Ray Charles didn’t need to meet singer Tracey Whitney to know she was his ideal back-up vocalist. Called to audition for The Genius of Soul’s backing group The Raelettes, Tracey left her demo tape behind when Charles couldn’t make their meeting. Later that afternoon, his management phoned to say she’d landed the gig. “Ray just listened to my tape and said, ‘She’s got it,’” Tracey recalls. “Four days later, I was on stage singing with him at the Hollywood Bowl.”
Luckily, Tracey was no stranger to the stage. At age 11, she debuted at the famed Coconut Grove in Los Angeles as a member of The Whitney Family, a group that included her seven brothers and sisters and their parents. For more than a decade, the Los Angeles-based singing sensations toured the world, recorded albums, and made guest appearances on numerous TV shows. “My parents were both singers, and all of their eight kids came out singing,” she says. After leaving the family band, she continued performing locally and even spent five years singing in Japan.
After years of sharing the spotlight, Tracey Whitney is now taking center stage. On her solo debut, Love… A Fable in 9 Acts, her rich, sultry voice seduces and soothes, revealing her lifelong vocal mastery but never turning showy or self-indulgent. A return to the soulful love songs of yesteryear, the R & B-infused record celebrates romance and turns heartache into hope, prompting even the most jaded listener to believe in love again. It’s a classic and timeless approach to songwriting that Tracey makes fresh and extraordinary with her infectious devotion to romance. “I’m inspired by songwriters who are doing something that’s almost old-fashioned,” she says. “I want my music to tell a story.”
Like her much-revered influences Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack, her songs tell tales of love lost and rediscovered, the exquisite pain and undeniable glory found in giving your heart to another. On the breezy and wistful “A Woman in Love,” for instance, we meet a heartbroken heroine who spends her days longing for her man to come back home. At the chorus, Tracey cautions, “You better love your lady / And make it last forever,” a gentle warning that calls on all of us to praise the sacredness of love. By the next track, “Welcome to My Life,” she is serenading a newfound paramour, proclaiming her joy and rapture so ardently it’s impossible not to feel renewed and exhilarated. And Love… A Fable in 9 Acts certainly isn’t lacking in the steamy side of soul and R & B either: In her cover of Barry White’s “I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More,” Tracey heats things up with a sophisticated sensuality that honors the originals irresistible luster and stirs in her own signature allure.
Throughout Love… A Fable in 9 Acts, Ms. Whitney entices and enchants with her stunning command of harmony, a vocal finesse first honed by her family (including an aunt who performed with Stevie Wonder) and later perfected in her work with Ray Charles. “When I first started singing with Ray, my harmonic sense was already very solid from performing with my family for so long,” says Tracey, who sang the fourth part in The Raelettes five-part harmony. “But touring with him expanded my original concept of harmony, which had always been so valuable to me, and singing the fourth part forced me to hear bigger harmonies than I’d originally heard in my head. Working with Ray was tough, but I’m so grateful for the experience.”
As executive-producer, vocal arranger/producer and writer, Ms. Whitney’s Love… A Fable in 9 Acts features her co-producer Herman “Hollywood” Dawkins on piano, synthesizers, and percussion, contributing producer & engineer Cario Johnson, her brother's Phillip on acoustic and electric guitars and Ray on acoustic guitar and bass, Tim Anderson on saxophone and Irene Scott on violin. The musicians grace the record with an elegant touch of jazz, a genre that Ms. Whitney always turns to for inspiration for her breathtaking harmonies. “I love John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and so many of the old jazz masters,” she says. "My love for jazz and my love for R & B female vocalists really come together to influence the melodies that I hear in my head.”
Like Sade, Tracey Whitney uses that jazz-inflected sound as a backdrop for her smooth vocal style, an intoxicating formula that sublimely complements her soul-affirming lyrics. For anyone fed up with what she calls the “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” approach to pop music, Love… A Fable in 9 Acts should bring sweet relief. “What I’m trying to create with my music is that old-school kind of romantic feel,” Tracey says. “I’m singing for people who want what I consider to be real songs, who need to hear that romance in their music again.”