They’re known by one name only. Billie. Ella. Sarah. Nancy.
Say Eloise, and the first name that comes to mind is the only one that matters in the world of music: Eloise Laws.
She, of the talented family of musicians hailing from Houston, Texas, will be joined by two of her siblings at a very special New Year’s Eve celebration at downtown’s Nola’s. There’ll be singer-sister Debra (of “Very Special” fame) and her saxophonist-brother Ronnie (of “Always There” fame). And ‘here comes the judge’: Judge Joe Brown will do the midnight toasting honors.
About performing on that most hallowed of date nights, Laws acknowledged in a recent interview at the Sentinel offices: “It’s hard to get people out on New Year’s Eve. They hafta be true fans … I don’t like it — I like to party! I never perform on New Year’s Eve … The only exceptions are [the years that] I was on Broadway or at the Geffen … ”
So why did Laws agree to do it? For her true fans. And there are many: After doing a sold-out brunch at Nola’s this past September, with lines around the corner so long that not everybody could get in, the club’s owner casually broached the subject of her headlining a New Year’s Eve show.
Not surprisingly, she said OK. After all, she’s the consummate performer in her own right: She sings (her last CD, “Secrets,” is the perfect sound of music in front of a crackling fireplace this holiday season); and she’s starred on Broadway: an original lead cast member and developing partner of the highly successful, Tony-nominated play “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues.”
And for all those years she’s been in the business, the girl’s got a whole lotta magical musical memories — from going on a date with Johnny Mathis! to meeting Lena Horne.
Her love of the art of music began, she says, with Nancy Wilson: “She came to my college (Texas Southern University) and did a concert … and I was never the same again! … ”
Like a lot of musicians from the South, the Laws family’s talents were honed in church: “My mom played piano and sang in the choir. My dad sang in the choir too. My grandmother had a beautiful voice. All the girls were raised in the choir.”
JC: There are four of you, right?
EL: No, eight of us: I lost a sister, who was an Ikette for years … Debra was still at home when I got a fellowship and left for New York. Hubert had been with the Crusaders, had left them and was [now] with Mongo (Santamaria) …
I auditioned for a contest — like “American Idol” — and I ended up being the national winner … And that was the beginning of my life …
“My fellowship involved studying with Sandy Meisner [who was an actor and an acting teacher who developed a form of Method acting now known as the Meisner technique] …
“So I was in New York for two years, and then they started me out auditioning for various Broadway shows. And I auditioned for “Hair,” and I got the part, with Cleavon Little and Melba Moore … But I also auditioned for Harriet Steinberg, who was the executive for Hugh Hefner — of the Playboy Club! And I got that as well.
The Playboy offered more money: $500 a week vs. “Hair” on Broadway, which was offering $275 a week … My dream was always to be on Broadway ’cause I auditioned for every Broadway show while [I was] living there … [but] I decided to go the Playboy route, and I’m glad I did because it taught me how to be a complete entertainer … So that was really my start … and then the record deals started coming my way.”
In the 1970s, she recorded her first album for Holland-Dozier-Holland, who’d broken off with Motown and were in search of new artists. Laws’ “Ain’t It Good Feeling Good” was released (and distributed by CBS) in 1977 on the trio’s Invictus label.
YS: Which do you prefer: stage or the studio?
EL: The stage; there’s nothing like the roar of the crowd.
YS: Is that still a part of your life?
EL: Very much! In fact, next summer I’m heading to Portland, Oregon, to do “It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues” for three months there — and I am looking so forward to it … It’s so much fun acting with other people.
YS: Apart from your brothers and sisters, tell me the most memorable artist you worked with.
EL: Harry Belafonte. He’s the consummate professional; he’s a wonderful person to work with. My first time ever in Las Vegas, I worked with him. I did the Westbury Music Fair with him — I toured with him quite a bit.
And one of the highlights was one night when he sent the limo to pick me up, Lena Horne was sitting in the back seat! She went to the show with us three nights in a row. It was the most incredible — she was just wonderful! And I didn’t stay in constant touch with her, but whenever I was in New York I could call her … and I remember I was in New York at the Vivian Beaumont [Theatre] when I heard she had passed away … She was just a beautiful person … And that just blew me away.
And the reason he did that was because “Hole in the Bucket” — she used to sing that with him — Harry and her did a lot of shows together. They would do duets. They were known for “Hole in the ?Bucket” … and so I filled in that part as well as opened for him.
So that in itself was the highlight of my life. At the opening night in Las Vegas in the front row was Quincy Jones, Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier — the list was endless!”
So is the number of projects Laws is involved in. There’s the development of a new TV docuseries that will feature her, Debra, Ronnie and Hubert. It’s intended to bridge the gap between various musical genres and will spotlight legendary as well as emerging artists.
But perhaps the one closest to her heart is the fall 2012 release of her book “Healing Shower.” You see, Laws, who is a breast cancer survivor, wants to share the details of her journey, which began, she says, “when I received the daunting news that would forever change my life.
“My first feeling was complete and total calm and silence. I did not want to tell anyone about the diagnosis of breast cancer. Why? Because I believed they would think ill or bad of me? Or maybe that I brought this all on myself? The guilt of what I may have done in the past to hurt or cause pain to those that I love and that love me? I wondered could this be punishment from God; even though I knew deep down that God does not work that way.
“One of the reasons I struggled with not acknowledging my illness was the barrage of questions and advice that seemed to come from everywhere, including friends and family. How do I handle this? I just want to be quiet and left alone with my confusion.
“At some point, I had to tell someone. Who will it be first? It had to be someone stronger than me — who would not panic and who would not break down and cry in front of me. Who was that person?
“I prayed and God gave me the answer. Thank God, I am a believer. After I revealed my condition, the ‘healing shower’ was born. On that evening, as my family and friends gathered around me and lifted me up with loving expressions of comfort, support, faith and determination, I found myself emboldened with strength. At that moment I knew I was not standing alone in my fight to conquer my fear and this illness. I could feel my army gathered around me, cheering me on to the finish line.
“My desire to share this experience gave rise to the healing shower. In fact, as a result of the healing shower and the loving support of my family and friends, I am overjoyed to share that today I am a four-year breast cancer survivor!
“I like to say that a healing shower is a rite of passage for individuals that are unexpectedly faced with a tragic, life-altering illness. During these moments, a person can become overwhelmed with a variety of emotions and feelings that sometimes make it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You feel sadness, anxiety, rage, helplessness, defeat and sometimes even failure. As a result, many end up separating themselves from the people they need the most, their family and friends.
“That’s why a healing shower is a time and opportunity for loved ones to come together and celebrate positive energy and support before a person undergoes an intensive surgery or procedure. The healing shower sets the stage for a structured, loving, focused and positive process that will encourage the patient to understand and embrace the long walk ahead. After my healing shower, I was very inspired, uplifted and positive about the journey I was about to take — so much so until I decided to write a book entitled the “Healing Shower.”
Laws’ book will give you instructions as to how to shower your family, friends and loved ones in a difficult medical crisis.
For more information about what promises to be a richly inspirational way to celebrate the new year at Nola’s (at 734 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90013), visit www.eloiselaws.com.