Melba Joyce

Every once in a while a special someone defies the odds and manages to make his or her talent shine again and again, in different venues, on stages and bandstands, in recording studios or on tour.

Such a person is Melba Joyce. Her long and impressive career has spanned three decades in the company of and sharing top billing with such giants of the music world as Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and so many others.

A graduate of Antioch University West in Los Angeles, California, Melba Joyce was born in Dallas, Texas. She grew up under the warm and instructive musical influence of her mother and grand parents. Her father, Melvin Moore, a prominent vocalist with the jazz and swing bands of his era — including Dizzy Gillespie, with whom he toured and recorded — was also one of Melba’s influences. After her family moved to Los Angeles, Melba was immediately noticed by musicians and soon found herself opening for such renowned artists as Miles Davis, Freddy Hubbard and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.

In addition to her jazz vocal appearances, Melba appeared in the Tony Award winning Broadway show “Black and Blue” where she understudied all three principal characters:Linda Hopkins, Ruth Brown and Carrie Smith, she starred in the launching of that show’s successful world tour. Melba appeared in just about every major (and some minor) cities in the world from Amsterdam to Beijing, London and Bordeaux; to New York, Dallas, Beverly Hills, and Little Rock Arkansas.

Melba Joyce tirelessly toured the war-torn fields of Vietnam to entertain the troops at the height of that horrid conflict, an experience that raised her social conscience to new heights. When Melba returned, she was appointed panelist for the Congressional Black Caucus of Women in Jazz Forum. She produced the first Women in Jazz Festival at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Black Culture; and became a principal in the Day of the Child Series for UNICEF. With funding from the National Endowment For The Arts, Ms Joyce produced Jazz For Special People, a musical education series for the handicapped.

In 1998 Melba travelled overseas as part of the 1998 Kennedy Center-USIA Jazz Ambassadors program for a tour of several African countries for six weeks, with a special performance at The Kennedy Center as part of the program.

Melba was the first to be honored by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, in their “HARLEM SPEAKS” series” in May 2004. Launched to honor persons keeping the flame of jazz alive in Harlem, it was “….a tribute to the work of one of Harlem’s treasures, Melba Joyce…..”

In August 2005, Melba Joyce joined the great Count Basie Orchestra as featured vocalist.
In 2008, The Central Park Conservancy presented Melba with a very special recognition through the City of New York for creating and producing The first Women’s Jazz Festival. The program, held in Harlem at the park’s Dana House, featured Kunle Abodunde reading of a chapter from his unreleased book. During Melba’s tour assignment in Nigeria as a Jazz Ambassador, Abodunde attended her performance and being deeply impressed included a chapter in the book describing what he felt about the evening.

In July 2009 Melba Joyce and Her Big Band, debuted at Lincoln Center’s Mid Summer Night Swing, featuring a “constellation” of New York’s finest jazz musicians. Her conscious hiring choices of nine women and nine men sets a precedence as recognized by Jazz WBGO radio’s Rhonda Hamilton, who emceed, and in making her introduction of the band, compared the singer’s actions to Benny Goodman who hired Black musicians to play with his big band many years ago as Melba celebrated Goodman’s 100th birthday, further paying a befitting tribute with a duet on Goodman’s song “Bir Mir Bis Du Shoen” with Anat Cohen on clarinet and Melba. Other stellar musicians included, the legendary Benny Powell, (whom Melba met at the age of 15 at Birdland, hanging out with her father, big band singer and Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame recipient, Melvin Moore). Additional band members were Lakecia Benjamin, Valery Panomov, Clarence banks, Debra Weitz, Michael Howell and Helen Sung to name a few. The Lincoln Center press, “There were few female big band leaders, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were two, now joining their illustrious ranks is veteran songbird, Melba Joyce.” Melba was awarded a grant from the American Music Center for her original composition and performance of “You Are My Song”, which premiered at the Lincoln Center event.

In the fall of 2009 Melba was requested to join a panel of judges at Russia’s first prestigious, International Harpist Competition, “The Golden Harp” in honor of The Empress Elizabeth. A special event during the competition featuring 19 contestants was the unveiling of one of Russia’s celebrated composers, Dmitri Shostakovitch whose son, Maxim served as the presiding juror of this competition. Maxim Shostakovitch, conductor and is an outstanding interpreter of his father’s creations. The colorful Gala featured performances by four of the jury members. Melba performed a duet with Anna Makarova, the principal harpist of The Saint Petersburg Philharmomic Orchestra. The two achieved a striking blend of marvelous artistry and musicality in their version of, “Send in The Clowns”. Melba and The Saint Petersburg Chamber Orchestra under the superb direction of their conductor, Fabio Mastangelo sang a medium jazz tempo of Gershwin’s “Summertime” with string arrangements by American trumpeter and big band leader Steve Huffsteter. Melba Joyce represented the United States at this long awaited prestigious event. (Source)