By David Meade
She is known as “South Carolina’s First Lady of Song” and has been proclaimed an “Anderson County Treasure.”
Belton native Loretta Holloway has opened shows for famous celebrities in Las Vegas, appeared on TV and in movies, traveled the world and experienced other cultures and entertained royalty.
She has been described as a “singing actress” and believes that words are very powerful. The lyrics of her songs are her dialogue. Holloway said she loves acting and singing but prefers the latter. “I am more in my element in front of an audience. I touch people with my lyrics. I am very careful what I sing.” she said.
“As an entertainer I take responsibility for my lyrics and what I sing and for the images I project. I want always to project a classy approach to whatever stage I am on.”
Holloway said when she performs, it is for the people who are there. “If I have two people, they are the two right people,” she said. “I learned at an early age, its not the people who didn’t show up that you should be concerned about, but it’s those who did. I give my all regardless.”
Holloway discovered her voice while attending Claflin College in Orangeburg, when master saxophonist and SC Ambassador of Jazz “Skipp” Pearson heard her singing a R&B song in a local talent show.
He told me “Your voice is more suited to Jazz.”
Jazz music has proven to be difficult to define but improvisation is a key element with performers taking turns on the melody.
Famous for Jazz
Holloway said a friend took her to Chicago, a city famous for blues and jazz, where they were to meet with a producer. Unfortunately for Holloway, the producer had just signed another young singer, Natalie Cole.
According to Holloway, he didn’t want or need another female singer but while walking around in the Windy City, Holloway and her friend heard music coming from an alley on a famous street called Rush St.
The music they heard was coming from one of the oldest Jazz Clubs in Chicago, “The Back Room”. She told her friend, “Let’s go down here.”
Three musicians inside were playing jazz and one was playing an acoustic bass. “I had never seen an acoustic bass,” Holloway said. The musician on bass was Eldee Young, an original bass player with Ramsey Lewis Trio.
Holloway, self described as not being shy, asked if she could sing with the trio and one song turned into another and then another. “The musicians were incredible,” she said. And they liked her voice. They asked if she would like to join them.
The club owner also heard her singing and asked her if she wanted a job.
“I said yes, went back home, packed up and moved to Chicago.”
Holloway said one night one of the toughest music critics in the city was at her show. The next days headline in the Chicago Sun Times was “Loretta Holloway Cooking Jazz”. During her time there she was voted the best jazz singer in Chicago by the newspaper.
After one winter in Chicago, Holloway said she had enough of the cold and was either moving to New York or California.
“I went to California.”
Soon after arriving in California she was introduced to a man who was looking for a singer and music for a movie.
The movie, “Black Jack” was a TV action film that was released in Chicago in 1998. Four of Holloway’s songs were used as soundtracks for the movie. Part of it was filmed in Las Vegas, which opened another door for Holloway.
While there she opened shows for some of the biggest name celebrities performing in Las Vegas at the time.
“Bill Cosby gave me my first opening,” she said. He also gave her some good advice. He said “Be ready.”
Other performers she opened for included comedians Don Rickles (eight times), Jay Leno (nine times) Jerry Lewis (three times) and others.
Holloway said she became good friends with Jerry Lewis and appeared on his MS telethon several times.
Her singing career also took her to Bangkok where she performed a broadway medley with a six piece orchestra.
Attending one of her Bangkok shows was Paul Sharrett, an English actor and one of Australia’s foremost television, theatrical and special event producers. After the show he asked her if she would like to be in a show he was producing.
Six months later he calls her and says he needs the arrangements for the medley.
“How would you like to perform for Queen Elizabeth?” he asked.
During the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Australia, Holloway performed two selections for the Queen and Prince Phillip, accompanied by the 100 piece Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
“I was the only American on the bill,” she said.
Far away places
Holloway realized at an early age she knew she wanted to see the world.
“I knew early in my life, as a child growing up in Belton, that I wanted to travel and see the world. As a matter of fact I couldn’t wait to leave,” she said.
“My second home as a child and in elementary school was the Old Belton Library when it was located on O’Neal Street. I would sit for hours reading about “far away places.”
Her voice and her music were the ticket for her to travel to those far away places. Chicago, Las Vegas, California, New York and overseas to England, Egypt, Australia, Bangkok, China and other countries.
Back in the US
While entertaining in Las Vegas, Holloway was also doing shows in Atlantic City and had a celebrity radio program where she interviewed actors and celebrities.
She starred in an Off Broadway production, “Mama I want to sing”
She recorded her first CD, titled “Loretta Holloway Quietly” which had 17 songs, all ballads and all acoustic.
She is one of six or seven female singers who have recorded the classic, Ol’ Man River, a song from the 1927 musical Show Boat, which contrasts the struggles and hardships of African Americans with the uncaring flow of the Mississippi River.
Her movie credits also include appearing with George Strait in “Pure Country” where she was a TV reporter interviewing the country singer. She also appeared in the movie Elvis & Me, based on the 1985 biography written by Priscilla Presley.
Holloway performs at many “Black Tie” events and recently performed at the Hyatt Regency in Greenville for the National Federation of Music Clubs, an organization representing 32 cities.
“I jump started the convention,” she said.
She also performed a jazz show at the Peace Center Amphitheater as a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House.
A show performed at the Peace Center in 1997 was one of her most memorable. Both her mom and dad, Luther and Georgia Holloway, now deceased, were there along with the entire family. “It was very special,” she said.
Holloway has an upcoming movie in which she will be starring and appearing as herself.
The movie, “Clipped Wings They Do Fly” was written and produced by William Michael Barbee and is based on his book by the same title. Holloway said the book is in part based on his life and deals with the topic of schizophrenia and its mis-conceptions.
The movie will be filmed in New Jersey and New York later this fall.
Holloway is also in the process of writing a book titled “Inside Loretta” a compilation of poems and her life’s journey and travels.
Talking about her life and travels, Holloway said, “One of the best educations anyone can get is to travel outside your “comfort zone” and see the rest of the world. My travels and experiences have taken me around the world several times from England, to Egypt, Australia, Bangkok, China, to Italy, to Greece to Russia to Las Vegas and little towns in between traveling back to Belton. To experience the different languages, traditions, cuisines and not to forget the music that each land has to offer has been a tremendous asset to me as a person and an entertainer.”
Holloway said she always encourages local youth to see beyond Belton and experience the world.
“You’ll have a greater appreciation of life and sometimes to see how really blessed we are to call Belton home,” she said. “Sometimes, we come full circle. But, it’s good to know that GSP
International Airport is only 45 minutes away and I have frequent flyer miles still intact.”
Holloway’s next project is performing at the 32nd annual Spring Water Festival, which she said she is looking forward to.
“I am looking forward to sunny skies and a record turnout,” she said.
Appearing with her will be band members Hazen Bannister, Greg Ailewine, Steve Watson and Jaze Uries.
Holloway said she will showcase songs she has written from her three CDs including one titled “Ordinary People.”
Her second recording is more pop-techno geared toward the European audience and dance clubs, she said.
Her main genre of music is jazz/contemporary and R&B (Rhythm and Blues) classics.
“I am not a blues singer,” she said. “I’ve had the blues on occasion and sing one or two blues in my show, but I’m not a blues singer.”
“I have a love for what I do, she said. “I enjoy the reaction people have to me.”
Holloway’s recordings include her debut CD, “Loretta Holloway…Quietly,” “Ordinary People,” and “Kisses In The Dark.”
Complete information on The 32nd annual Spring Water Festival will be included in a special Program Tabloid in next weeks’ Journal. Information can also be found at the festival website at www.springwaterfestival.com.