Celebrating the 71st birthday of this quintessential soul-gospel vocalist
This past week (October 7th), one of my all-time favorite vocalists, Táta Vega, celebrated her 71st birthday.
I still remember the first time I heard her on Andraé Crouch’s 1984 release, No Time To Lose on a song called “Right Now.” I was hooked! Her voice was so distinctive that a year later, I picked her out in the backgrounds on Russ Taff’s Medals, Randy Stonehill’s Love Beyond Reason, and Leslie Phillips’ Black & White In A Grey World before I’d even read the credits. A total original.
Shortly thereafter, Contemporary Christian Music magazine responded to a reader’s letter inquiring about her and I learned that she had been a Motown recording artist in the 70s. When I started crate digging in my teens, I soon found those albums and, as a budding singer/songwriter, learned so much about singing harmony with myself in the studio by listening to her albums.
But there were so many other lessons in those albums. They were masterclasses in song selection, finding one’s own story in a song, the ways a vocalist should pace themselves and the importance of both emoting and enunciating.
So, in honor of Táta’s birthday, I wanted to highlight five of my favorite moments. I’m celebrating you still, my friend.
Pollution—Mother Earth from Pollution (1971)
I didn’t discover Pollution, the group with which she first recorded, until 2000 when I actually met Táta. When I heard this cut, which closes the group’s 1971 debut album, I was mindblown. Their cover of this Memphis Slim composition, famously recorded by Tracy Nelson, is a glorious 6 and a half minutes that you don’t want to miss.
Come In Heaven, Earth Is Calling from Totally Táta (1977)
When I first heard this song in the 90s, it felt just as timely as it was in 1977 when she wrote it with Anna Gaye, Elgie Stover and Terrence Harrison. Hearing it today, it feels even more timely. The song addresses the heart condition that drives the social and political conditions that plague us.
Right Now (with Andraé Crouch)—from The All-Star Gospel Session (1987)
This performance of their 1984 recording, “Right Now,” is one for the books. With Abraham Laboriel on bass and Bill Maxwell on drums in addition to Sandra Crouch, Jean Johnson and Carol Dennis among the background vocalists, it’s full throttle from the first note—down to Táta pulling out Holy Ghost Guns at 4:12 and putting them back in the holsters, then proceeding to do The Robot. A tour de force.
4. It’s A Man’s Man’s World on The Arsenio Hall Show (1993)
Táta recorded this James Brown track on her groundbreaking (and under-discussed) 1988 European release, Time’s So Right. The album was visionary in its blending of mainstream and faith-based material much in the vein of Amy Grant’s Unguarded, but went a step beyond. In 1993, she performed it live on The Arsenio Hall Show, leaving Arsenio proclaiming, “It’s a WOMAN’S world!”
5. Until Jesus Comes (2011)
Andraé Crouch introduced this song in live performances (with Táta leading it) somewhere around 1985, but didn’t record it until 1997’s Pray. Unfortunately for Táta fans, she didn’t record the lead vocal on the album. Thankfully, YouTubers have uploaded multiple versions of the eighties performances, but we have Rahsaan Patterson to thank for capturing this moment after a session for his 2011 Bluephoria album.
ALSO! SoulMusic Records recently reprinted their expanded edition of Táta’s 1976 Motown debut, Full Speed Ahead. Click here to order from Amazon.com!