Story and Photos by Shelah Moody
When: Saturday, September 21, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Where: Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore St., SF
Info: 415 655 5600, www.yoshis.com,
Story and Photos by Shelah Moody
Shanice Wilson has a smile, a voice and a personality that automatically makes you light up. It is no wonder that Grammy winning drummer/producer Narada Michael Walden took her under his wing to in 1991, to produce her second studio album, “Inner Child,” which spawned her “Billboard” chart topper “I Love Your Smile.”
I first experienced the power and pure soul of Shanice Wilson soaring soprano voice in 2009, during a production called “Let the Sunshine In” at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. It was benefit for the Narada Michael Walden Foundation, Chistopher Rodriguez, (a child who was hit and paralyzed by a stray bullet while practicing the piano at his Oakland home) and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Shanice performed with a fantasy lineup which included Sting, Mary Wilson, Tevin Campbell, Lisa Fischer, Earl Klugh, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. and others. As Shanice sang the ebullient “I Love Your Smile” on stage to Christopher, she touched everyone in the audience.
Shanice Wilson, who goes by her first name, is a former child star turned success story. She is currently working on a new CD and other notable projects, which she discussed during our interview. Shanice is married to actor Flex Alexander, and they have two children together.
Shanice and her band perform at Yoshi’s San Francisco for the first time this weekend.
Shelah Moody: What was it like being reunited with your producer, Narada Michael Walden at the “Let the Sunshine In” benefit in San Francisco?
Shanice: It was fun to be on stage with Narada. We still stay in touch. As a matter of fact, I spoke with him yesterday and we are talking about doing more music together.
SM: You have such a beautiful and powerful voice! What kind of music will you be performing at Yoshi’s?
Shanice: Thank you! I am taking everyone back, from the beginning of my career to the present. I’m also doing a tribute to some of the legends that we’ve lost: Teena Marie, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Vesta Williams. I will be doing “I Love Your Smile,” of course, and “Saving Forever for You.” I’m taking you through the eighties, nineties and the millennium.
SM: How old were you when you recorded “I Love Your Smile?”
Shanice: I was 18.
SM: On that note, what was it like making the transition from teen sensation to grown up artist?
Shanice: I think, for a minute, that transition for the public was hard, but for me it was easy. My first single was called “Can You Dance,” and it came out in 1987. I signed my first record deal when I was 11. I think that as I started growing up, people still wanted to me to be that bubbly, smiling little girl (laughs).
SM: I recently read in your bio that you did some work on the track “Behind the Mask” on Michael Jackson’s posthumous release “Michael.”
Shanice: Yes, I sang backgrounds, and I did some ad libs with Michael on “Behind the Mask.” I also sang background for Siedah Garrett on one of Michael’s songs called “Keep the Faith” on the “Dangerous” album.
SM: That’s amazing! What was it like to work with Michael?
Shanice: First of all, I’m Michael’s number one fan. My mom and I are from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and we moved to California when I was eight years old. Wanda Hutchinson, from the female vocal group the Emotions, picked us up from the Greyhound bus station. When I got off of the bus, the first thing I said was, “Where’s Michael Jackson! I wanna meet Michael Jackson!” When I did the backgrounds for Michael, I was so nervous; I was so excited. I’ve met a lot of entertainers, and he was the most down to earth. He was the nicest guy I’ve ever met. It’s funny, because you meet people who are not as famous as Michael Jackson, and they feel themselves a little bit, but Michael was so not like that at all. When I was called to do “Behind the Mask,” it was hard, because he had passed away. He had recorded the song years ago, and they just added my voice. It was an honor, but it was difficult. I cried for a minute. I had to stop for a second and get my tears out, and then I was able to sing.
SM: Did you attend Michael’s memorial service at the Staples Center?
Shanice: Yes, I did. It was so hard. We were sitting next to one of the chefs who used to work with Michael. He was telling me that Michael’s favorite dish was fried chicken—he loved fried chicken. Everyone—the whole aisle was just crying. When his daughter, Paris, got up to speak, you could hear people crying really hard all the way up in the balcony.
SM: Branford Marsalis has also performed at Yoshi’s San Francisco. What was it like working with him on “I Love Your Smile?”
Shanice: The funniest thing is, when Branford played his saxophone part, I wasn’t actually there. We never actually got together in the studio. I never got a chance to actually talk to him or work with him like that. Narada called him in, he played his part, and then he called me in on another day and I came in and sang my part.
SM: When I met you at the benefit in 2009, I was surprised to see little Shanice all grown up with a husband and a family! How did you meet Flex Alexander?
Shanice: I met him in Studio City. We were living in the same apartment building. The day he moved in, I was on my way to a Lauryn Hill concert. We got in the elevator. I knew of him and he knew of me, but we didn’t know each other personally. I went back to get a pen so that we could stay in touch, but when I got back to the elevator, he was gone, because it took me forever to get the pen. A couple weeks later, we ran into each other again and we exchanged numbers. We started out as friends, and we had such a great friendship. The funniest thing it that we officially dated for four months. He asked me to marry him; and we were married three months later. That was 13 years ago.
SM: What a wonderful story! What are your children like?
Shanice: Our daughter just turned 12, and our son is nine. They are both pretty funny; they keep me laughing. My daughter is in a singing group with LL Cool J’s daughter and Niecy Nash’s daughter. My son just discovered that he wants to sing; he’s always known how to sing. He also loves to direct, he builds leggos and does animation with them. I call him Steven Spielberg (laughs).
SM: How many people will you have in your band at Yoshi’s?
Shanice: It’s really intimate; I don’t have a big production. I have a keyboard player, bass, drums and that’s it!
SM: Tell us about your upcoming projects.
Shanice: I am working on some new music; I’ve been working with a producer, B Slade, who used to be a gospel singer who went under the name Tonéx. This is not a gospel project, but he is amazing; he does everything—pop, R&B, gospel. We are doing a whole CD together. I can’t reveal the network yet, but my husband and I are working on a reality show about our family.