Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King: Bubblin' Over
July 1978 in person interview, New York City
By David Nathan
At the end of April 1978, New York's Felt Forum prepared for a concert appearance by the legendary Mr. Smokey Robinson. Opening the four-act bill for the occasion was a petite young lady, truly a powerhouse, a dynamic new vocalist who stole the show as far as many critics and reviewers were concerned.
The public seemed to love everything she did and it became patently obvious anyone who saw Ms. Evelyn "Champagne" King in action that here was a superstar in the making. Since then, the predictions have flowed fast and furious and not without cause. It seems inevitable that, once Ms. King reaches the ripe ol' age of twenty-one, she is literally going to have the music world at her fingertips, such is her maturity, style and energy. At a mere 17 years of age, she is wowing audiences everywhere and her debut R.C.A. album (with the smash single, "Shame" bursting out of it) is reaching sales peaks everywhere. So who is this lady, causing all the furore and excitement? Well, we discovered that she's a modest quiet, almost shy young woman who is taking her current success in her stride, because as she points out, "it's what I've been waiting for all my life — I've been ready for it and now it's happening, I feel great about it!" And for those around "Champagne" it comes as no surprise.
Born in the Bronx, New York, Evelyn has had music surrounding her almost since the day of her birth. Her father, Eric King, was a singer in his own right and when the family would go to the Apollo, he would often be a stand-in with different vocal groups. At the early age of five, Evelyn was listening to the likes of the ever-soulful Linda Jones and indeed, the maturity and emotion that today marks her own singing style was certainly influenced by the remarkable Ms. Jones. Sister Wanda King notes that "she used to know all of Linda's songs and when people would come to the house, she'd sing them for everyone. "Hypnotized", all the songs."
Certainly, the regular trips to the Apollo helped and then, when the family moved to Philadelphia, they would spend many evenings having the "King Amateur hour at home! When we weren't watching television, we'd put on our own show! Everyone did something — sing, play an instrument. Sometimes we'd go on until four in the morning and all the neighbours figured we were having a big party! We used to think that maybe we could go out there as a family like The Jacksons, something like that. But it was always big fun!" And, aside from that, it was obviously a good training ground for Ms. King to develop her craft. My family has always been very close to me," admits the young lady. "We're a close unit and in fact, when I'm on the road, somebody's always with me — either my mother, father or sister." Everybody makes sure, apparently, that Evelyn is always ready when she's on the road. "We'll tell her not to worry about her clothes being ready, things like that," notes Wanda "because, we make sure it's all done for her so she can just concentrate on performing, singing.
But being on the road is a relatively new experience for the young lady. It's really only been happening since the release of her debut R.C.A. album, "Smooth Talk" and she explains the circumstances that led up to that. "Well, I was with a few local groups in Philly — one called Volume I in particular — that was around 1974-75. We performed quite a lot in the city. We were all thinking about making it on our own. It just so happened that my mother, my father and my sister were all working up at Philly International Records and I was helping out part time," explains Evelyn. “One day, I was vacuuming along the hallway and singing as I was going. It just so happened that a producer, T. Life, heard me and asked who it was singing. He told me right there on the spot that he was going to make me a star, but you know how that is, people tell you so many different things, so I didn't really take it too seriously."
Apparently, Mr. Life was sufficiently impressed because he called Evelyn's family and after hearing a tape of one of Volume I's rehearsals on which Evelyn was singing, he indicated that he really believed in Ms. King's impressive vocal talents. The next stage took Evelyn into the recording studios for the first time. "Life had given me a couple of songs — "Till I Come Off The Road" and "Smooth Talk", I learned them, we had a couple of rehearsals and we recorded them. Everyone figured I'd be real nervous but it was really o.k. I just went in there and sang." Not only did Evelyn have the assistance of her producer but she also had one of Philly's best rhythm sections supporting her in Instant Funk. "It was great because Life really believed in me when a whole lot of other people had said that I was too young, things like that. So it was very encouraging."
After the usual somewhat lengthy period of negotiations that frequently precedes a record deal, Evelyn found herself with a contract with R.C.A. Records in 1977. "We'd actually started working the previous year and my producer gave me the rest of the songs to learn and we finished them off by the summer of '77. The album came out in August."
After performing a couple of dates in her hometown (including a showcase for R.C.A.), Ms. King made her New York debut at Broady's in the early part of 1978. "By then, I had my own band — Trussel — and I felt real comfortable. I've enjoyed every single show we've done because, like I said, it's what I've been waiting to do all the time. Right now, with the single doing so well, we're doing about two or three dates a week at least and that's more than I used to do. But I love the travelling, seeing different places. I usually stay in the hotel because if I just decided to go out sightseeing, I just might get lost! But there's always something to do — some hotels have swimming pools, all kinds of things."
On top of that, Evelyn still devotes some time to studying — she has one more year left of work before she graduates. "I have a tutor and we usually get together whenever I get off the road and catch up on what I've missed. "Sure, it's hard sometimes concentrating on everything — schol and singing — but it's important that I complete my education."
Evelyn doesn't lead what might be considered a regular life for a 17-year old, but she doesn't mind. "I didn't think it was going to be quite as hard as it is, but I know that if I want to succeed, I've got to work hard. I'm not trying to rush everything. I just want to enjoy what's happening for me now." She confesses that whenever one of her records comes on the radio, it's still a big treat. "It's kinda shocking, you know, you wonder if it's really you! And my family goes crazy — they love it. Close friends? Well, I really don't have any outside of my family and those friends I do have, well, they seem glad for me but they don't treat it as any big deal."
Evelyn hopes to be able to include her family in more of her activities in the future. "They all sing or play something and I can see the day coming when maybe we'll have the whole King family working together." Meanwhile, Evelyn is busy getting ready for her next album, which will in all probability be produced by Mr. Life and her father, Eric King. "From what I understand, it's going to be great — the songs are supposed to be really dynamite!"
This young lady certainly looks set for a very bright future and no doubt, all the predictions you may be hearing have strong foundation. And in case you wonder, (which you probably do!) how Evelyn got that nickname "Champagne", she explains: "When I was two days old, I blew bubbles out my mouth! So they called me "Bubbles" from then on and when my recording career began we changed it to "Champagne" because that's bubbly, right?!"