Ruby Turner: The Midlands R&B diva delivers old school gospel

Sunday 28th February 2010

Tony Cummings reports on the Jamaican-born, UK-based veteran performer of R&B, pop and now gospel, RUBY TURNER

Ruby Turner has been a fixture of Britain's R&B and pop world for decades. The diva was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1958 (some sources say 1962) and moved with her family to Handsworth, Birmingham, England, when she was nine years old. In the early '80s Ruby got to work with British blues legend Alexis Korner. As early as 1983 she had appeared on records with UB40, but Ruby's biggest early career boost came in 1986 when she appeared on the Culture Club record "From Luxury To Heartache", with Turner landing a recording contract of her own soon after. Her debut album, 'Women Hold Up Half The Sky' (1986), was a critical and commercial success. Over the following 11 years she charted eight singles, the most successful of which was "I'd Rather Go Blind" which made it to number 27 in England in 1987. Turner has performed with Bryan Ferry, Steve Winwood, Mick Jagger and Jools Holland, and has also established herself as a successful composer, with covers of her songs by Lulu, Yazz and Maxi Priest. She has also successfully covered others' songs, most notably "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)", the Staple Singers classic that she recorded with Jonathan Butler. Turner also topped the US R&B charts in February 1990 with "It's Gonna Be Alright".

Turner branched into acting as well, working in stage productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, Carmen Jones and Fame, on the BBC soap opera Doctors and appeared in the feature film Love Actually. It's been the release of her first gospel album 'I'm Travelling On' which has brought her the attention of Cross Rhythms listeners. A 15-track set produced in the Midlands by Bob Lamb the album features Ruby's soulful interpretations of classic oldies from gospel giants of yesteryear such as Mahalia Jackson, Soul Sisters, Thomas A Dorsey, Doris Akers and Brother Joe May which has wowed the critics. For Cross Rhythms, Phil Thomson wrote, "Turner can sing pretty much anything convincingly but 'I'm Travelling On' is definitely value-added. There's no musical seduction, slick virtuoso moments, no gimmickry; it is all for real."

Possibly the most arresting cut of all on 'I'm Travelling On' was the Ash Howes Radio Mix of the Sister Rosetta Tharpe classic "This Train" which became a turntable hit for Ruby on Cross Rhythms during the end of 2009. The veteran diva is as busy as ever but took time out from her packed schedule to field some questions.

Tony: What does it mean to you to get 'I'm Travelling On' onto the CD racks?

Ruby: The recording of this album was the most enjoyable and fulfilling project I have ever undertaken. I was in control of the whole process and that really is an artist's dream. Getting the album out was the strangest thing. A few people heard it and before I knew it I spent more to promote this project than any other. Let's just say "The word must be heard."

Tony: What do you remember about the 'I'm Travelling On' sessions?

Ruby: Having my Mum in on one of the sessions was just sheer joy. I have never seen her so happy and really enjoying herself.

Tony: The three Cross Rhythms radio stations are currently giving a lot of airplay to your version of "This Train". Do you feel that Sister Rosetta Tharpe got the recognition which was her due?

Ruby: Like a lot of artists then and now, it's a constant struggle to stay in the game. She was the First Lady of gospel yet died in poverty. That says a lot about the business and not a lot has changed. One day things are going well, the next you're out of favour and fighting for your life. It's just the way it is for some folks.

Tony: How and when did you become a Christian?

Ruby: I was baptised at age 12. My mother was not happy as she thought I was too young to understand. She was not wrong but like I have said, I left the church but the church never left me, thank God.

Tony: A lot of artists reckon that working in the showbiz world makes it very tough to live a Christian life. How have you managed down the years?

Ruby: I have never professed to be the perfect Christian. God knows that is true. But there is a line and you try every day not to cross it. Hard, but I try.

Tony: You've long been associated with doing brilliant cover versions of old songs ("If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)", 'The Motown Songbook', etc). Do you sometimes wish that you could get first go at high quality songs?

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Reader Comments

Posted by darren in belfast @ 13:26 on Mar 15 2010

Seen Ruby in concert singing the Dorsey classic 'peace in the valley'. Man it was good. Keep up the good work Ruby. When is the gospel tour happening?

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