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 12:00 AM ET

Heather Headley Josh Groban x390 (Getty) |

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.

Tags: Music