When you think of powerhouse R&B/pop vocal dynamo LaTonya Holmes, prepare to wrap your mind around the concept of "S" to the Sixth Power! Lady LaTonya is Sassy, Soulful, Sensitive, Sultry and Spirit-filled...and her songs are all about Storytelling. The proof is on shining star display in her debut EP, Love Me Just For Me. The ever-resourceful and beautiful Ms. Holmes financed and executive produced the project herself with earnings from national commercials, as a voice talent in the arena of animation, as a television actress and, most prominently, as a musical theatre triple-threat - crisscrossing the country in productions of the hit musicals Dreamgirls, Little Shop of Horrors and, currently, The Color Purple.
Love Me Just For Me introduces vivacious and versatile Georgia native LaTonya Holmes not only as a singer but as a songwriter, co-writing six of her EP's seven selections via her ASCAP-affiliated Pecan Tan Publishing company. She also arranged and co-produced all of the lead and background vocals. The music swings from the in-your-face club funk of the irresistible "Google Me" and the attitude jams "If the Love Was So Good" and "Gone On" (all destined to be anthems for women) to the more mellow and melody-driven "So Sensitive" and the title track.
The initial song to garner interest in LaTonya at YouTube and MySpace is "Beautiful Day," an uplifting feel-good song on which she proclaims, “Can’t nobody put a shade on my shine!” Ironically, this song was the end result of something terrible.
"'Beautiful Day' was inspired by a personal experience," LaTonya shares. "Last year, I was assaulted by someone I considered to be a very good friend. I was really down at first...not really talking to anyone. Then I decided I wanted to turn this negative into a positive. I told my friends and Color Purple cast mates Rhett George and Quentin Earl Darrington, 'I can't write anything right now, but can you come up with something for me that basically says everything's gonna be alright?' Three days later, they came back with 'Beautiful Day.' I got together with another friend, Felton Offard, who came to visit me with his guitar and we fleshed out the music. Shortly after that, I was in the studio recording it and that was the start of my project."
Dan Sutter directed a touching music video for "Beautiful Day" in Chicago that captured several of LaTonya's Color Purple friends rallying around her to make her dream come true, including all the children in the show plus Stu James who plays her handsome love interest.
From there, Ms. Holmes swiftly began assembling more material, all of which stems in some way from personal experiences. "I've tried singing songs because they were hits or the hot sound of the day," she states. "Having a degree in theatre, I quickly figured out that the best way to get my music across is to tell the truth. If I can identify with it, I'm gonna make you feel something when I sing it. It doesn't mean I'll write everything I do, but in order for anyone to feel what I'm singing, I have to feel it first."
The first song LaTonya penned for the project was "Funny," written with Quentin (a.k.a. "Q") in San Francisco and inspired by a man who came into her life while she was working on The Color Purple in Chicago. "I was walking home from the theatre one night," she recalls, "and I met this wonderful guy. I met him a month and a half before I had to leave. In the song I'm wondering what's going to happen to us in the course of our long distance relationship."
This mystery man was also the inspiration behind the EP's title track, "Love Me Just For Me," with lyrics penned by LaTonya and Rhett. "On that one I'm explaining how important it’s going to be for this man to accept LaTonya for everything that she is. He's gotta love the sensitive LaTonya, the sassy LaTonya, AND the get-out-of-my-face LaTonya! So far he's doing a good job as you hear in the chorus, 'I've finally got a man / Who truly understands / My sensitivity / And loves me just for me / He's my friend / He's my soldier / And everyday his shield keeps me covered.' He loves me just for me, and that's all I can ask because that's all that I can be."
Along a similar thematic line is "So Sensitive," which LaTonya co-wrote with producer Tracy Carter, who also happens to be the Musical Director of LaTonya's home of worship, Faithful Central Bible Church. This song is easily her most autobiographical. It features a lovely layering of LaTonya's voice in the leads and backgrounds, resulting in a very radio-friendly performance that any woman can sing and will want to sing. "I can be very independent. I spend a lot of time with myself and I used to not be o.k. with that. All of this helps make me the sensitive woman that I am."
But don't get it twisted thinking Ms. Holmes lives day to day with all of that softness resting on the surface. Baby girl's got some 'tude to back all that up and it can be found in the tender but firm (and obviously Isley Brothers-inspired) "If the Love Was So Good," written with Rhett. "You left me so sudden without a warning / I miss you so much / If the love was so good / Then tell me why it's not me that you want..."
LaTonya really turns up the heat on "Gone On," an up-tempo hip hop banger featuring rapper Phat Cat and helmed by For’Son of the production group The Agency. LaTonya penned this one with Dwayne Barnes, a fellow actor who is also doing his own music under the name “Dwayne Coltrane.” This song concerns an unfortunate topic that many women are confronted with - falling prey to the attentions of an already taken man.
But Ms. Holmes has a lil’ somethin’ for all the “playas” - a club jam with a hook as powerful as pepper spray that women will be chanting for the rest of the year...and beyond! That statement is "Google Me." And the story behind its creation is every bit as delicious as the song itself..
“Felton and I were in Chicago working at the theatre and this sub (i.e. fill-in musician) was coming on to me in a huge way, only it was so horrible I told him, 'Google me and get back with me!' Felton thought that was so funny, wrote it down and to my surprise, came up with a track and a hook a few months later. I thought it was interesting that a man put so much energy into this concept, but I ran with it. I finished the song that day and was so excited that I flew out the next to lay vocals. It's different from everything else I recorded - my 'to the left' song. It's one side of me…and the song is hot!"
LaTonya Holmes is a native of Warner Robins, Georgia, who sang her first solo in church at age 7. She didn't start out with dreams of pop stardom or even theatre for that matter. "Being from a small town, my parents didn't know how to get me into the music industry," she reflects. "I just wanted to sing in church and play the tambourine. I did take piano lessons for a couple of years, but in school I was an athlete. I played basketball, softball and ran track."
LaTonya credits her high school drama teacher, Mr. Gerald Ray Horne, for her segue into the realm of the performing arts. "They were doing The Wiz. I auditioned with 'God Has Smiled On Me' and earned a spot in the ensemble. From that day I chose theatre…and never looked back."
LaTonya attended Chicago's Roosevelt University on scholarship. She was cast in the national tour of "Big River" and had to take a year off from college to do it. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre. Though she has excelled in theatre arts - winning the prestigious Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role of “Lorrell” in Dreamgirls – LaTonya’s talent and drive helped her earn the role of "Darlene Matheson" on Lifetime Television's Any Day Now, and voiceovers in PBS, Warner Bros. and Nickolodeon cartoons.
LaTonya received guidance from many creative giants, including artist development under professionals from the camp of Whitney's guru, Clive Davis. She was mentored by the recently departed songwriting great Sami McKinney when she first moved to Los Angeles. She earned her West Coast stripes singing on a Dr. Dre production for Snoop Dogg, toured with pop stars Christina Aguilera and Macy Gray, and appeared in the production Bigger Than Bubblegum, the autobiographical story of `70s sibling vocal trio The Emotions.
But it was through musical director Myron McKinley that LaTonya got the chance to work with music master Stanley Clarke at his home studio laying principle vocals for his score to the film Down in the Delta. "Perfection was crucial to Mr. Clarke," LaTonya recalls. "The singers might say, 'Wasn't that take o.k.,' and he'd say, 'Sure it was o.k., but are you o.k. with o.k...because I'm not.' What Stanley said stayed with me from that day on - not just in music but in life."
Today, LaTonya Holmes' life is consumed with making the leap from industry veteran to superstar via her all-bases-covered debut EP, Love Me Just For Me. Stellar songwriters Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray (who composed the music for the Broadway edition of The Color Purple) have all been very supportive of her work. And LaTonya has surrounded herself with invaluable collaborators, both behind the scenes (with stylist and industry navigator Bernard G. Jacobs) and in writers Rhett George, Felton Offard, Quentin Earl Darrington, Dwayne Barnes, Tracy Carter, and For’Son of The Agency.
Poised to make a major musical splash in 2008, LaTonya Holmes concludes, "I set out to do something and I did it. As the Executive Producer of my project, I invested in myself and my future. Thanks to The Color Purple, I still get to play several wonderful stage roles. And when I don't go on, I write these songs from my heart or help my friends with whatever they're creating. I strongly feel like I'm here for a greater purpose. I'm just being me...and I'm happy."
- A. Scott Galloway