Melba Moore was born in 1945 in New York City, New York, to Gertrude Melba Smith (known professionally as Bonnie Davis) and Teddy Hill, and raised in Harlem, New York, until she was 9 and her divorced mother remarried jazz pianist Clement Leroy Moorman. She attended Newark Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey. Her mother, Bonnie Davis, had a No. 1 R&B hit with "Don't Stop Now", prior to Melba's birth. Although her biological father was Big Band leader and saxophonist Teddy Hill, it was her stepfather Moorman (who played on "Don't Stop Now") who became a prime influence and encouragement in Moore's musical pursuits, insisting that she learn to play the piano. When she graduated from college she worked as a music teacher, but she soon decided to pursue the spotlight. She chose her stage name by shortening her stepfather's surname from Moorman and using her middle name, "Melba".
Moore began her performing career in 1967 as Dionne in the original cast of the musical Hair
along with Ronnie Dyson and Diane Keaton. Moore replaced Keaton in the role of Sheila. In 1970, she won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Lutiebelle in Purlie
. She would not return to Broadway until 1978 when she appeared (as Marsinah) with Eartha Kitt in Timbuktu!
but left the show after a few weeks and was replaced by Vanessa Shaw. Following the success of Purlie
, Moore landed two big-screen film roles, released two successful albums, 1970's I Got Love
and Look What You're Doing to the Man
, and co-starred with actor Clifton Davis in the then-couple's own successful variety television series in 1972. Both Moore and Davis revealed that the show was canceled after its brief run when their relationship ended.When Moore's managers and accountants left her in 1973, she returned to Newark and began singing in benefits. Her career picked up after she met record manager and business promoter Charles Huggins after a performance at the Apollo Theater in 1974. They married in 1975 and formed Hush Productions
, signing notable R&B artists such as Freddie Jackson and Meli'sa Morgan.
In 1975 Moore signed with Buddah Records and released the critically successful R&B album, Peach Melba
, which included the minor hit, "I Am His Lady". The following year she scored her first significant hit with the Van McCoy-penned "This Is It", which reached the Billboard Hot 100, the top-20 position on the R&B chart, and top-10 in the UK, becoming her biggest success in that country. 'This is It' also became the number-1 disco track in the UK for that year. It would be 18 years later that Australian singer Dannii Minogue will cover this song and make it to # 10 on the ARIA charts. In 1976 she scored her third Grammy nomination with the R&B ballad "Lean on Me", which had been recorded originally by Vivian Reed and later by Moore's idol Aretha Franklin who recorded the song as a b-side to her 1971 hit "Spanish Harlem". The song is most notable for Moore's extended long note at the end. In 1983 she re-recorded the song as a tribute to McCoy, who had died 4 years earlier. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Moore struggled to match the success of "This Is It" with minor R&B/dance hits, gaining another hit with 1979's "You Stepped Into My Life", which was released on Epic Records and hit the top 20 on the R&B charts and became one of her biggest pop hits.In 1981 Moore signed with Capitol Records and reached the top 5 on the R&B charts with the dance pop/funk single "Love's Comin' At Ya", which also hit the top 20 in the UK and became a sizable hit in some European countries for its post-disco sound. A string of R&B hits followed, including 1983's "Keepin' My Lover Satisfied" and "Love Me Right", 1984's "Livin' For Your Love", 1985's "Read My Lips"--which later won Moore a fourth Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, making her just the third black artist after Donna Summer and Michael Jackson to be nominated in the rock category--and 1985's "When You Love Me Like This". In 1986, she scored two number-one R&B hits, including the duet "A Little Bit More" with Freddie Jackson and "Falling". She scored other popular R&B hits including "Love the One I'm With (A Lot of Love)" and "It's Been So Long". In 1986, Moore also headlined the CBS television sitcom Melba
; its debut aired the same night as the Challenger explosion and the show was abruptly cancelled, though 5 episodes aired that summer. Her success began to wane as the decade closed, although she managed 2 further Top 10 R&B hits, "Do You Really (Want My Love)" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (which featured such artists as Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Baker, and Stephanie Mills).
Moore returned to Broadway in 1995 landing a part in Les Misérables
. A year later, she started her long-running one-woman show, Sweet Songs of the Soul
, later renamed I'm Still Standing
. In 2003, Moore was featured in the film, The Fighting Temptations
, which starred Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles. In 2007, she landed a role in the Broadway revival of Ain't Misbehavin'
. In 2009 independent label Breaking Records released the EP Book of Dreams
, in which Moore was featured. That same year Moore told her life story on TV-One's Unsung
and later that year released her first R&B album in nearly 20 years, a duet release with Phil Perry called The Gift of Love
. Moore is currently working on a new album which is scheduled to be released in 2011. The album is being produced by Rahni Song and Dominic McFadden, son of the late Gene McFadden of McFadden & Whitehead. Her song called "Love Is" debuted on the R&B charts in 2011 at #87.
Moore is a born-again Christian.
In addition to her Tony Award, her music career brought additional accolades. She was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1971 for 'Best New Artist'. Her 1975 second album, Peach Melba
, saw her get a Grammy nomination. In 1976, she earned another Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance - Female for the song "Lean on Me",. Moore was also nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal in 1986 for "Read My Lips".Moore is also the 2012 Recipient of the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival Theatre Legend Award.
- Hair (1967)
- Purlie (1970)
- Timbuktu! (1978)
- Inacent Black (1981)
- Broadway at the Bowl (1988)
- Les Misérables (1995)
- Brooklyn (2006)
- Straight 2the Head (2013)
- Great God A'Mighty (2013)