Updated: Apr 20, 2022
Beth Griffith-Manley—to whom she goes by the name BETH—is the daughter of Motown legend Johnny Griffith from The Funk Brothers. Formerly a background singer for Anita Baker, she is currently a background singer for KEM & Najee and has toured extensively. Taking a leap of faith, she auditioned for NBC's "The Voice" and was selected as a contestant. She was coached by Kelly Clarkson and John Legend. Interviewing Beth was a pleasant experience. She is highly skilled, incredibly personable, and very down-to-earth. Our conversation focused on her career and life, as well as what she shared with me.
It's so good to speak with you today! Thank you so kindly for your time. No, thank you!
You're welcome! I think you're amazing! After reading about you and all That you've accomplished, I had to interview you! You truly fit the vision of “The Indie Post” because you are a positive role model doing extraordinary things. I wanted to know this amazing human being! Awe, thank you!
You're welcome. I know our readers will be inspired by your story. Oh, thank you.
You're welcome. So, let's get into it. Let’s have a fun conversation! Sure, I love a chat between girls.
OK, where and you from, and how did you get involved in singing? I grew up in Detroit, MI. I come from a very structured home where there were rules, curfews, and chores. I had a normal childhood. I was raised in a two-parent home with my mom and my dad. It was an interesting combination because my mother was an educator, and my father was a musician. In fact, he was one of the original members of the “Funk Brothers” from Motown Records. Unfortunately, when The Funk Brothers left Detroit to move to Los Angeles, my dad stayed in Detroit. This happened before I was born. Consequently, my father began working at a high school as a piano teacher. So basically, both of my parents were teachers, but my dad was an educator who taught piano. The great thing is that both my parents instilled into me the importance of education, mainly because of the experience that my father had in the music business as a musician. consequently, they pushed me in the direction of education.
Because my father was a part of Motown Records, he experienced some of the negative aspects of the industry. I believe he wanted to shield me from that.
I am one of three siblings with one brother and one sister. Out of all three of us, I'm the only one that pursued a career in music.
How did you get involved in music? Well, my parents realized that I was a natural entertainer ever since I was a young child. they knew this because they would frequently catch me posing and taking pictures. I even have the personality of an entertainer. Although they felt strongly that that would be the direction that I would go in they still try to encourage me to pursue my education.
Did you? Yes, I did. In fact, I got my degree in business, but the music was always lurking in the back of my mind. I always felt as though the music was something that I was destined to do. Eventually, I did end up transitioning out of the corporate world in order to pursue my dreams.
Being raised by someone who made such a great contribution to the Motown sound and incredible impact on our music history, did you recognize who your father was?
No, as a child, I really did not know the significance of what my father contributed to the music business, being a funk brother from Motown, until much later in life, because my father's music career was not the focus in our home as much as it was in society. Their focus was education and to have all their children become well-rounded people.
Did a lot of the people from Motown come to your house regularly? Yes, my father's friends who were also musicians frequently visited our home. One thing I did know is that he was a musician, he played with different artists, and that he had his own music, but I was not encouraged to follow suit. So, as I got older, I began to realize the impact that my father made in this world as it relates to music history. Now I know what my dad has done. But I did pursue my music career because it was just natural for me.
What are some of the words of wisdom that your father shared with you that you would like to share with our readers? He always wanted me to make sure that I was well-spoken and educated. I think he really pushed that because he believed that “if I can speak well, and present myself well, that's half the battle. So, he really pushed that. This is something both of my parents stressed.
He also would tell me, “Don't get in the door and make someone change their mind about you before you even speak because your appearance is just wrong. He really stressed having a decent appearance. Then, after you get through the door looking right then when you open your mouth, you have to sound right.
Wow sounds like you had an amazing dad who was full of wisdom! So, let's talk about leaving corporate America. Earlier, you spoke about transitioning into music. how did it all come together for you? I went to college, I worked a job, and at night, I sang in a band in nightclubs. Excuse me I'm trying to think back that far. What's funny is that it feels like 100 years ago. What I did know is that all I wanted to do was be a full-time singer, but at the time, it seemed possible. It just didn't seem like that was something that I could accomplish. Nevertheless, I kept going.
Did you get married? Yes, I got married and my husband encouraged me to pursue my music. So, we waited a little while until we could afford to maintain the house on one salary. Newly married couples have bills to pay, so you're trying to figure out. The truth is, both people must work in order to make ends meet. That's just the reality of it. Neither person can enjoy the luxury of laying around, singing songs all day, and recording in the studio all night. Although it sounds good it's not practical.
At what point did you take that step of faith to pursue your music? One day my husband came home and told me I could stop working and pursue my music career full-time. I know that must have been difficult being that you are a career woman. It was because I was raised to work and provide for myself. So, even though he suggested that I stop working and follow my dream, it felt unnatural for me to just sit around and do nothing. But I listened to my left my job and pursued my music career. So, I started recording in the studio, but eventually, I became bored. I was used to having my own money so that I can buy things that I wanted to buy so I went back to work. because I was college-educated, I was able to land a decent well-paying job. But then again, I will become bored with that job then go home and complain to my husband about it. Then my husband will remind me that I didn't have to work. It was just difficult for me because I was so career oriented. I was raised to be a career woman. I know many women find it hard transitioning from being a career woman into being a homemaker. As a career woman, you're used to having tasks and timelines so making that decision can be mentally challenging.
When did you give up the fight and walk into your destiny? In 2007, is when I finally stopped working to pursue music full time. That was also when I began touring with Anita Baker full-time. After that experience, there was no turning back for me. That's when I realized that's all I wanted to do. This was going to be my life. That was when I started touring with Anita Baker.
Let's talk about the process that it took between you leaving work and being able to tour with Anita Baker what happened in between? Producer Michael Powell (who produced, “Chapter 8”) was the connection to Anita Baker.
How did you meet him? I met him in passing a couple years prior to touring with Anita. He came by a studio that I was working out of at that time. He knew that I was a polished vocalist and knew who I was, but we never connected outside of that. So, I got a point where I said, OK I need to be strategic. I can't just sit around and hope that career I wanted would just fall out of the sky and into my lap. I needed to be a lot more proactive.
So, what was the plan? Well, there was a recording studio located in downtown Detroit, MI called Harmony Park Studio and anybody who was at anybody recorded there. All the biggest stars recorded there. This is the studio that Michael Powell worked out of. Even Aretha Franklin recorded there.
There were artists that would come through and have listening events there like, Jill Scott, Aaron Neville, and many others. The studio was big and beautiful so quite naturally I had to take advantage of that opportunity. I figured that that would be a great opportunity to meet the people that I needed to meet to get where I needed to be in my career. So, When I found out that the studio was looking for a receptionist to answer the phones, I applied for the job and got it. It was a huge financial demotion for me because they only paid $10 but I didn't care, because I had a plan and that's what mattered. That was one of the best decisions that I made.
Working there as a receptionist gave me the opportunity to network and meet a lot of people of great influence. Because they knew I could sing, sometimes they would call me on my lunch hour to demo songs for other artists. I did radio and television commercial voiceovers. Consequently, I got a lot of work like that. On one hand, I was a receptionist but on the other hand, I was a studio artist. Sometimes they would have someone watch the desk while I went into the studio to record for them. I would do that when the studio wasn't that busy.
So, Michael Powell continued to come in until I finally got up the nerve to approach him.
I know that must have been a very frightening experience. How did you ever muster up the nerve to speak with him? I just went for it. One day I just approached him and said, “Mr. Powell, do you Remember Me?” He said yes. I said, you know, I've always wanted to work with you, so he then said, OK, are you working with anybody right now? I said no, then he said, well, let's do it!
So, I would say within weeks we started working together and I did a duet with the late Ali Ollie Wilson. To be honest I didn't even know who he was at the time all I knew is that he was this big artist that was with The Temptations. So, I did the duet with him. It was for a fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina. The song was called, Reach Out Everyone. The song was beautiful. They even had an orchestra that was arranged by Paul Reiser. From that point Michael Powell had me demo songs for Yolanda Adams. I was a background singer on Yolanda Adams Christmas album. The song was called “What Christmas Means. “
After that, we had a conversation. He asked me what did I want to do? I told him that I wanted to be a background singer, and that's all I wanted to do. He also asked me who would I like to sing for? I said, the women you work with, Oleta Adams, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker, and Aretha Franklin, it would be an honor to work with any one of those women! So, he told me that he was going to take me around to a couple of artists that he worked with and see if they wanted to work with me. The first artist that he introduced me to was Aretha Franklin.
Oh boy, that sounds frightening! Were you nervous? Yes, so this is what happened. One day while Aretha Franklin was recording in the studio Michael Powell took me in to meet her. Michael approached her and said, “I have this girl who can sing, this is Beth.” she wants to sing background vocals.
What was going through your mind at the time? It was a surreal moment. I mean, I'm standing there looking at Aretha Franklin! I freaked out! I was like, this is really Aretha Franklin! So, Michael goes on to tell Aretha that she knew my dad, Johnny Griffith from the funk brothers. She said, “Oh yeah, I know your daddy. I've worked with him before. My father was Aretha Franklin's first touring keyboard player.
Wow, how cool is that! Yes, they toured together. Because she knew my dad, I felt like I had that job! I said to myself, “she knows my dad, I got this job!”
Did you get the job? No. I did not get the job.
Hilarious but I'm not surprised somehow, I knew that would be the outcome. She doesn't appear to be someone that's easily impressed. So funny! Right? She said, “who else have you sang for baby?” I told her that I’ve worked with Mr. Powell. She said, “no, I mean have you been on the road with anyone? I said no, she said “Oh no, no, no you can't tour with me.
Hilarious! I mean Gina I was just standing there, and she told me no to my face! I was gutted. I felt like the wind got knocked out of me. So, I said Ok and Mike was still trying to pitch me. He said, “but Aretha she's good!” Aretha said yeah but I don't think she's ready. She's not going on the road for the first time with me. He finally accepted her response I thanked her for the opportunity, and we left.
So, after we left Michael told me don't worry about it, I'll get you hooked up with someone else. I'm not going to lie I was shell-shocked! I couldn't believe that she just said no to my face.
I'm sorry for laughing but somehow, I knew that was going to be the outcome while you were telling me the story. but I must give you kudos for trying. I don't think I could have never gone through with it. I would have been too afraid. I was afraid but because Mike was with me, it made the process a lot easier. Remember he was doing all the talking. He was trying to do his best and she was like get this little kid out my face!
Girl stop! I cannot! You have me over here in tears laughing! I am so sorry, but this story is hilarious! You are brave and courageous! Yes, so after collecting myself from that traumatic experience I thought to myself well it's cool.
So where did you go from there? I became bored again so, I left working at Harmony Park and became a substitute teacher. I hadn't talked to Mike Powell in a minute. Although I tried calling him numerous times, I was unsuccessful. So, one day, when it was almost time to dismiss my class the phone rings and it’s Mike. I say, hey Mike, I've been calling you! He says, yeah, but I've been extremely busy. I want to go back a little bit.
Ok. Do you remember when I said that he asked me who I wanted to work with?
Yes. And I mentioned Anita Baker.
Yes. Well, at the time, he told me that I would never work with Anita Baker because she has her set singers and that was it. He was 100% sure that I would never work with Anita Baker and that was the end of the story as far as he was concerned. I told him I understand that but if a door does open, please keep me in mind. He said OK I'll call you if something happens but I'm telling you it's not going to happen. He told me that she had her set people and that she was extremely particular.
Observing Anita Baker's professionalism, I imagine That her standards would be right up there with Aretha Franklins. Yes, so back to the classroom phone call. The phone rings and it’s Mike. I told him that I Had been trying to reach him for a while. He apologized and said that he had been busy. Out of concern, I asked him if he was OK he said yes. Keep in mind while this entire conversation was going on I was sitting in the classroom with the children who were eager to go home. So, he said remember that time when I asked you who you wanted to work with, and you said Anita Baker? I said yes. Then he went on to say and I told you that it would never happen. I say yes. He said Well something happened. I screamed in the classroom!
Out of concern, the kids asked me what was wrong? They said what's wrong Ms. Manley? Just as soon as they asked me what was wrong the bell rang. I screamed go home, everybody! Get out of here and go home! So, I told Mike that I will call him back as soon as the children left.
What a blessing! Yes, he said, this is a rare opportunity because Anita Baker always keeps her singers together. So, he gave me his word that if anything ever happened, he would call me. Something happened, so he made good on his word.
How exciting to experience that! to be able to sing with someone that you admired so much is a true blessing from God! only God can open impossible doors! Yes, he told me that she called her and asked her to find some girls. When it really hit me, I began to freak out! I couldn't believe it!
So, he scolded me in a sense and said, “now listen, don't get excited, this is only one show so don't go in there acting out or running your mouth. I mean he gave me the rundown. He tol