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Reality TV and Vocal Tenacity

The UK’s leading Soul Singer, Ruby Turner on Reality TV, Happiness and Vocal Tenacity

Do you think one can have a serious vocal career and be on a reality TV show?
I have questions about this. You tune into the shows and you hear people say how much they want this vocal career. Well, I say: ‘If you really want it, is this the only way? If you do want it you’ve got to be prepared to put years into it – not just six weeks of a TV series’.

I’m not saying Reality TV can’t help. After all, Gladys Knight was discovered on what was the equivalent of today’s reality TV shows, but what has made her successful is not just a hair spray and eye shadow—it’s her commitment and her passion. She’s been on the road forever. After the TV studio says “it’s a wrap”, that’s when you get down to the business of hard work.

Tenacity and Perseverance keep emerging as themes in your life.
I’ve noticed how short-lived many vocal careers are. Sometimes people aspire to a Reality-TV type of career—they want instant fame and they may get it but it lasts for about three months. If you want to sustain a career over the long haul you’ve got to be prepared to go out there and bloody work for it. You’re not always going to be on TV so be prepared to get on the road; people need to see you out there, putting the effort in. Today’s vocalist has to be willing to be seen in both circumstances— especially in this economic climate… only then can you really appreciate the bright lights.

Happiness—do you have it?
There are certain things that you think will make you happy but if these certain things don’t materialize, what are you going to do? Keep searching, I say. Happiness is out there…even if it’s just the sun shining.

So, are you happy?
I think we all need to be honest with ourselves: life is what you make it. Do we think people would make us happy? It would be nice to have like-minded companions around, but what if they’re not? Well you just have to get on with it! Try to be happy with what you have got and do something useful with your life.

Have you always had this “get on with it” spirit?
Yes. I attribute it, in part, to my father’s make up. My father was 12 years old when he started his working life in Jamaica and he’s 75 now. His life was difficult, but with tenacity he found a way.

Is this tenacity a cultural phenomenon?
Well, the key for anyone is to face the truth and to get on with things. We West Indians have tried and are still trying to make a better life for ourselves, which is no different from any other culture on this planet. I thank God I have my parents to tell me stories. My father was poorly educated, but he kept going and he eventually became a telephone engineer in Jamaica—that’s sheer tenacity and I love him for that.

Translate the concept of tenacity to a vocal career.
This generation feels often that it has got to arrive-NOW. No! This modern culture is so terribly focused upon instant success and people now see this as easily attainable. You need to think of a vocal career as a long term venture which, as with anything worthwhile, will take time to develop. Be prepared to work and to fail but keep pressing on. (See Ruby’s Words about a Vocally Driven Band…)

I’m guessing that you mean pressing on even when the party’s over…
I remember wonderful times playing the gig circuit with a group of musicians that formed a close unit. We were bound together by a passion for the music and great friendships. We were having a lot of fun—a party every time we went out on the road—but it all fell apart when I signed a deal and the record company wanted me and not the band. They were tough times but the guys understood that apart from the great parties we were having, this was also a business. So we had to find a balance and with the band’s support, I just kept on going.

Tell us more about the next turn in the road: you’ve been exploring the Gospel genre.
I have been profoundly driven with this project and I’ve been working with the wonderful Jools Holland who introduced me to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I’ve been doing a few Gospel songs in the live set over the years and out of this came a real desire to explore more of this wonderful music.

What shape has this project taken?
My own Pentecostal background was re-awakened and I wanted to get back and listen to and experience more of the early Gospel style music. I’m talking really early, from the 1920’s, when you can hardly hear what they are singing on the old 78s! I’ve stayed away from the big production sound of Gospel and stripped it right back to the roots. I’ve worked really hard on this project; you could say I’ve been driven by passion to get this project out there. I have learnt so much from this experience.

Ruby’s new album I’m Travelling On is already making a huge impact.

Useful Links

“I’m Travelling On”

The Vocal Passion and Perseverance of Ruby Turner

Ruby on Reuters

Ruby’s Website


Ruby Turner – Singing Gospel

Ruby Turner – The Vocalist and The Child

Ruby Turner – The Passionate Vocalist

© Gregory A. Barker Februrary 2010. Greg is an editor and writer living in the heart of Wales.