been of European heritage.

Born and raised in the Glenville neighborhood, McComb has a show-business pedigree that includes theater work at Karamu House in the 1970s.

"I remember we did ‘The Hymie Finkelstein Used Lumber Company,'¤" McComb says.

The point? "There is no point, I've just always remembered the name," McComb says with a laugh.

After high school, McComb and a friend were offered a chance to tour cities in Europe with a group that performed "The Roots of Rock." They played and sang in Switzerland, France, Spain and Italy.

The experience fulfilled a fantasy. As a kid, when it was McComb's turn for chores, she'd turn the broom handle into a microphone and imagine singing around the world. She believed she was destined to do that.

After the tours in Europe, McComb found gigs there at arts and music festivals and as an opener for big names, including James Brown and Ray Charles. She began to make Paris her home in the 1980s, and has found a niche among what Carpenter calls "an artsy, intellectual crowd of roots-music aficionados." Now she lives in Paris part time to nurture her art and in Cleveland part time to nurture her family and her relationship with her mother. Ask her about her love life and McComb, who is not married and has no children, replies, "Music. That's my real love, and that's the truth."

The new CD reflects her tendency to make alliances wherever she goes. Its 12 tracks were variously recorded in Paris, Guadeloupe, Chicago, Indianapolis, New Jersey and Cleveland. McComb found collaborators for all of them, including the Blind Boys of Alabama on "For Your Love Is Better Than Wine" and members of the choir at First Church of St. Luke on "Can't Nobody Know My Trouble." Nephew Clarence McComb, a Plain Dealer security guard, plays drums and tambourines on that track. Rapper Tony Dorsey joins her on an electrifying version of "Oh! When the Saints Go Marching In."

"I have such great friends from all cultures," says McComb.

European life has done this for her. She's at home in Paris because the culture feels open.

"The French are more accepting of people and races," she says. "Artists have always been welcome."

Her work has a higher profile there in part, she believes, because there's a huge appetite for roots music. To the French, blues and gospel music all fall under the heading of "jazz," and they welcome it all.

McComb surmises that her U.S. profile is smaller because blues and jazz fans think she's too gospel while in the gospel world she's "not gospel enough." Still, she has hopes for "Soul, Peace & Love," only her second CD released in the United States. She played the Whiting auditorium in Flint, Mich., on Saturday; after that, her concert dates are all overseas.

She has no shows scheduled for Cleveland, though she'd like to. She's often here, spending time with her mother.

"I work like a slave when I'm home," McComb teases, though it's true she helps her mother with household chores. If you ask the Rev. McComb what she does for her daughter, she says, "I raised her from a child."

When they're together, they shop, go to church, see movies. "Just being around her, my energy is revived," McComb says of the time with her mother.

The Rev. McComb says she has become at ease with the fact that her daughter comes home but always leaves. It was difficult at first, but she says "I considered through the years that this is her life and this is what God wants her to do. It's much easier now."As for McComb, it has gotten easy to think of France as her second home. It is where she can be a singer, a writer and an artist. "When I'm there," she says, "my soul breathes."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4810


Liz Mc Comb, what a thrill !

by Alain Thomas

Liz Mc Comb, who has been living in France for a few years, has made quite a name for herself on the French jazz scene. Her last record, " Acoustic Woman ", and her recent appearances on TV have enabled her to display the many sides of her talent and have attracted a lot of attention. Soul Bag asked her about her career.

- Tell us about the way you started...

I've always been fascinated by music. When I was a little girl, I used to look and listen to my sister playing the piano at church. Eventually, I took lessons with a music teacher. We studied classical music, but like all youngsters I'd rather listen to soul music. I sang in church. We belonged to the Pentecostal Church, as every other member of my family did. As a child, I already had a very powerful voice and I always performed as a solist, first in church, then with the Jean Austin Singers. Jean Austin had sung with Dorothy Norwood and Shirley Caesar. Then I started touring with the Barrett Sisters and Shirley Caesar. Most of the time, material conditions were difficult but we loved playing our music.

- What were your first influences ?

Naturally, I've been influenced by the main figures of gospel, such as Clara Ward or Aretha Franklin, and most of all by Mahalia Jackson, which I still regard as a model. I was also singing in clubs and I liked listening to Gladys Knight, Lou Rawls, Tony Bennett and Mel Torme, one of my favorite singers, and of course to Sarah Vaughan who will always be the greatest of them all. I found Billie Holliday fantastic, but I was too young then to sense the full meaning of her message.

- How did you manage to conciliate the two sides of your art - gospel and jazz ?

Both religious and secular styles of music - or if you care for labels, gospel and jazz - are easy to conciliate as far as music is concerned. They're so close actually that they make only one. As the phrase goes, some say " baby " instead of " Jesus ". Both styles are deeply linked with afro-american life. All our music and all our feeling come from the church. Before she became famous, Sarah Vaughan played the organ in her local church. Ray Charles was among the first blues singers to imitate gospel's vocal mannerism. His hit 'I Got a Woman " actually plagiarizes an old spiriual. However, it's difficult for audiences back in US to conciliate both styles, merely for religious and ethical reasons. Let me tell you an anecdote on this subject. I belong to the Pentecostal Church. We were first to admit all music instruments such as guitars, drums, saxophones... Everybody does the same now, but in these days, it was no common practice. The Baptists, particularly, allowed only the organ and piano to be played during service. If you listen to the first Aretha Franklin records, you can hear that " Baptist Sound ". We have our own way to show our faith, which has little to do with how the Europeans show theirs. This kind of outlet for our sufferings has helped my people to survive the hard times it has experienced troughout its history. However, at a moment during a church service when there was a lot of exaltation, some guy started to sing the blues - and to sing it very well indeed - instead of a gospel song. The excitement suddenly fell away and the audience seemed completely indifferent. A church wasn't the right place for this music. For similar reasons, Sam Cooke had to stop singing gospel after his first rythm'n'blues hit. As for myself, I can sing either blues or gospel, but I don't like mixing both styles.

Alain Thomas


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