Soulful Resonance: Mica Paris on the Transformative Power of Gospel Music
In a world often fraught with pain and challenges, Mica Paris stands as a testament to the redemptive force of gospel music. The renowned singer, celebrated for her 1980s pop-soul hits like 'My One Temptation,' shares her profound connection to the genre, emphasizing its universal appeal beyond religious confines.
Reflecting on her journey, Paris, now 54, unveils a promise made in her childhood to her Jamaican minister grandparents. Raised in a religious environment, she pledged to create a gospel record, a commitment realized during the lockdown. The result is the uplifting album 'Gospel (2020),' captured in a glorious live version for a Christmas special on Sky TV.
Seated in a posh London hotel, Paris unfolds her musical odyssey, revealing the influence of her strict ministerial upbringing. As the granddaughter of ministers, she was expected to "Be The Light For Everybody to See," embodying perfection in appearance and behavior. Forbidden from outdoor play, she found solace before the turntable, immersing herself in the albums of the Hawkins Singers.
Paris's connection to gospel music runs deep, transcending religious affiliations. She attests to the transformative power of singing Christian classics and secular hymns, a cathartic experience that transcends religious boundaries. In her Christmas special, she seamlessly weaves together the spiritual and the secular, becoming a beacon of hope, love, and humility.
One poignant moment in her performance, a slow-burning rendition of Labi Siffre’s 1987 anti-apartheid anthem 'Something Inside So Strong,' resonates deeply. Paris acknowledges the song's potency, acknowledging the need for strength and courage in the current collective struggles.
While Paris exudes a friendly demeanor, her storied past as a platinum-selling superstar who collaborated with Prince and mingled with America's pop elite is not forgotten. Born as Michelle Antoinette Wallen in 1969, Paris's roots in gospel music have defined her artistic journey. From the strict upbringing to the intricate details learned from the Hawkins Singers, her musical evolution reflects a profound connection to the soul-stirring rhythms that have shaped her identity.
In Mica Paris's narrative, gospel music emerges not merely as a genre but as a guiding force, a source of solace, and a universal language that transcends boundaries. As her soulful voice echoes through the Christmas special, it serves as a reminder of the enduring power of music to uplift, inspire, and bring people together.
For Mica Paris, the journey from recording with the Spirit of Watts gospel choir in her mid-teens to becoming a pop sensation reflects a fascinating intersection of influences. Raised by her Jamaican minister grandparents, her early immersion in gospel music shaped her musical foundation. Yet, the allure of pop, coupled with the influence of her glamorous mother and cultured father, pulled her towards a different trajectory.
As she navigated her teens, Paris found herself torn between the sacred and the secular, embodying the duality of her upbringing. Her father, a cultured man with a penchant for jazz, galleries, and Chinese restaurants, provided a contrast to the religious rigidity of her grandparents. At 17, she ventured into the music business as a backing singer with the UK band Hollywood Beyond, a decision met with disapproval from her conservative grandparents who feared the perils of the industry.
Changing her name from Michelle to Mica, she faced school bullies comparing her to a character in EastEnders. Embracing the exotic allure of 'Mica,' she added 'Paris' after a glamorous encounter on Carnaby Street, symbolizing her aspiration for luxury despite her working-class roots.
Her solo career owes much to the church, with Island Records signing her after the gospel-infused successes of Whitney Houston and Anita Baker. Reflecting on her entry into the industry, Paris recalls bold and precocious interactions with industry executives. However, in the face of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, journalists started probing her experiences of racism in the music industry.
In response, Paris's perspective remains unique and resolute. Rather than dwelling on oppression, she emphasizes the opportunities afforded to her by numerous white individuals throughout her career. She questions the efficacy of repeatedly discussing oppressors, asserting that true liberation lies in letting go, lifting one's head, and moving forward.
In Mica Paris's narrative, the interplay of faith, family, and fame unfolds as a dynamic force shaping her identity and career. Her story transcends mere musical accomplishments, delving into the complexities of cultural influences, personal evolution, and resilience in the face of societal expectations.
In the whirlwind of fame that enveloped Mica Paris at the tender age of 18, she found herself caught in the surreal and sometimes unsettling reality of stardom. Admitting that the sudden surge of massive fame 'scared the bejeezus' out of her, Paris acknowledges the unnatural state of celebrity, a phenomenon that, in her experience, brought its share of psychosis.
Venturing into the American scene, Paris encountered zealous fans who mobbed her in the streets and even pilfered her clothes. The stress manifested physically, with hives breaking out on her hands, necessitating makeup cover-ups for appearances on shows like Letterman. A move to New York, though adorned with a glamorous flat overlooking the Hudson, felt surreal, prompting her to bring her mother along to ground herself.
Living in the same building as Margaux Hemingway and crossing paths with Irene Cara, Paris navigated the complexities of adulthood amid the glittering facade of fame. However, it was the American stars who became her mentors, offering guidance and support. Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole played pivotal roles, with Cole cautioning her about certain individuals and advising against drugs, a path Paris never ventured into due to her aversion to chaos.
Whitney Houston, an iconic figure and a friend, left an indelible impression. Paris describes her as incredibly good-looking, with an aura that transcended even the most flattering pictures. Despite the glamorous exterior, Paris witnessed a vulnerable side during a dinner invitation from Houston, where a playful footsie encounter left her somewhat flustered, adhering to her upbringing 'just out of the church.' Whitney's first girlfriend, Robyn Crawford, struck Paris as a fabulous person, and she believes that if Whitney had stayed with Robyn, she might still be here today.
In reflecting on the challenges of fame, the encounters with industry titans, and the personal connections formed along the way, Mica Paris offers a candid glimpse into the less glamorous and often complex realities of life in the limelight.
In the kaleidoscope of Mica Paris's career, the purple hue of Prince's influence emerges as a vivid and transformative shade. Invited by Prince to join him on stage immediately after her first album release and later graced with a song, 'If I Love U 2Nite,' penned for her second album 'Contribution,' Paris offers a unique perspective on the enigmatic artist. Despite the widely known tumultuous encounter Sinead O'Connor had with Prince during the same era, Paris paints a contrasting picture, describing Prince as nothing but kind and supportive.
Reflecting on Prince's impact, Paris sees him as a trailblazing feminist, ahead of his time in championing female musicians when few others were providing them with stage space. She emphasizes Prince's encouragement for her to produce 'If I Love U 2 Nite,' breaking through gender norms prevalent in the studio. Recounting late-night calls from Prince during his London visits, Paris describes intimate moments at the Cafe de Paris, where they would sit and listen to music in the quietude of the early morning.
However, the narrative takes a somber turn as Paris recalls her last encounter with Prince six months before his untimely death. Observing his frail appearance, she sensed he wasn't well, a prelude to the heartbreaking loss the world would soon face.
Shifting gears, Paris delves into her personal life, acknowledging the stabilizing force of moving back home from America at the age of 20 and embracing the role of a single mother raising two daughters. Despite external pressures suggesting that she could have achieved greater success by staying in the U.S. entertainment industry, Paris defines success not merely by record sales but by the fulfillment of raising two beautiful children in a happy, stable home.
While she briefly found solace from the spotlight through marriage and the birth of her first daughter, Monet, the challenges of fame took a toll on the young couple, leading to a separation after two years. Fifteen years later, Paris welcomed her second daughter, Russia, with a German filmmaker, but the relationship, too, proved transient. Through the ebbs and flows of personal and professional chapters, Mica Paris's narrative is a tapestry of resilience, choices, and a steadfast commitment to defining success on her terms.
In the tapestry of Mica Paris's life, the threads of self-discovery and self-acceptance weave a powerful narrative. A journey that began with the responsibilities of motherhood and hosting 'What Not To Wear' ignited a profound realization. Amid conversations with women who had lost sight of their self-worth, Paris recognized her own tendency to seek external validation, whether from relationships, awards, or societal approval. A transformative revelation unfolded—true validation needed to originate from within.
Embracing a newfound empowered philosophy, Paris shifted her focus to self-care, breaking free from societal expectations that often burden women. At 54, she defies age norms through a disciplined fitness routine, pilates, and a commitment to well-being. Her vitality serves as a testament to the importance of reclaiming personal agency.
Honesty about her failures and mistakes became an integral part of Paris's authentic approach to life. As a mother, she openly communicates with her children, acknowledging when she falls short and emphasizing her unwavering support. This vulnerability contributes to a deep connection, particularly with her 18-year-old daughter, Russia, who is carving her path in modeling and academics.
Reflecting on her diverse career in TV, theater, and music, Paris emphasizes her identity as a singer and a "musician's singer." The struggles and sadness etched into her voice serve as a poignant expression of the challenges she has faced, allowing others to connect on a profound level.
In a candid moment, Paris recalls a decision she now humorously dubs a mistake—her participation in Strictly Come Dancing in 2008. Acknowledging her discomfort with the training and choreography, she humorously contrasts the era of wind machines in the 80s with the intricate dance steps of the show. Despite her ventures into TV and theater, Paris reiterates that she is, above all, a singer.
As the conversation winds down, Paris shares a heartfelt sentiment, echoing Sylvester Stallone's wisdom from Rocky: "It’s not about how many hits you can take. It’s how many times you can get up." This encapsulates the spirit of Mica Paris—an unwavering force determined to uplift and inspire, culminating in her upcoming presentation, 'Mica Paris: a Gospel Christmas,' airing on Sky Arts and NOW on Saturday, December 23 at 8 pm.
In conclusion, Mica Paris's life story unfolds as a tapestry of resilience, self-discovery, and empowerment. From the heights of fame and collaboration with icons like Prince to the challenges of motherhood and the pursuit of self-acceptance, Paris's journey is a testament to her authenticity. The shift towards prioritizing self-care, rejecting external validation, and embracing honesty about failures reveals a woman who has found strength in vulnerability.
As a singer and 'musician's singer,' Paris uses her voice not just as a melodic instrument but as a vessel for conveying the struggles and sadness she has endured, creating a deep and relatable connection with her audience. Her commitment to providing strength and inspiration echoes Sylvester Stallone's wisdom, emphasizing the resilience to rise after every fall.
Mica Paris stands not just as a talented artist but as a beacon of strength, a reminder that true success extends beyond societal expectations. Her upcoming presentation, 'Mica Paris: a Gospel Christmas,' promises to be a heartfelt culmination of her journey, resonating with audiences on Sky Arts and NOW on Saturday, December 23 at 8 pm.