An Audience With Heather Headley

 Heather Headley has been winning hearts with her rich, soulfully elastic voice since the moment she made her Broadway debut.

BY Duane Wells

February 06 2009 1:00 AM ET

Heather Headley Josh Groban x390 (Getty) | Advocate.com
 

So many artists, particularly those in the realm of
R&B, say they feel like they're "going home" when
they record a gospel project. Does that hold true
for you?
To some extent. For me…because I still go
to church and sing in church, it is a return to me
doing what I know in terms of singing in the studio.
It’s kind of a familiar place…at least from my
standpoint. You know I had a little deal with God --
not that we're supposed to make those. [Laughs] I
said, "When you think I'm ready to do a gospel CD,
I'll do one -- ha ha ha." You know, that kind of
thing. I've always thought I'd love to do a gospel CD, just
like I want to do a Broadway CD. I thought it would be
so much fun. So I had done something for EMI and then
they called and said, "Do you want to do this gospel
album?" So I had to go back to the drawing board and say
"OK, Lord, do you think I'm ready? I'm not sure I'm ready."
[Laughs] That's how that came about. After I
prayed and talked to the [label], I said, "OK, we're going
to do this."

You're obviously a spiritual being, so are there
particularly personal stories attached to any of the
album’s tracks for you?
Yeah. "Running Back to You" is one of them. I've
always been a fan of Commissioned and that’s
always been one of my favorite songs from them. When
we did the album I said, "I wanna try this." So
yes…needless to say, I have something about [that
song] from being a child and listening to
Commissioned, but then again it’s such a beautiful
message…such a beautiful visual. It’s the
prodigal son, or in my case the prodigal
daughter…and that thing of someone waiting for you to
come back home. "I Wish" is a song I wrote with my brother Keith
Thomas and it kind of started with an e-mail that was
sent to me by my husband's aunt. It was a forward. She
loves to forward. She's the forwarding queen and
because I love her dearly I sit down and read some of them.
So I got this e-mail from her and it was about a mom
who has a terminal illness and is saying goodbye to
her daughter, but the daughter doesn't know, and as
she's leaving the daughter at the airport for school
she’s wishing her things. I remember it hit a
chord with me because my brother had just found out
that they were pregnant and I have all these children in my
life, [so] even if I don't have children myself, I thought,
What would I want to wish for a child? So
that’s how "I Wish" came about.

In addition to "Running Back to You" by
Commissioned, you offer your own spin on some
time-honored gospel classics like Lionel Richie's
"Jesus Is Love" on this collection. Did you ever
have reservations about taking on any of the
well-established gospel standards you recorded for this album?
At first there were a few times I wasn't sure
that it was all going to come together, but in the end
I was like, We're going with this, it’s fine.
It's kind of like a dress for me sometimes with some of the
songs. It’s like, let me try it on. I'm not
sure it's gonna fit…we might have to hem it a
little bit [or] pull some stuff in, but I want to try it on,
and so we did and it started working. [But] please
don’t ever think that I’m going up there
going "Yeah, I got this!" I’m totally scared out
of my mind. [Laughs] I'm normally back there
going “Awww…I wanna go home!” But
I’m always trying to beat me. I’m always
trying to do better.

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