Back in the mid-‘90s, you’d have been hard pressed to find someone in Detroit not talking about the Detroit girl from Brownstone.
The Motor City was proud. And it was announced at almost any event where R&B lovers gathered in the city that one of our own was singing in the melodic, Grammy-nominated group that was signed to legendary pop star Michael Jackson’s label, MJJ Music.
Nicci Gilbert is her name. And in August, she popped up on television, as part of a new TV One series that she’s executive producing called R&B Divas. On the show, she and her best friend, Faith Evans, will team up with other R&B singers of their era (Syleena Johnson, Monifah Carter and Keke Wyatt) to put together an album that will honor Whitney Houston (the proceeds will go to her school in New Jersey) and see them making peace with their past lives and moving forward with new projects. The show airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. on TV One.
What made you want to put together this type of project?
The images on television of Black women…felt alien. There was a lack of balance. My circle of friends happens to be women that I’ve worked with in the professional setting (and) they felt the same way.
The common connection is music. What might we see on this series?
Faith has received a lot of opportunities to do reality television, and had been toying with the idea of doing a collaboration album with a bunch of amazing singers, so you’ll really see that coming together. Since the passing of Whitney Houston-and we were all together a few nights before she passed-Faith was co-hosting a Kelly Price event. You’ll see us putting this record together where the proceeds benefit the Whitney Houston Academy in Jersey. Faith and Whitney were really close.
What part of the city are you from originally?
I’m from the west side of Detroit. I went to Cody High School.
How did your singing story begin?
Well, my first exposure to music was my father, who was a songwriter for Motown. (He did) quality control for Motown. (He was) a producer, an engineer. So I come from a musical background. My dad wrote “If I Were Your Woman” for Gladys Knight. My mother is the most influential woman in my life. She is a jazz singer, still actively playing at Bert’s and some places. You’ll see a little bit of my relationship with her unfolding on the show.
And because you’re from Detroit that also means that you’re a hustler. We’re going to see you doing something outside of music on the show too, right?
Oh yeah! That is my focus, for the most part. I’m determined to put my heart into this clothing line. The reason I’m so passionate about the clothes is because I had this sort of false sense of confidence, because I knew I could sing and I knew that if I put on enough makeup or whatever that I could be cute in the face. But I was very self-conscious about my body, because I was always told I was too big and it was always an issue for stylists.
So what turned (from) me being embarrassed about having to have things custom made, turned into a passion for fashion and making curvy women sexy and being proud of the fact that I am tall, I am big and I am quite sexy, and the clothes totally represent that. So for me it’s about having a voice that speaks to something else that was disassociated with my music, because that’s where I learned to be self-conscious.
Sounds like this show also is therapeutic.
Oh my God, yes. I’m being quite honest about my struggle as a big girl with low self-esteem, and I know there are a lot of us out there. I’ve been working over the last couple of years to lose the weight and to do it the right way. The thing about this show, is that we’ll (deal with) Monifah and her drug addiction and her sexuality ends up being an issue, and Keke and the whole (she stabbed her husband) incident, and Syleena and her whole underrated issues.
We’re not recording artists who are so concerned about our brand that we’re not going to tell the truth about it. We realize we have a platform, and if we can be honest about it, we can speak up about things like domestic violence and food addiction and drug addiction and other stuff. Maybe we can inspire more women to be as confident.
Why was TV One a really good fit for this particular show?
TV One understands our language. They understand what it’s like to be a Black woman and roll your neck and let somebody have it, but still do it in a way that it’s helpful and useful and not derogatory. They were not going to allow those images of African-American women to continue to destroy a community. It was a no-brainer.
KELLEY L. CARTER IS AN EMMY AWARD-WINNING FREELANCE ENTERTAINMENT WRITER.