Friday, May 25, 2012

21 May 12 - Valarie Pettiford

Hey, blogspot readers, let's play a guessing game. This Hollywood actress has created memorable roles both on screen and television as well as on stage but also is an accomplished dancer and jazz vocalist. Need another hint? You might remember her performance in the movie Jumping the Broom as Aunt Geneva especially during the scene where she's singing a funny rendition of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing. Or you probablly have seen her on television as Big Dee Dee Thorne (on Half and Half) or Sandra Lucas, Miranda Lucas Payne's (Keisha Knight Pulliam's character) mother (from Tyler Perry's House of Payne). No googling the answer. Perhaps you attended the Pasadena Symphony's annual Pops program in which she was a featured guest soloist or saw her stage in her Tony nominated role in Fosse or in London's West End production of Chicago featuring legendary great Chita Rivera.

Give up?

The person SouthSide is speaking of is Valarie Pettiford. And this reviewer felt SO honored to interview this lovely woman recently via telephone.

Valarie Pettiford began her career at the tender age of 14 after landing her first movie role ...actually three different roles in the film adaptation of The Wiz where she was a munchkin, one of the Emerald City dancers and part of the ensemble during the Brand New Day scenes. Then, she went on to appear in other films such as The Cotton Club, Glitter (portraying Mariah Carey's mother), Stomp The Yard, Like Mike and Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too. Her television credits are quite extenstive too, blogspot readers. She originated the role of Shelia Price Gannon on ABC's One Life To Live and appeared in another daytime drama Another World as Courtney Walker. She also made appearances in other drama series like X-Files (as an FBI agent), CSI and CSI Miami, The District, Criminal Minds and Bones. Ms Pettiford also has a recurring guest star role on the HBO series, Treme as the character Victorine Fornerat-Williams. And soon will be appearing in the new ABC Family's series - Bunheads portraying the artistic yet sensible Violet.

Ms. Pettiford's stage credits include her Broadway performance in Fosse that earned her nominations for a Tony, Grammy, Outer Critics Circle and Dora Mayor Moore awards. Besides Chicago, she also performed in the 1987 anniversary of West Side Story tour (as Anita), Dancin', Sophisticated Ladies (understudy to Judith Jamison) and Big Deal in which she was principal dancer, actress, singer and dance captain as well as starred in the Broadway hit, Grind and was part of the national tour of Showboat. This performance earned her recognition for a Vancouver Sun Reader’s Choice Award and an NAACP Image Award, blogspot readers. In the meanwhile, this busy actress is now promoting her new movie - Battlefield America (scheduled for release on June 1) and a follow-up album to her debut Hear My Soul titled Velvet Sky, a unique collection of original lullabies written for new parents to bond with their newborn babies, scheduled for a September release. Though her time was limited on Monday, Ms Pettiford was able spend some time with SouthSide for a friendly discussion giving her an exclusive peek into her new projects some thoughtful insight about Hollywood and more.

Describing herself as "...a person with a big heart...", SouthSide wanted to know more about her character "Ms Williams" in her upcoming movie Battlefield America, blogspot readers. Don't let the movie title alone scare you into thinking it's another Us versus Aliens bent on destorying the world coming to a multi-plex near you this summer. Nope transforming aliens - this is a dance competition by the same people who did You Got Served. This movie is about a young businessman who hires a dance instructor to turn a group of misfits into a hip-hop dance crew for an underground competition. Looking at credits, Ms Pettiford is simply listed as Ms Williams to which the actress described her as a "...concerned mother..." and this reviewer asked her if she enjoyed playing those types of roles. She loves playing "mom" because it gave her a chance to work with wonderful people like Mariah Carey (in Glitter) and the cast of Half and Half. SouthSide then asked her if she chooses her roles based on her life experiences. She said as an actor, she has a choice to whether accept or decline a role but personally for her "'s all about being challenged..." Ms. Pettiford portrays the characters as people she knows but unlike the tough, drinking Big Dee Dee Thorne (from Half and Half) or Aunt Geneva (from Jumping The Broom) - she's not like them in real life, blogspot readers. She also picks her roles because according to her they're fun to play and the other people involved in the project make it fun.

Plus she had nothing but praise for the hardworking kids involved in the movie Battlefield America. According to Ms Pettiford, the kids (and their parents) were professional, well-behaved and a reflection of their parents even while doing take after take on set. Though SouthSide was somewhat disappointed that she's not dancing in this movie or in a scene with Lynn Whitfield, Ms Pettiford said the whole experience was wonderful and felt so honored to work with her (Lynn Whitfield) on this project. Also she stated that Lynn Whitfield is one of the nicest people on earth ...never has a bad thing to say about anybody. Plus working with Marques Houston (in which you might know him as Roger from Sister, Sister), Ms Pettiford described him as a young man with a beautiful spirit example of what a man should be. Also he served as a "big brother" mentor to the kids during filming, blogspot readers. Then SouthSide wanted to know if her rousing rendition of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing was scripted or ad lib for that particular part within Jumping The Broom. Alas, this reviewer was hoping it was ad lib but it wasn't. According to Ms Pettiford, that scene was thought up by the director and writers.

Speaking of Hollywood, SouthSide wondered with more African-American (as well as other minority) film production making a relevant presence in recent years do we as a race still have a long way to go before cracking through the "glass" ceiling. Ms Pettiford thought the question was a good one and did replied "...yes, we [in African-American race] have a long ways to go..." However, we are making strides and breaking ground with more African-American women taking lead roles in television series than males like Kerry Washington in ABC's Scandal and Loretta Devine in Lifetime's The Client List. Yet is it possible to win an Academy Award without being nominated for portraying the "bad" guy / anti-hero or the "help"? In her lifetime, she hopes so and believes some roles in a romantic-comedy should be recognized by the Academy to which she also stated that's across the board for all racial lines and genders. "...Thank goodness for the Golden Globes..." which does recognizes outstanding performances in a comedic roles for actor and actress. Still, she would like to see the Academy awarding someone for being a "good" guy for once. SouthSide and Ms Pettiford did discuss briefly about "blaxploitation" films, how it generated that sense of how cool it was to live in Harlem when actuality, it wasn't what the movies depicted in reality and how some of today's has that same effect on kids.

Now, don't ask Ms Pettiford who's her favorite in any subject - from jazz vocalist to actor/actress because that would be like asking SouthSide who's her favorite band/artist, blogspot readers. She loves SO many people especially those she has the pleasure to work with as an actress and dancer that she felt she might not mention someone's name in the list. Yet she did mention a few names to SouthSide like Della Reese, Betty Davis, Viola Davis (of The Help) ...believe this reviewer - the list go have gone on and on. With Jazz being her "love" when it comes to music, she does enjoy the classics like Nancy Wilson to Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day as well as the upcoming modern stuff and all other genres. When singing classics like Nancy Wilson, she hopes people feel what she's feeling when adding her own personal spin to a song (for example The Very Thought of You or Call Me)...also hoping it will inspire a "jazz dialogue" with others about how the music touches their soul. Here's where SouthSide got the extreme chance of stumping her interviewee when asking if there was one artist (living or past) she could collaborate on her next album whom would it be. One name did come to Ms Pettiford's mind - Prince. Her first love, believe it or not, blogspot readers, is Rock and says if having an opportunity, she would like to work with Prince because she feels her vocal style and tone is right for his music. Now that would be a very interesting album to review indeed - Ms Pettiford does rock with original songs written by Prince.

This led to SouthSide asking about her new album Velvet Sky and why a collection of lullabies after her debut jazz album - Hear My Soul. That, according to Ms Pettiford, was the brainchild of her ex-husband who came up with the idea of doing original lullabies. Soon, he started recruited writers Ron Abel, Chuck Steffan, Jamie Wooten and Michael Orland who came up with 13 songs and Tony Radar to produce the project. Ms Pettiford said the lullabies are designed to help new parents bond and build connections through music and play with their babies. The album features a fun song to help putting baby to sleep to some game play with their little ones. Yet there's one song near and dear to her heart titled - My Miracle and it's for parents who have been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby and then successfully having one. For her, it was emotionally heartfelt to sing this particular song. Blogspot readers should be on the lookout for this new album of lullabies in September ...a perfect gift for expecting or already parents of young toddlers.

Alas, time did fly by super fast when engaged in a lively chat with Ms Pettiford, blogspot readers, and it was time for SouthSide to wrap up another On The Town exclusive interview. In parting, this reviewer discussed about being in the "business" i.e. music and acting to which she stated "...I'm in the business because I love it..."

Good words to remember - love what you do and do what you love, blogspot readers. For more information about Valarie Pettiford, visit her at or follow her on Twitter -

Until next time, support your local scene,

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