Hi Joan. Let’s start with some history. Where were you born and raised?
I was born Joan Renée Cartwright, on December 7, 1947, at Kew Gardens Hospital, NY, raised in the Bronx, until I was three, when we moved to an attached, three-story home on Inwood Street, in South Ozone Park, Queens, NY.
What were you like as a child? Did you sing a lot then?
Yes! When I was four, I began dancing lessons with Bernice Johnson Dance School just off of Sutphin Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, in Jamaica, NY. At five, Bernice gave Mom the sheet music to “Somebody Loves Me” with two sets of lyrics – English and French. Mom loved French, so she taught me both lyrics and, at our recital, that year, I sang the song at the Lowe’s Theater on Hillside Avenue for the large crowd of parents and attendees. By eight, I was featured in nine routines. The most memorable was with a little boy singing, “Walking My Baby Back Home.” Our costumes were gorgeous. I wore a white dress in that routine with a crinoline underskirt. The other outfit I loved had black, shiny streamers on the spandex body suit that we used for our interpretive routine. I there for four years and dancing school was the formation of my performance career. Bernice’s husband, the infamous saxophonist Budd Johnson would keep me at their home, until Bernice picked me up for class. He’d take me to the basement, where he practiced. Photos of famous musicians lined the staircase walls. He’d play his saxophone and, when I was 27, I realized THAT’s how I learned how to scat!
From eight to 13, I sang in the choir at St. Clement Pope Catholic Church. I attended the school and played tenor drum and glockenspiel in the marching and maneuvering band. We were State Champions one year and we marched in the Puerto Rican Day Parade up 5th Avenue. When I went to Bishop McDonnell High School in Brooklyn, I was in the Glee Club and Theater Ensemble, where I played Elisa Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”
Was there musical influence in your family?
My father loved classical and jazz music, while my mother preferred finger-poppin’ R&B and Soul music.
Other than greatly appreciating music, my father didn’t play any instrument. Mom played a little piano and we had one in our basement in Queens. She loved to sing, though, and she and I often engaged in our own personal operas. She’d be in the basement, where we had our brightly lit, yellow-painted kitchen, and I’d be upstairs dusting or making up the beds. She would sing out, “Oh, Renée!” and I’d reply, “Oh, Ma Maaaaaa!” We had a lot of fun singing back and forth to each other.
Who were your Artistic influences and what music did you listen too?
Dad owned so many albums that he played on our ebony wood Grundig Stereo. There were records of Ella, Sarah, Billie, Carmen, Nancy Wilson, Morgana King, Sally Green, then, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oliver Nelson, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, all the greats! And my favorite pastime was to turn all the lights out at night and listen to these records by the tiny, white light on the front of the huge stereo cabinet. By the age of 12, I knew the lyrics to every song the singers recorded, including Lush Life, ‘Round Midnight, All of Me, Satin Doll, all the standard tunes of the 40s and 50s were in my little head.
When you sat and thought about ‘what you wanted to be when you grew up’ what did you think?
Always, I wanted to be a singer. That’s all I ever wanted to be, except that I had a dream of being a mother and wife. I married very young, at 16. I was pregnant with my son and gave birth to Michael, six months before I married his father. At 18, I had my daughter, Michele (Mimi). It was good that I had my children young because by 43, I began touring in Europe and my children were grown.
What was your first experience singing in front of an audience?
I was four, performing in recital with the Bernice Johnson Dancing School Ensemble. I was captivated by the footlights!
'Nobody's Husband by Diva Joan Cartwright
Photos: Steph Jordan
When did you publish your first song and what agency were you with?
My first published song was “Sweet Return”, an instrumental recorded by Freddie Hubbard and the Kool Jazz All-Stars of 1983. I played the piano piece at Philadelphia’s Robin Hood Dell, in Freddie’s dressing room. He made me play it 25 times! Joe Sample came into the room and Freddie said, “Play it for Joe.” Then, he told Joe, “I’m taking her to the studio tomorrow to record this!” I almost fell off the stool in shock! And he did! At Atlantic Records Studio in NY, around 3 p.m. the next afternoon, he gave me $120 and told me to go around the corner to Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and open up my publishing house, which I did! I was with BMI for 23+ years, but decided, a couple of years ago, to change to ASCAP because I never got many royalties from BMI, although I filled out numerous publishing and writer’s forms, in Europe. I’m waiting to see if ASCAP will pay me royalties. By the way, Freddie took the publishing for “Sweet Return”, so I was only paid writer’s royalties all those years. But my song is his song book, making me the only other composer in the Freddie Hubbard Song Book besides him!
Do you write your own songs? Do you play any instruments?
I began writing lyrics and songs, in 1977, in Philadelphia, where I was enrolled at LaSalle College in the Music Department. I had a wonderful private piano teacher, Gerald Price, who taught me music theory, piano and vocal phrasing. He taught me how to write music and put the lyrics on the paper with the notes and chords. By the time I moved back to NY, in 1982, I’d written several songs. To date, I have written over 60 songs and have 41 published in the Joan Cartwright Song Book, available at www.lulu.com
What is your funniest or most unique experience as an Artist? Like when traveling or performing.
The owner of the Gerlafingerhof Hotel, where I lived for two years, in Switzerland, was owned and operated by the lead gay man (the Puff Mommy) of the region. He said, “Joan, I have a gig for you!” The money was right and all I had to do was sing two songs for 500 gay men at a huge hall outside of Berne, the capital. Onstage, was a tall aluminum ladder that was placed there for me to descend upon. I practiced with two muscular males, standing with their arms crossed, at the bottom (security?!*) But, nobody told me that, when I did the actual performance, there would be smoke clouds all around me!!!
I sang, “I Am What I Am” and “I Will Survive.” These men clapped and stomped so hard that I was told to go back out on the stage and sing another song. I sang, “Think”, Aretha Franklin’s hit! Now, Stephano, the show’s coordinator told me, specifically, that I was only to sing TWO songs. So, when he insisted that I go out and sing a fourth song, I was flabberghasted! I sang my song, “Treat Me Right and You Don’t Have To Marry Me”, during which I also sing, “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On”, which is my signature song that I also make the whole audience sing, “Oh, Baby,” back and forth with me.
Now, you would think all of that was enough. But nooooooooo! When I emerged from the dressing room, where I dried off from being dripping wet with sweat and changed my clothing, I met a 19-year-old Swiss boy who said, “You are great!!! But I have just one question.”
I stood there, waiting for the question and he queried, “Are you a man or a woman?”
After doubling over with laughter, I told him, “Baby, they don’t have this much silicon, in one place!”
I’ve told this story over and over and over again, to the amusement of many of my friends.
LOL That is funny Joan! How many CDs do you have and where can we find them?
I have two CDS: “Feelin’ Good” recorded in 1995, in Catania, Sicily, co-produced by my pianist Giovanni Mazzarino with Nello Toscano on bass, Mimmo Cafiero on drums and Oracio Maugeri on saxophone. This CD contains 11 tracks, with four of my originals. It was first released on Tireno Records in Milan, Italy, but the company went out of business, the next year and, when I returned to Florida, I repackaged it and released it under my own label - I AM Records, under my own publishing company, FYI Communications, Inc.
My sophomore CD, “In Pursuit of a Melody”, is a compilation of 15 tracks with seven originals and my lyrics to “A Night In Tunisia” by Dizzy Gillespie. It was compiled at our studio in Atlanta, GA, and released in 2005 on my own label, under my publishing company.
Also, on CDBaby is a two-song recording with my song “Love Translation”.
I produced the Women in Jazz South Florida Compilation CD Volume I, in January 2011, with 10 songs from 10 fabulous female composers, all of whom are member of www.wijsf.org
All three CDs are available at www.cdbaby.com/cd/jcartwright
Would you say your career is going the way you dreamed it would?
I have had a charmed life! My career took a marvelous turn in 1990, when I visited Europe for five weeks in the summer. First, I flew to Amsterdam, Holland, where I went to the North Sea Jazz Festival. There, I met members of the Lionel Hampton Band, who encouraged me to take the 10-hour train ride to Nice, France for the JVC Festival. I stayed there two days and got to see the Hampton Band, the Basie Band, Miles Davis, George Benson, Etta James, Digable Planets, and T.S. Monk! That was a very good move. Then, I took another 10-hour train ride up to Montreux, Switzerland. That’s where the magic happened!
A Belgique woman, whom I met at a telephone booth at the Montreux Jazz Festival, latched on to me and followed me everywhere for the next three days. We wound up at the jam session at the Duke’s Bar of the Hyatt Hotel, where all the musicians gathered at night, after the festival concerts were done. I sat in and sang “Georgia” and “Summertime” and Cecil fell in love with my voice. Three days later, we were at the Janus Club of the fabulous Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland. I sang the same two songs with the piano duo who were booked there for the month of July. The manager Claude Gassette was sitting in a corner, talking with Cecil. The next thing I new, she had negotiated a $6,000 contract for me to sing there for the entire month of November with another pianist, Angelo Unia, from Cuneo, Italy. After our month was up, Angelo invited me to join him in Italy for some concerts. I never looked back.
From June 1990 to September 1996, I toured eight European countries. In 1995, I sang for the Duke of Marlborough and the Duchess of Kent at their Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, England, for the fundraiser for the new Music School at Oxford University.
In 1993, a Sicilian drummer, whom I’d met in Switzerland, called my agent to ask if I would accept a contract to perform on the San Vito Jazz Festival, in Sicily. There, I met the pianist Giovanni Mazzarino, whom I toured with for four years and recorded my first CD, “Feelin’ Good”. We performed with his trio from Bolzano, on the German border of Italy, to Trieste in the eastern corner of Italy, to Milan, Rome, Calabria and all over the island of Sicily. Also, we did concerts on the islands of Lipari and Pantelleria. I received so much press, it was unbelievable. See this link: www.fyicomminc.com/jc-italy/index.htm
In Switzerland, I had the fortune of having a booking agent who booked me in beautiful hotels and restaurants all over the country. I performed two consecutive New Year’s parties at the Bellevue Hotel in Gstaad and was on the cover of that cities newspaper, as well as the cover of Jazz Times. I did a tour of the Spaghetti Factory chain and performed for the opening of the largest and most elegant Mövenpick Restaurant in Zurich. Also, I performed for one of the seven Presidents of Switzerland at the Classic Car Show in 1991, high up in the Alps.
You are quite a busy woman! You’ve traveled quite a bit.What is your favorite travel destination?
Taormina, Sicily and Bahia, Brazil.
Let’s talk about ‘Women In Jazz’ What is the organization about?
Women in Jazz South Florida, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit, educational organization that promotes women musicians, globally, through events, concerts, performances, clinics, lectures, workshops, articles, interviews, newsletters, courses, contacts, research, history, archives, websites, film, audio and video recording, and recognition.
You also write books. How many have you written? They are all inspirational books aren’t they?
I’ve published nine books and have two more on the drawing board. The three poetry books: GaiaMind Poems, Rhythms of the Heart and The Moon, Sun Showers, Rainbows and Whipped Cream Clouds are inspirational. Two books are informative lectures: Amazing Musicwomen and So, You Want To Be A Singer? about The Business of Music. My history book is The History of African-American Jazz and Blues. The Joan Cartwright Song Book has 41 original songs, and Songs For My Children has four songs for kids. My first book is In Pursuit of a Melody, is an anthology of my memoirs, travels in Europe, 35 poems, 40 songs and the two lectures. All are in my bookstore at http://stores.lulu.com/divajc as soft and hard cover books, print-on-demand, downloadable and some ebooks. I’m compiling my 10th book Melodic Memories about my travels in Africa, Asia, South America, Mexico and the U.S.A., which should be published before the end of 2011.
Also, I’ve written books for others:
Nate Perkins Live (an autobiography of Retired Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Perkins)
Reminiscing Harlem by Charles Mills (first manuscript)
Recetas de la Cocina de Mami y Papi Grinan by Sylvia Grinan (a cook book of Cuban recipes)
What inspirational words do you have to share with Artists working on their dreams?
Keep your dream close to your heart and your mind will know the answer.
While your soul plays the chords, your imagination can be the dancer. -- Diva JC
Where can we find out more about you and your organization?
Thank you Diva Joan so much for this interview. You are an inspiration and your energy is amazing.