Interview: Tamela Mann – Even With Acting and Singing Success, “Best Days” are Ahead
Tamela Mann might be most memorable to most for her ongoing role as Cora on Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Brown’s” or most recently playing Whitney Houston’s best friend in the movie “Sparkle”. However, for those who haven’t kept up with her singing career, it’s arguable she’s a more accomplished singer than actor. Coming up with legendary gospel group Kirk Franklin and the family in the early 90s, she spent nearly a decade with the group before leading a solo career that has culminated with the release of her #1 Gospel album “Best Days”. The fact that acting has come natural to her is only the icing on the cake to the fact that it’s helped her grow leaps and bounds as an artist. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with Tamela during a recent promo run in NYC. We discussed with her what to expect on her new album “Best Days”, starring alongside Whitney Houston in “Sparkle”, plans for her label, her origins as a singer, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your new album “Best Days” is out now, it hit #1 on Billboard Gospel after its release. Introduce us to the album for those who haven’t had a chance to hear it yet.
Tamela Mann: I took the title from one of the songs on the album. The reason I chose it is because of the lyrics which say “My best days are ahead of me and my worst days are behind me”. To me it was such an encouragement and I wanted to use that song to encourage others that even though things may be rough in the economy right now, to encourage you that things are going to get better. We’re looking up and it’s going to be great! It’s going to take a little time but we’re going to work through it. The whole project is kind of like a gumbo or roller coaster ride because what happens is I did some things are a little different from my norm. My norm is kinda a wailer. To me, I think of myself in rock music in the same kind of genre because we sing really hard and loud and real emotional and move around on stage a lot. When you see me live, it’s like I’m moving around stage. I have some uptempo stuff on there and some contemporary. I have some traditional music and then I also have an urban piece, I call it my urban piece. It’s still church, but you can bump it in your ride and bop to it. It’s something different for Tamela than the norm, so you get to see me and hear me in a different light.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Going into the album, was that the plan? Did you want to try something different?
Tamela Mann: I kinda went in with the frame of mind of doing something different because I did things in different keys on this project and more balanced; just to show my vocal abilities, that I do have some versatility and it’s not just one traditional way of gospel. I can do traditional, as well as far out there, showing different genres of music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Once again, you’ve released this album on your own label, which is a big achievement. What do you see as the benefits of releasing it this way?
Tamela Mann: The major benefit of being impendent is you get to do it the way you want to. I get to do it on my timing and I took my time with this project. When I went in, it’s like I laid some things down and kinda sat with it, and if it didn’t sound exactly like I felt it should, then I went back in tweaked a few things, changed a few things, added a few elements here and there just to make it my own. That’s one thing that you have as an independent that a lot of times when you’re on a label, you’re on their watch, you have to hurry up. Even if you’re not quite finished, just because they say you gotta have it by this deadline, you’ve got to keep that deadline. I got to make up my own deadlines per say and that’s a good thing. The downside of it is that it comes out of pocket. It’s still a good thing to be able to have ownership of my masters and I can sing on whoever’s project I want to sing on. It’s some good perks being independent.
YouKnowIGotSoul: In terms of the label that you and your husband own, do you have any plans for artist development with artists of your own?
Tamela Mann: I want to do artist development, but really right now it’s just myself and my husband on the label because we started it in 2004 and we’re really getting our feet wet now and knowing how to take care of an artist or handle an artist. We’re learning things, so when I bring on somebody, I want to be able to treat them right and give them the support they need and all of these things. We’re learning all of these elements before we actually bring some other people in. I want to be able to treat somebody like I want to be treated and give them the support that they need to get them out there and not just sign a whole bunch of people because I do have a label and just have them sitting. I don’t want that to happen to anybody. I want to get them out there to show their gifts and talents.
YouKnowIGotSoul: On the acting side of things, you’ve accomplished so much as an actor, and now have had a chance to star in “Sparkle” alongside Whitney Houston. What did that role mean to you?
Tamela Mann: It’s WOW! There’s a song on the project called “This Place”. I never would have dreamed I would have been at that place sitting besides, co-starring with her in the movie. I was really nervous going into it, but what made me comfortable is when she came and she greeted me as if she knew me. Then she went into it to say “I know who you are, I’ve seen some of your work and followed you”. I started out with Kirk Franklin and the family, and then to see the stuff that I’ve done with Tyler Perry productions. She was like “You’re a great singer!” and that really made me feel really good for her to tell me that. She came in like my homegirl, she came in talking and just greeting everybody, she made everybody feel very comfortable, she was very pleasant to work with. She didn’t make you feel uptight around her. I just kinda tried to give her that on set, I didn’t bombard her with a whole bunch of questions. I kinda let her lead the conversations and all. It was a wonderful experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. For her to even give me input on a couple of the songs was like “Wow”, coming from her, a megastar.
YouKnowIGotSoul: As an accomplished singer and actor, how do you compare pouring your heart and soul into a song, as opposed to a role in a film?
Tamela Mann: *Laughs* That’s a good question. Really singing is my first love, but what happens with singing and acting is you get to really act out what you’re thinking and whatever the words are. Like me not being a dancer per say, so I can’t dance out my moves when I’m singing, but I get to act it out on the acting side. Acting to me is like the icing on the cake because it’s something I never dreamed that I would be doing and making a living out of it is super butter cream icing. *Laughs* I’m really loving it, but I really get to act out what I’m thinking that I can’t really portray when I’m singing the songs. If I was a praise dancer, you might see my doing a twirl. *Laughs* That’s how I break it up.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Something you mentioned earlier was you got your start as a singer with Kirk Franklin. How did you get that opportunity?
Tamela Mann: This is funny. Actually, me and my best friend went to school with Kirk Franklin. My husband David Mann, who plays Mr. Brown, and the man who is now our pastor, they had a group that they sang in in high school together. So my best friend said to him “I know somebody that sings better than you”. So she brings me to the school to meet Kirk Franklin and those other two guys and later on Kirk decides to start a bigger group. We went on to sing with him, this was like 1991 when we started rehearsing, 1992 we recorded a project. We never would have dreamed that we would become the number one group, coming from Fort Worth Texas. It’s next to Dallas, and people always say Dallas, they don’t say Forth Worth, but they are hand in hand. That’s kinda how we took off. Being with Kirk, I sang with him for 9 or 10 years and I loved it. I always wanted to sing, so even being in the background was like phenomenal for me; it was the greatest thing ever because it was my heart’s desire to do. So once that took off and then when that journey ended, I cried, I really cried. You’re good, I haven’t told anybody else this in a long time. I cried when it was over because I felt like that was my purpose and my call to be with him, we were going to last forever. There was another plan which he has the master plan and we hooked up with Tyler Perry. That’s kinda I flipped the script; I thought my life was over, but a chance happens to those who are listening. Change happens and it’s not always for the worst, change can actually be good for you. I thought this was the end of my world not knowing that I was going to be going into the acting and stage plays would be another whole platform for me. It just went on from stage plays to movies to the television show. Really being with Tyler Perry and being on stage encouraged me to go ahead and be a singer. Singing on stage, I was really shy with Kirk, I would sing with my eyes closed and I didn’t know how to work the stage, I wouldn’t move. Being on the stage in the theater kinda helped open me up to a whole nother world. So that’s kinda how my development really started.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I was reading you’re working on a cooking show with your husband. Can you share some details on that?
Tamela Mann: Well the cooking show, we’re just introducing it, it’s called “Hanging with the Mann’s”, it’s a cooking adventure show. We’re basing the cooking off of an adventure. We went to Texas Motor Speedway, and we both think we’re the best driver, so we drove in the car that drives 200 miles an hour. No, WE didn’t go 200 miles an hour. *Laughs* We drove that and we did the go karts and it was kinda like the hot cars, we call it Speed Zone, it’s a place in Dallas. What we kinda did it was as a little contest. After we did the contest, we did tailgating foods. We did a plank steak on the grill outside and made a sandwich. We did sausage and I did apple coleslaw. So whatever deals with the adventures, we make that [the meal]. You’ll have to stay tuned for more of “Hanging with the Mann’s”, we’re shopping it and we haven’t planted our feet yet but we have some good offers. Keep looking out for us on DavidAndTamelaMann.com.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Tamela Mann: I want to say thank you to everyone for watching and supporting us through the years with the plays and the music and the movies; we couldn’t have done it without you. Please go pick up the album “Best Days” in stores now. Love you, be blessed.