NBC,"The Voice" The Multi-Genre Super Star Singer "Wendy Moten" Transitions From Stardom to Stardom!
My conversation with the talented Wendy Moten was truly enjoyable! She is gorgeous, ambitious, confident, and an inspiration for artists of all genres. What I loved about her the most is how easily and quickly she adapts to multiple music genres easily and professionally. As a bridge between Memphis and Nashville, she is an exceptional, adaptable singer. The astounding performance she gave on NBC's The Voice in 2021 brought her to the general public's attention as a professional in the music industry. Despite being 50 years old, she won all four judges' hearts in her blind audition and placed second overall. During the 1990s, Moten sang R&B for a major label and then moved to Nashville to become a harmony singer in demand. In addition to performing with Martina McBride, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and Vince Gill, she toured extensively and served as Julio Iglesias' essential support voice for 15 years. In addition to performing solo at the Grand Ole Opry, Wendy was a featured artist at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. As of 2019, she performs with the Grammy-winning Nashville western swing band, The Time Jumpers. In our conversation, I learned about her life and musical journey. The following is what she said.
Wendy Moten, First, it is an honor to speak with you. Thank you so much for this interview. Thank you for having me.
You're welcome. I have been looking over your career, and I am amazed! I am so proud of you! Thank you! I keep working on it.
There you go! Wendy, let's get started. Ok
Awesome! Where are you currently located? I live in Nashville, TN.
Ok. We lived in Los Angeles for approximately three years before relocating back to Nashville. I've been back for about 18 years now.
Wendy, in your opinion, what are the differences between Nashville and California? Although there is only one sun, California's sun seems to shine differently, which I know is impossible.
Californians also have different communication styles. Just like you have, Spanish and French. Although both are great, they're just different. No matter where you go, you have to learn the language.
Yeah, absolutely. What's your earliest memory of singing? Before my dad became a pastor, he was a music minister for our church, "Saint Stephens Baptist Church on Chelsea." He also made an additional income teaching local choirs' new songs. My dad was a great choir director and an excellent singer.
I became familiar with music because I was with him all the time. With time, I improved at the hearing and understanding different parts of songs. One of the biggest things I love about my dad is that he encourages many people. That's where I learned to have empathy for others. That's one of the most incredible things my dad taught me.
Although my father was not wealthy, what he left me was more valuable than material possessions. He taught me about the Lord, which led me to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior. Due to the example he set for me; I have a relationship with Christ today. I consider that to be the greatest treasure ever. Thus, I can relate to you. Wendy, what road did you take to become a professional singer? My road was paved for me before I knew it. I had a gift as a young child, but I didn't realize it. When opportunities came my way, I took advantage of them because I lived in a music town.
At that time, I didn't know I didn't have a dream of being an artist, being on stage, or becoming a star. One of the reasons for that is that I was shy. The last thing I wanted was to be in front of people. Growing up in Memphis, I didn't think I had anything to offer because everybody I knew could sing very well. But I was willing to accept the challenge. I don't remember playing with toys in my childhood, but I remember going to rehearsals. So, I have been a professional since childhood.
Did you ever have an independent experience where you had to buy equipment, look for gigs, and work the Chitlin circuit independently? No, I was blessed because the opportunities always found me. The phone was constantly ringing. However, regardless of how often it rang, I knew I had to be on my game. As I maintained integrity, an excellent reputation, a great work ethic, and dependability, I knew I would always have work. I never had to call or go looking because the work was always there. I always maintained high expectations knowing that if I worked diligently, I would reap the benefits of my work, and it always happened.
That's awesome! Does the struggle to get your music career off the ground depend on what state or country you grow up in? I asked this question because some states embrace music and the arts more than others. What's your take on this? Do you know how aspiring actors move to Los Angeles because they want to be in the movies?
Yes. When there are 1000 impressive singers from a wide variety of backgrounds competing for that one gig, a club whose salary is generous becomes the job that everyone wants.
So true. There is a serious traffic jam in the music business today. So, at what point did your career take a turn to where major opportunities and doors were opening for you? For me, it was fate. The Detroit-based record executive Dick Williams flew into Memphis to sign this band to a major label. He worked at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles for many years as head of promotions and marketing. After retiring, he planned to become a manager, production company owner, and scout new acts. So, when he came to Memphis to sign a Memphis act, I was at a recording studio where I was singing the jingle.
Niko Lyras, the studio owner and engineer of “Cotton Row Recording Studio,” hired me to sing jingles. So, when Dick Williams inquired of me, asking Niko who I was and what I sounded like with a band, Niko couldn’t give him an answer because he had never heard me sing with a band, only jingles.
So, he told Nico that he would be in town for a few days and asked him if he had a band. After Nico said yes, he asked Niko if I could sit in with them so he could observe me singing in a band.
What did you sing that night? I sang two Aretha Franklin songs and two Whitney Houston songs; “Saving All My Love For You” and “The Greatest Love of All.”
So, what was this response after you sang? He told me that he could get me a record deal.
Bingo! Yes, but I wasn't all that excited about it. That wasn't something I saw myself doing and wasn't anything I dreamed about. But just as he said, he contacted me in a few months and said he had some demos That he wanted me to sing and amongst those demos was my first single, “Coming Out of The Rain.” So, we recorded the demos, and about a few months later, there was a bidding war for me between Electra, Warner Brothers, and EMI.
Awesome! In the 90s, anyone who remotely sounded close to Whitney Houston would get signed. That was what the girls sounded like during that era.
“Coming Out of The Rain” is such a beautiful song. It’s the type of song you can't stop listening to. Well done, Wendy! Thank you.
You're welcome. During the 60s through the 90s, the lyrics, delivery, and music differed from what you hear today. The music back then made you feel something. Unfortunately, most of today's music needs that element added.
Because the industry has lowered expectations of signing exceptional and uniquely gifted individuals, the sound and quality have changed over the years. This has caused our younger generation to emulate what they hear on the radio today. The industry doesn't want to take the time to work with the artists to bring out their best any longer. They want to put them out quickly and make money, which not only does the artists a disservice but also does the listener a disservice. But, getting back to real talent, one of my favorite songs sung by you is the one you did with the talented Kirk Whalum, “All I Do.” You sang that song! (laughs) Thank you! (laughs) It was a fluke. At the end of the 90s and early 2000s, many male vocalists began reaching out to me. So, when Kirk Whalum reached out to me asking if I could sing the cover of “All I do,” I said of course!
You did a lot of duets. Yes, around that time, I did a lot of duets. I did one with Peabo Bryson, Michael McDonald, Isaac Hayes, and many iconic singers and musicians. So “All I do” was the song that started the domino effect of duets with these amazing artists.
A collaboration between Kirk Whalum and you were almost revolutionary at the time since female vocalists rarely sang full songs on smooth jazz albums. Later I began to see other smooth jazz artists incorporating singers into their music, such as Kenny G and Brian Culberson. Today many of them do it, but that wasn't the case back then. I'm a big smooth jazz lover, but it's good to have singers join in at times to create a little more dynamic within a live show and on the album. You and Kurt got the party started. Because the 90s didn't have anywhere to go, pop and R&B are now considered jazz.
Wendy, you sing different styles of music, and you sing them all exceptionally well. You've done jazz, R&B, soul, country, and Spanish. You've worked with Julio Iglesias; I understand you had to learn a few different languages. Can you tell me about working with Julio Iglesias and your challenges being your native tongue English? It all started when I received a call from Julio Iglesias' team informing me that he was looking for a new duet partner. Previously, he recorded duets with acts like Diana Ross and Dolly Parton.
At that time, I was trying to get out of my recording contract with EMI, but because I couldn't use my name, there was nothing I could do. I felt it would be a good thing to take this opportunity, and if I got the gig, I could learn something from working with a living legend. Through Julio, I will learn how to communicate better through song.
Consequently, they flew me to New Jersey to learn two duets. Julio Iglesias was performing there at the time. At first, I thought I would be there for just one year to learn something new, but it turned out to be 15 years.
Wow! Yes. While I only spoke English, I had to sing in four languages. I had to sing in four languages and only speak one English. The fact that Julio Iglesias recorded in five languages contributed to his global success as a singer.
Because you speak English, how long did it take to learn so many different in different languages? I had to learn them instantaneously. Using a template, I learned his DNA, composed of his chord structures and phrasing. Once I understood that aspect, I learned the songs fanatically and got the melody done quickly. Later, I could dive in and ask people for advice on pronouncing or understanding what I'm saying.
You are such a professional that you accomplished it and did it exceptionally well. Thank you. Sometimes he brought out songs during soundcheck that we had to do in the show. That's why I came up with a quick system.
The simple solution is to get the melody, listen to the words, and sing banana, banana, banana. After the show, I would ask people who spoke that language if I pronounced it correctly. The whole experience was good for me because it taught me how to adjust quickly to any situation I would encounter and become musically diversified. Depending on the genre of music you're singing, such as rock'n'roll, you don't always have time to analyze. You must have a system that works fast.
Yes indeed! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. (laughs)
You've also worked with renowned country artists such as Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill. Yeah, yeah.
As country music has traditionally been more prevalent within southern Caucasian communities, did you ever experience racial tension while traveling through southern states or with their fans? In contrast, did the black community denigrate you for performing with Caucasian country singers? I'll start with the 90s because I also had a backlash, just like Whitney Houston.
What happened? It was told to me that I was not black enough. I was too black for white radio, and I was not black enough for black radio. I couldn’t believe it! Gina, I didn't even know what that meant. So yes, unfortunately, I did deal with a little bit of that throughout my career. When it came to singing country music, for me, it was just a gig.
Furthermore, because their fans were focused on them, the stars of the show, if there was a problem with my being there, I didn't know about it. The country artists I toured with were not bothered by allowing me to sing with them because they knew their audience.
The 1980s were a difficult time for people who did what I did. During the 2000s, things improved. Nevertheless, racism exists everywhere. Since George Floyd's murder, we are now talking more about country artists of color. But things are changing.
Me, I'm the cousin that visits because I enjoy singing in a variety of genres. Even though I'm not a country artist, I love paying tribute to country songs as well as other genres of music.
Although Aretha Franklin is one of my favorite singers, and I love singing her songs, just because I didn't live through her experiences doesn't mean I can't tell the story. Therefore, I explain this to people who are uncomfortable with people of color singing country songs. Ultimately, it's just music. It's not that serious. Most of what I sing about I didn't live through. It is my responsibility to tell the story.
I aim to build bridges between people, communities, and cultures worldwide. I hope my presence will build stronger bridges for artists of color who are genuinely interested in becoming country artists.
That's awesome, and we do see more people of color getting into the country music genre, such as Kane Brown and others. So, doors are opening. Yes, and he’s such a nice person.
Wendy, what did you love about the characters of Tim McGraw, Faith, Julio Iglesias, and Martina McBride? First and foremost, Tim and faith are very kind people. They never forgot their roots. Despite growing up poor, both worked hard to succeed. In addition, I appreciate their involvement with different charities, approachability, and how they pay their musicians well and take good care of their employees. They even helped with hurricane Katrina. They gave big and didn’t make a fuss about it. Because they're hard workers, they've earned every dollar they made. I appreciate them for that.
Julio Iglesias is a living legend, and working with him elevated my professionalism and musical skills. He's my mentor because he taught me how to be strong in this business and the value of being a great communicator through song. As a result of watching him, I learned how to connect meaningfully with my fans. Although Julio Iglesias achieved worldwide success and status, I was amazed at how he still connected so personally with his fans regardless of his achievements. He was kind and sweet, and a great connection with his fans was of the utmost importance to him. He was always beautiful to me. That’s something I'll never forget.
To this day, that’s one of my strongest musical attributes. Taking a page from Julio Iglesias' book, I take great pride in engaging my audience where they feel they are a part of the show. Not like they're watching me on TV. Thus, I gained a wealth of experience working with such a powerful, wealthy, and fantastic artist. I learned a lot, and he's still my mentor today.
I understand that you’ve worked with Michael McDonald. How was that experience? Yes, I enjoyed working with Michael McDonald because, despite his stardom, he was humble, sweet, and kind. The same is true with Kirk Whalum. Overall, I am blessed to have worked with great people of good character.
You've also worked with Vince Gill. Yes, I consider Vince Gill my Emperor of country music. A show aired on CMT; it was a special on him with Carrie Underwood and Chris Stapleton.
And Leslie Fram, the senior vice president of music strategy for CMT , made sure I had a spot on that show. She didn't have to do that, but she wanted to. She told me I was a star and wanted me to be on the show.
What did you sing? I sang one of Vince Gills's most successful songs, "I Still Believe in You." Because of Leslie Fram, more African American females like Mickey Guyton, Britney Spencer, Madeline Edwards, and Rena Roberts are seen on CMT. Mickey Guyton hosted the CMA Awards, so that's a big deal. Leslie Fram took a lot of hits because of that because a lot of people did not want a black host. I appreciate what she's doing because she has been fighting for more African American representation in the CMA Awards and country music.
You've had a remarkable, long, fruitful, and professional career as a singer. What made you decide to go on The Voice, and how was it beneficial to you in the end? COVID shut down everything, so my way of making a living ended. Because COVID has shut everything down, my way of making a living came to a halt. I didn’t know how I would survive when everything opened back up. I wasn't even sure if my past tours would still be in place. I decided that I was ready to return to being a solo artist. Having been in the music industry for some time, I was familiar with the game.
Although unsure how it would transpire, I knew I was prepared. So, with everything shutting down, I would have an excellent opportunity to slip through once everything reopened. I knew I had to stay in the game as a solo artist. Therefore, I needed to appear on television.
After getting several notices in my e-mail box inviting me to audition for the voice, I finally caved and gave it a shot. After all, I had nothing else. My old relationships no longer existed, and many people retired f