Second of two-part story
After being a member of Chic and working with various artists as a studio singer in the 1970s, Alfa Anderson went back to school during the 1980s. She had previously taught in college before she made it big with Chic, and after she earned her second master’s degree, Anderson taught in the New York City school system, and later became a high school principal at a Brooklyn school.
“I really had put [music] aside because I felt like I didn’t need to do it anymore,” said Anderson in a recent MSR phone interview. “I always loved to teach. I felt like in order to impact [children] I needed to be an educator, an administrator. I realized that some of the most impactful things happen in the classroom with students or in a class with students. I absolutely loved being in the classroom.”
But her other love, music, didn’t completely go away. Anderson and her husband Tinkr Barfield, who was Luther Vandross’ bass player when the two met, formed and produced Voices of Shalom, a vocal group that released two full-length albums and a single in seven years (1999-2005). “We wanted to sing songs that lifted the spirit,” she noted.
Yet her self-imposed hiatus from recording and performing soon came to an end. “When I worked with children…I began to sing again,” Anderson pointed out. “They made me sing. I began to see the relevance of the arts, music and dance [in schools].”
She later reunited with former Chic vocalists Norma Jean Wright and Luci Martin in 2010. “I decided to come back into music because I had a career as an educator” and was retiring after two decades, said Anderson. “When I began to think about what I was going to do after retirement, one of my sons came to me and told me that he felt there was a lane for me, and it still is in music.”
“I still love teaching and mentoring,” stressed Anderson, who releases her first solo album this summer, and will appear July 7 at a New York City club.
“I’m a melody singer — that’s my gift,” explained Anderson. “I love beautiful melodies. I was a Dionne Warwick fan from way back. I used to play her records over and over again because I just love that sound. I love her tone and her attention she paid to singing melody.”
When asked her preference — out front as a solo artist or singing backup, she replied, “I love all of it. Ensemble singing can be real good. I love being a part of a great ensemble group [and] I love singing background. I love being on stage because I love that energy that I get and I give.
“The studio is great because it gives you an opportunity to practice and create something,” admitted Anderson, who added that some songs come easier than others.
“The thing that made Chic interesting is that we did a lot of harmony in our vocals,” noted Anderson. “[But] when you sing in unison, everything has to click — every breath, every nuance has to be on. That was harder for me but I loved it. Harmonies I love…it’s perfect and it’s a joy.
The list of musical legends Anderson worked with over the years is long and impressive: “At the top of my list would be Luther Vandross. I sang background for Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Teddy Pendergrass, Bryan Ferry — even had an opportunity to do something for Mick Jagger. The thing I got from all of them [is] their passion, the honesty and the truth.”
The common thread that runs through these artists is their authenticity, she continued.
“People are saying what took [me] so long,” said Anderson about her first full-length solo album, From My Heart, which will be released in July. “It was everything that I have been writing about [coming] from my heart. It’s how I feel about love, life, our relationships with each other, about relationships with folk we love; how we treat the earth — everything that comes to me makes this particular album.”
Her live shows will include songs from the album as well as songs from her Chic years, including “At Last I Am Free,” which she sang on the group’s second album C’est Chic. “It’s a song that stands out and really highlights my God-given talent.
“I was never a real soulful singer. I would listen to and love Aretha Franklin and all the great soul singers. [But] Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross were one of the reasons I began to sing.”
She added, “People still love that music. Those songs are iconic. I can still sing them today.”
Finally, “Getting older is inevitable [and] I’m very grateful for the years I have, but I always wanted to be young at heart. I have a young heart. I have a young spirit,” concluded Anderson.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.