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B-sides: Stacy Lattisaw on growing up as a child star

Lattisaw with Michael Jackson, many years ago. (Courtesy A. Smith & Co.)

By Jesse Serwer

The Post recently published a story about "Unsung," the excellent music biography series currently airing on the TV One network. The show has spotlighted overlooked black musicians including Donny Hathaway, Phyllis Hyman, Sylvester and Washington native Stacy Lattisaw.

Lattisaw is the focus of this week's episode, which premiered Monday and re-airs on Saturday at noon and Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

The former teen star, best known for early '80s hits including "Jump to the Beat" and "Let Me Be Your Angel," is an exception to the show's formula: she doesn't have a tragic story to tell. Instead, Lattisaw left the music industry on her own volition, just after scoring a No. 1 R&B hit with the Johnny Gill duet, "Where Do We Go From Here." Below, Click Track shares the full interview with the current Prince George's County resident.

Were you surprised when Unsung's producers reached out to you to do this show?

Sort of, but then again I wasn't. I watched some of the episodes from before, so I kind of figured sooner or later that I'd get a call from them. And they were kind of interesting to me. So I wasn't surprised [Laughs].

Had you done any interviews in a while?

It's actually been gosh... I can't even remember the last interview I did before this. Maybe 10, 12 years. It's been that long. I've been raising my kids and I've been married for 18 years. I own and operate two businesses here in the Maryland area. I have a recording studio called Night Flight and I also have a sound company where we assist churches called Audio Assurance. I've been a stay-at-home mom raising my kids. They're now 13 and 16. That's what I've been up to. Kayla is my daughter and my son's name is Kevin Jr.

(How to deal with being overlooked, after the jump.)

At the end of the episode there was some mention of you doing gospel music now...

When I did the duet with Johnny Gill, that single was on the last album that I had done called "What You Need" around 1990. After I completed the album and did a few shows, I had just gotten frustrated with the music business and I gave my life to the Lord. I now am a minister and I sing Christian contemporary music. This will be the first [gospel] album. I'm working on material. I have some songs that I am pleased with but I'm still looking for songs to complete the project.

Do you find people you're encountering now remember you?

There aren't many Stacy Lattisaws. Because the name is so odd. I found out from my dad that it's a Canadian name, the last name Lattisaw. Most people still remember Stacy Lattisaw the singer, and I still use that name.

Have you seen your episode?

Yeah. I called my family and my close friends that were in the [episode] with me, who I went to school with in my teenage years, and they all came over to watch the video together. And some of us cried and laughed. We had a great time. It was so much fun. We all went to middle school together and with Johnny Gill as well. We called him Boogie then. And we're still friends today. A real friend is going to always be there.

Where did you go to school?

I went to Sousa Junior High School but I came out of school in the 8th grade, and had a tutor. When my record "Let Me Be Your Angel" was released, people were starting to notice me and I was starting to get picked on at school. My parents felt it was in my best interest to get me a tutor. And I had a tutor through the duration of my school years. Which was no fun at all. Those are supposed to be some of the best times of your life -- going to prom and dating and going to the football and basketball games at school. I was always on the road so I missed out on all that. That was tough for me. You can't get that time back. That's one of my regrets.

I really wish I'd started my career older but that was my parents' dream. My mom sang here in D.C. locally with Marvin Gaye. They went to school together. She noticed I could sing by the time I was six and by nine I was performing locally at talent shows. I never went to my high school prom.

Being a child celebrity is very stressful. You hear the sad stories about the ones who've got caught up into drugs, sad situations. I had a good foundation at home. My mom was always there. She traveled with me, of course. It kept me away from a lot of things. I could have easily gotten involved with drugs and things of that nature but I had a good foundation that kept me away from that.

It had its positives and negatives...

I would have preferred for my music career to start at maybe 17 or 18. Music was really a job for me. I was always on the road having to perform three or four nights a week. A lot of times I would just cry because I wanted to be home doing the things that normal teenagers did. As I look back now, that was my parents dream that I lived because my mom wanted to be a professional singer. She never recorded an album or went outside of D.C. She was a local artist here, and I think she wanted to live her dream through me.

It seemed like you have a good relationship with her now in the episode. It wasn't like the Jacksons talking about Joe.

I don't believe in coincidences. I think it was in God's plan for me to sing during that time. When I look back now. I think everything I went through and endured has made me who I am today so I never blame my parents for pushing me. But at the same time, I would have liked to push the reset button. No, I don't resent my parents. I've been blessed with a wonderful family. They just didn't realize at the time what we were all getting ourselves into. My parents didn't have a clue what the music business was about. My dad worked for the government printing office, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. They just knew I could sing and one thing led to another. And I didn't have a clue what I was doing at the age of 12. At that point, I started feeling obligated to continue doing what I was doing.

You made a conscious effort to be done with music altogether, and were pretty successful in becoming invisible. Did you avoid public situations altogether after your last album?

I wanted to find myself. When I was a child, I never had a chance to really think about what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. The real Stacy. I was just pushed into this career. It was a time for me to sit down and find myself. I did stay away from the public, I stayed home a lot. I did a lot of praying, meditating. That's when I started to go to church, asking God what my purpose was. Because I felt so empty all the time. I had money, I knew lots of celebrities, I toured all around the world. Obviously I made a lot of money but I was never content.

I suffered with depression for years. I can remember at 13, 14 having anxiety attacks. That was terrible. The stress of the music business just took a toll on me and, around 23, I just decided, "This is it for me." This is not what I want to continue to do. I need to find out who I really am. I took that break and that's when I met my husband. My dad hired my husband to do sound for me. We started to date and, a year later, we were married. The following year I had my son. It's important that you are happy in life and what you choose to do. My priority at that time was my family. My kids were and still are my priority and my husband as well. And my German shepherd.

Do you feel unsung, or that you've gotten the credit you deserve?

Oh, of course not. For some time, it was really difficult for me to watch award shows because I always felt like I wasn't given the proper respect and treatment from my record company and my management. I was never given any awards. I was out before Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys. I would say not in a boastful way that I was the one that paved the way for a lot of younger entertainers back then. I always felt like I deserved some type of award. I never felt appreciated.

A lot of R&B artists then, especially in the early '80s when MTV wasn't playing black artists, didn't cross over into the mainstream like in other eras.

Exactly. Most of the songs back then were uptempo tracks for people to dance to. Of course I danced, but I was never a great dancer. I was more of a singer. A songstress is what I'd call myself. My specialty has always been ballads.

How do you feel about this show bringing your name back out there? Are you ready for the attention?

That's a good question. No one's asked me that. I didn't think about that. I guess it comes with the territory. My husband mentioned that to me, sort of. He said once the show does air, you're probably going to get more calls to sing and possibly speak in church engagements and things like that. I'm looking forward to it.. It's been a long break. Now that my kids are older...I always wanted to raise my kids myself and raise them the way I'd want them to be raised. That was my priority. I'm looking forward to getting out there. But I don't miss airplanes.

I'm also working on my autobiography. I kept putting it off but I thought people really need to know the music business. Especially parents that have younger kids that are talented, and considering going into the industry. There are things they need to know about. Getting an entertainment lawyer the proper management. Never sign a contract before you have a lawyer look at it first. Most people only see the glamour part, traveling and doing shows. The business part is what people don't really understand and that will be in my book — the truth behind the business part of the music industry. I was beat out of a lot money from Motown Records and my management company. My parents not knowing the business well, we were really taken advantage of. The business is very cutthroat.

By Chris Richards  |  April 17, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  B-sides  | Tags: Stacy Lattisaw  
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