2021 Introduction: Undeniably one of the most soulful female vocalists on the Atlantic roster of the ‘70s, Margie Joseph enjoyed a run of five musically solid albums between 1973-1978. In an in person interview in early 1976, Margie explained to David Nathan that she was eager to take her career to a new level of popularity…
Margie Joseph: The Real Divine Miss M
By David Nathan
January 1976, in person interview in New York at Atlantic Records’ offices
One major criticism which is frequently levelled at the bigger record companies is how, with a relatively large roster, some of their strongest potential stars get literally ‘lost in the shuffle’. How many times have you heard an artist claim that they never received all the promotion and exposure that was needed to really get them off the ground? Often the fault may not lie just with the company. It can be a combination of different factors — bad management, bad material, a lot of things. In the case of Margie Joseph, there is no one answer to that elusive question as to why she isn’t right up top. Anyone who has ever seen this lovely lady in action will vouch for her vitality, energy and undisputed soulfulness. On record, much of her ability has been captured but there has tended to be a marked lack of consistency which may have contributed to the fact that she is still waiting for that real big hit record to finally get her off the ground.
We got the opportunity via a recent trip to New York, courtesy Atlantic Records, to talk with this very attractive lady in person and to hear what she has to say about it all. “I guess you could say that my career was at something of a standstill for a time. My last album, “Margie” didn’t get the kind of exposure and promotion I was hoping for, but in all honesty, I have to say that it wasn’t my own personal favourite of my Atlantic albums. I felt that the production tended to overshadow me — a lot of times I was kinda drowned out by what was happening in back of me. Personally, I felt that the “Sweet Surrender” album was my best so far. That first one sounded too much as if the company wanted me to be another Aretha. In fact, the material seemed like just the kind of things Aretha would do.”
One constant comment that has frequently been made about Margie concerns ‘Lady Soul.’ “Yes, people say we sound similar. But I’ve been trying to let people see that we are different, trying to let them see what I can do. Personally, I love Aretha — she is in a class of her own. A lot of folk ask me why I signed with Atlantic when they already had Aretha and Roberta but I tell them that I was happy with the deal they offered after I left Stax and I feel that the company has done a good deal to keep my name out there. We may not have had that big hit record but Atlantic have steadily worked on what I’m doing and I’m a patient kind of person. I feel that this is all preparation for when things will start to happen in a big way. You see, it’s important for me to be happy — isn’t it that way for everyone? And aside from my career, I have a beautiful family — my husband Larry and my daughter Dana. They’re very important to me and the way I look at it, you’ve got to have something left after your career has been successful. There is no point in working really hard for years to be successful, if after all that there is nothing left for you on a personal level. Not that I don’t want all the things that success will bring — I want all that, for sure!” Margie laughed.
Margie’s recordings for Atlantic up until now have been produced by Arif Mardin. “What we do is choose material between us from a pre-set pile. Then Arif will cut the rhythm tracks and I’ll add my voice on. Yes, we’ve written one or two tunes together — including “Stay Still”, my last 45. It was really weird how that started — because basically all Arif likes to do is produce and in a sense, I had to force him to write with me because I kept coming up with lyrics and had no one around me to help with the melodies, which is where he came in.”
Of course, a break from her work with Arif came when Margie got together with Blue Magic earlier this year to record with the group. “The idea came whilst we were both in Jamaica working together — I really don’t know who suggested it first. That was back in March and it seemed like a good proposition. So we decided to do an album with Norman Harris producing for W.M.O.T. As you know, “What’s Come Over Me” was the single and we got some good disco action on the flip, “We’ve Got A Good Thing Going On”. There are some great tracks in there too — we did “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” for example. But there are still about three or four songs to be finished — which is why I came to Philadelphia just now. But as it worked out, I ended up working at the Latin Casino with Blue Magic and Major Harris, so I guess we’ll come back in January to complete the album. The group put the 45 on their last album, “13 Blue Magic Lane” which I’m sure helped stimulate interest in the album that we’ll have out together. But, you know, recording in Philadelphia was a lot of fun. There is certainly a definite “Philly” freedom — the atmosphere is just different. Down there, musicians are less concerned about time — they’re not the way they are here in New York, for instance!”
After completing work on the duet album with Blue Magic, Margie will begin selecting material for her next album. “Right now, I can’t say who will be producing it — it may be several producers — and I’m not saying where, because that might give the game away! It’s always important for me to keep moving on, looking for something different. And I think people will find the next album will be just that. People will recognize that it’s Margie Joseph, because I’m still gonna stay basically with ballads and love songs — that’s what I’m about. I’m hoping that it will have some more of my own material in there. You see, I’m more concerned with give a true representation of myself and what I can do even though sometimes that’s not always saleable!”
A lady who obviously puts a great deal of store on honesty, Margie feels that, yes, her true potential hasn’t been fully recognized. “It’s that same old thing of being put in a particular bag. I want people to look at me as an entertainer, not just as a recording artiste, and not just as an r&b singer.” We should add, at this point, that having seen Margie in action, there is no question that she has all the capability and talent that is needed to impress any kind of audience — be they intimate supper club or concert hall types! “It’s very important for me to do even better in performance than I do on record — not the other way around. I love performing — that contact with people and I regard records as being a vehicle to get you over. No matter how you look at it, the fact is that it is necessary to have a big, crossover record to be able to reach that bigger white audience. Up until now, I would have to say that it’s my own people that have kept me going, kept my name alive and bought my records. And I should mention that I think it’s very important for a black entertainer to remember their roots, remember all the people who put you where you are right from the beginning.”
Margie has a very sincere dedication to leaving the right impression “with all the young brothers and sisters. I think it’s very important for black entertainers to set an example because whether we like it or hot, we have a big influence on the black youth of today.” To this end, you will frequently find Margie working at home in New Orleans with her local youth choir and her involvement in church affairs continues to be as strong as ever. “Obviously, with having to travel and record and so on, I can’t spend as much time as someone else might be able to do. But whatever I can do to contribute and help, I’ll do. I find that a lot of young, black women relate to me and to what I’m about, so I’m able to offer advice and assist wherever I can. And that’s important to me. You see, every day I wake up I’m grateful for that new chance that new beginning. Because with every day, there is hope and I never forget that I have to be thankful each and every day for being alive. Which is why I’m not concerned when people claim that my career is not moving as fast as it might. I feel very confident and positive about it. A steady growth, and maturity is what counts and I know when the time is right, whatever is meant to happen, will happen.”
The time for Margie Joseph is certainly not at all far away. With each successive record, she is increasing her fan following everywhere and that really big smash is only round the corner. When success in a big way does come, you can be assured that Margie will be more than ready for it: she has her head firmly on her shoulders. It definitely couldn’t happen to a nicer person and Margie Joseph happens to be one of the warmest and loveliest ladies this writer has ever had the opportunity to talk with. Discard any imitations, Margie Joseph is the real divine “Miss M”! (With all respect to Bette Midler!)