Tony Cummings gives the lowdown on JUNE ROCHELLE, a "new" singer who has sung with Diana Ross and Celine Dion.
One of the classiest new soul divas to emerge in recent times is June Rochelle, whose 'Changing Places' album, released last year on Vision Entertainment Media Group, brought forth rave reviews in everything from Ebony to the UK's Blues & Soul magazine. But maybe "new" isn't the right word for this singer. June has sung backups for such luminaries as Diana Ross and Celine Dion and even sang the original demo of the song "Lately" which became a number one US singles hit for the group Divine.
June was born June Rochelle Rush in Indianapolis. Her childhood years were rather a strange mixture of faith in God and youthful rebellion. She remembers, "At around 12 my parents sent me to this camp that - now that I think about it - was for hard-headed youth in need of some direction. Most of the kids came from some pretty dire situations. I remember some of them crying and I'd be telling them, 'Don't worry, God loves you and you're going to make it through.' They were looking at me like, 'What are you talking about? You're in the same camp we are!' The first song I remember 'writing' was during that time. I called it something like 'Don't Let Anybody Take Your Sunshine Away'." Deeply touched, the camp counsellors made up a special acknowledgement for her - a construction paper certificate that they dubbed The Preacher Award in honour of June's selfless encouragement to others.
The short sharp shock of the youth camp had the desired effect on June and she threw herself enthusiastically into gospel music, joining the Indiana Mass Youth Choir. By the age of 16 she was singing lead with the choir on the song "Please Touch Somebody" and fondly remembers singing the number with the choir at the Indiana Convention Centre. June became very active in the music and TV ministries of her church home, Harvest Prayer Center, in the Houghville area, led by Rev G E Studdard. She performed the lead role of Deena in a production of the hit musical Dream Girls and worked as a session singer recording vocals for such artists as rapper Lady J and Divine. June even recorded two independent albums of her own though it was her work as a backing singer for Celine Dion and Diana Ross that gave June her first taste of national exposure. June commented, "When you perform with people like that, it's an awesome experience. I was just in awe of the professionalism and excellence that they brought to their concerts. Not only did they bring their gifts but they carried themselves with excellence from behind the stage to when they got on it and that's what I learned from them."
In the spring of 2005, June produced The 1st Annual American Talent Showcase at the House Café of Music, the winner of which was seven year old Kelly Thomas, who is now getting her start singing at events around Indianapolis. "I'm always looking for someone else I can take on this fabulous musical journey with me," June states. She has also hosted her own TV talk show, Joy In Our Town (on station WLCJ-TBN), putting the spotlight on topics that bring assistance to locals in need - from kids' disabilities to elder abuse, she's about anything positive. This is clearly and simply the purpose of June's life and she has taken that spirit around the country with her everywhere she goes.
In late 2005 June signed with Vision Entertainment Media Group, a Nashville label who, rather unwisely, proclaimed themselves as "the future of Gospel Music". But the company did put June with an excellent producer, Robert Tatum Jr, who provided most of the music to June's lyrics for the 'Changing Places' album. Reviewer Brandon A Perry wrote, "Rochelle's soothing and relaxing vocal style, which bridges both the alto and soprano registers, fronts a set of 14 songs that are presented with R&B flavoured instrumentation, courtesy of producer Robert Tatum Jr. The title track, 'Use Me Lord', 'Real Thing' and the jazzy 'Seek & Ye Shall Find' are examples that bring to mind neo soul artists such as Anita Baker, Jill Scott and Rene and Angela. Rochelle cranks the tempo up a notch with the catchy dance cut 'Just Because I'm Saved' and the hip-hop/club oriented 'Stomp Shaker'."
June comments on her eclectic musical styling, "It's a unique sound. It's definitely not a traditional gospel R&B sound, but it's a solid R&B sound that anybody can groove to and I love that about the music because it can minister to anybody, saved or unsaved."
Lyrically, the album takes in such themes as the relentless love of God ("Changing Places"), contemplating decisions you make in life ("Wherever You Go") and examining the issues facing families ("What's Going On"). Says June, "You can go through a lot of different changes and negative situations can come up. People lose their jobs, file for divorce. . . all kinds of different things happen. You have to not stay in that place emotionally and mentally or you'll self destruct from the inside out. When I wrote those songs I wrote them to basically be a means to 'change places' and set people free in the mind. When you listen to the lyrics you'll realise that you're not a victim. That tough situation will pass and the negative things that happened will work out for your good because God loves you."