Interview of this soul/ blues singer by Mike Stephenson for Jefferson magazine took place in Memphis, October 2013. Many thanks go to Archie Love whose house the interview took place in.
My name starts out with my mother never wanting a girl and expecting me to be a boy. So when I was born she didn’t have a name for me and my family they affectionately started calling me Duchess. My mother didn’t want to name me Duchess so when I was nine days old she decided to name me Detrice Althea so my birth given name is Detrice Althea West. My family were stuck on Duchess though so Duchess was my technical first name and it is what I have carried my entire life.
I was in the church choir from about the age of five through to about fourteen. My experience in the church choir didn’t have anything to do with me becoming a singing artist. When I was in sixth grade at school is when I got into singing. Theatre was my first true passion doing stage plays and things like that. When I was a kid we would re do Broadway plays like ‘Cats’, re do ‘Phantom Of The Opera’, and some Shakespeare plays, I’ve done vaudeville productions and in one I played Mae West. This was in school and also in some of the local theatres here in Memphis such as Playhouse On The Square I have a life time membership there and I have performed at Theatre Memphis as well. Our Orpheum Theatre down town, which is where we get our big Broadway plays, I have performed twice on that stage doing plays. So while dong theatre as a child was when we realised I could sing. I always thought I could but I had older brothers who would tell me to be quite because they thought I couldn’t sing. So being in theatre we realised I did have a talent for singing and so I would do something in show fires and school and of course the choir at church but I cannot truly say that I got my start in church the way some say I got my start in theatre.
I stated working in some local theatres first and I would do like ballet and all different kinds of dance lessons. I’ve always been in something. The neighbourhood I grew up in was not a very nice neighbourhood so my mother was determined to not have me as a little girl around in the neighbourhood so she kept me busy. So I took all kinds of lessons like jazz and tap and ballet and things like that and so then some of the instructors suggested to my mother that she put me in theatre and because I was such a character around the house my mother agreed with them. So that’s how I got into theatre. The singing came from the theatre and when I was maybe seventeen years old and being in theatre my entire life and still doing dance all the while in the theatre and at school my dad, who is Archie Love who presently sings with the funk group the Bar-Kays, at the time was singing background for J. Blackfoot. He and a young lady named Anne Hines were doing background for J. Blackfoot and Ann was doing her solo thing as well at the time and she needed background singers and she hired me as my first paying gig into the soul/ blues industry. This was in 1998.
It kind of went from there I would do background here and there and every now and then I would get a call to open up on a show, maybe one song nothing big, just one song and they would get me off the stage after my three minutes. It was fun and I loved the experience. After doing that background singing for Ann Hines I started doing solo work singing here and there not on any big shows maybe the one song here and the one song there. My next true paying gig was singing background for my father Archie Love and I did that for quite a few years. I did that to maybe 2004. I have three children so had to divide my time with them as well .
Everything has a perfect timing because after my last child was a few months old I came back and recorded my very first CD. I would stop and start on the recording and that was 2005 when I started and we didn’t complete it until February of 2007. I also did background and in between the start of the recordings in 2005 and finishing in 2007 I was doing background for Lacee, she is my baby girls godmother, and that was so much fun, I learned so many of my techniques from Lacee. A lot of my confidence in singing itself and getting the nerve to shoot for ranges and notes that I didn’t now I was capable of doing, Lacee helped me with that. I would listen to her CDs and she has that voice and I would be at home or be driving down the street and I would challenge myself to hit the notes that Lacee could hit.
My first CD was called ‘It’s My Time Now’ and it includes the song ‘It’s My Time Now’ and also the song ‘Doing My Job’ which was my biggest hit. It topped several soul/ blues charts at number one and it held number one for ten weeks in Atlanta. I tell people that I recorded all the numbers on that CD in tears. My father is my producer he has produced both of my CDs and produces with an iron fist. If it’s not right he is gonna tell you and if it is terrible he is going to tell you it is terrible and so he will make me do it again. He is the sweetest guy and my best friend as well as my father but as a producer he is such a meany. My first CD was recorded in Memphis at my father’s studio which at the time was in the Frayser neighbourhood at his Loveland Records studio. The second CD, which is ‘Writings On The Wall’, which was done in 2011 and it shows tremendous musical growth vocally in me. My father produced that CD as well. My mother Lille Love is an amazing writer she writes for my dad and she has written numbers on both of my CDs.
The second CD ‘Writings On The Wall’ is just an EP there are only five tracks to that CD and so it is incomplete as a full album so we are going to finish it. I just had to step back a little while and focus on my children and I had some things I had to get together and so we are starting to record more songs for the album and we will complete it and make it a full length LP in the next year or so and it will be on Loveland Records.
As a background vocalist I have recorded with J. Blackfoot on his ‘Woof Woof Meow’ CD and Ms Jody does a remake of it with J. Blackfoot and I actually do background for that and I do a speaking part, a kinda sensual and sexy speaking part, on that CD as well. I’ve done background vocals for my fathers CD as well. I’ve done some recording background work for Jerry L he is another local soul/ blues artist. I’ve recorded background vocals for the Bar-Kays. JEA Right Now Records which is the Bar-Kays recording label did a Stax compilation so all the artists from JEA and Loveland we all re did some of the old Stax artists songs and on that album I did Anita Ward’s ‘Ring My Bell’ I redid that song and that was a lot of fun and the album was called ‘The Classic Soul Collection’.
My dad did some of the producing on that CD. Also The Bar-Kay’s’ Larry Dodson and my father did a Haiti project called ‘A Message From Memphis A Healing Song For Haiti’ after the tragedy in that country and it is a documentary and songs and I was in the choir for that. I was interviewed for the documentary. So that was quite humbling for me. I’ve done work for Mr Sam, some on some of his first songs and on my first CD he actually wrote one of the songs ‘I Need A Man’. I’ve done background vocals for Mr Sam as well. I’ve also done live performing with him.
Currently I’m doing some background work. It’s not soul/ blues it’s for a group called The Party Jammers. They do weddings and things like that and one of their background singers has taken ill so I have been filling in for her and that has been for the past few months performing live dong weddings and things like that. It’s still soul music though.
I myself have been booked for some private gigs lately rather than having been on big shows mainly around Memphis and the Tri State area. I’m very active in my church as well. I attend Liberty Church Of God Of Christ under Bishop William S. Wright. I recently joined the choir in church and that’s something I’ve not done since I was a child. As far as performing it’s about twice a month a little slow at present but it fluctuates so it will come around again soon enough.
I’ve been on shows with O. B. Buchana, Miss Jody and my dad. I’ve been on a show with Denise LaSalle and on my first CD on that number ‘I Need A Man’ I did a video for that song and Denise LaSalle plays my aunt on that video. So she let me go to her home and she has a really nice club/ museum there and it is gorgeous and she let me go into that and record. I’ve done background for Thaddeus Mathews who has a controversial television and talk show and he recorded his own CD at one point and I did background vocals on that as well. He is a local promoter to the area and he promotes a lot of shows and soul/ blues shows in the area and he is a great supporter of mine. When he heard my first CD he loved it and started booking me for shows. At one point I was doing a show every Wednesday at a club called Chocolate City and he used to host on that night. It started off with me and Stacie Marino, who is a local soul/ blues singer, and then it ended up just being myself. So Thaddeus Mathews really helped my career along its way. On one of his shows he was talking about how women will take care of men and allow men to do nothing but sit at home with their feet kicked up watching television and the woman goes out and works and takes care of the kids. So he said on his radio show that somebody should write a song called ‘If He Can’t Sweat For You, Don’t Let Him Sweat On You’. He asked me to write the song and in a matter of a week I wrote the song and my dad produced it and recorded it and we got it to Thaddeus and it’s on the ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ CD. It’s called ‘Sweat For Ya’ on the CD.
I am a song writer as well and I help my mother write songs and some of the songs that Mr. Sam wrote I have helped with that as well. I have recorded a duet with Toni Green, who I love, on my first CD and the song is called ‘Cry No More’. As a matter of fact this month (October) in Memphis is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month and this song was written about domestic abuse as she and I and so many other women have been domestically abused in one way or another be it physical or mental and do this song is sharing our experiences and learning lessons. In the song I turn to Toni for advice as I am going through the worst things possible and she is giving me the best advice so the song is really touching. I put the song on my second CD as well. Toni and I are members of the same church.
Currently I get called for a lot of church programmes and I do a lot of church weddings and way more funerals than I care for doing. This is singing gospel music solo. But the church isn’t really where I got my start that is from the stage and my very first solo was ‘Broadway Baby’ and I was eleven years old. I was in theatre with J. Blackfoot’s daughter. Even though my dad had known J. Blackfoot for ever the day I did that performance was the day I got to meet J. Blackfoot. I used to call him Uncle Foot and he meant so much to me and my children adored him as well so when he passed away that was and still is very hard for us. I’ve known Big Robb and his son R3 who raps. I’ve never done any background work for Big Robb but we converse all of the time and are talking about getting some things together so we can work more closely together. R3 has a stepping song called ‘Down South Shuffle’ and it was produced by Big Robb and I helped with some of the vocals on that song and on the recording of the video for the song.
Just going back, in 2003 my dad had ideas about starting a girl group so it was myself, Shanna Page, Brandy McKingley and LaVincencia Watkins who is my cousin she was the girl rapper of the group and we were called Aviance. LaVincencia known also as Lady V actually is on my first CD and is rapping on two of the numbers ‘Me I See’ and ‘Deeper’.