Chandra Currelley Looks Back and Sees Herself
By Adrianne Murchison
Imagine attending a fabulous party where you’re engaged in good-humored conversation with one of the guests – a complete stranger before that moment. The laughs are hearty about Atlanta life back-in-the-day. And then, this new down-to-earth friend excuses herself for a moment. But, before she returns, the host introduces the guest performer and suddenly, you realize the person that you exchanged laughs and memories with is actress and singer Chandra Currelley.
Chandra’s adaptability in settings from small gatherings to international theater audiences has made her a multifaceted and widely admired entertainer. She takes The Velvet Note stage, Oct. 18-19, with Tyrone Jackson on piano, Joel Powell on bass, and Brian Andrews on drums.
“I have a pretty versatile show,” Chandra says. “I do this music that I call “urspijaz.” It’s urban, spiritual jazz. It’s urban in a sense of the feel and grooves that I sing on; food for the spirit, and jazz improvisation, which is part of who I am. All of those things are blended in what I do.”
Chandra was lead singer for R&B’s former S.O.S. Band and has performed in numerous musical theater productions by Tyler Perry, Debbie Allen and Kenny Leon. On film, she’s appeared in at least eight Perry films, as well as his series “For Better or Worse,” which ran on the OWN Network from 2011-2016.
The longtime Atlantan was born in Jacksonville, Fla. “This feels like home,” she says. “We moved here when I was 11. My mother had visited…and she liked it. I’m so glad she did.”
Chandra has often credited LaTonya Richardson and Samuel Jackson for guiding her in the right direction professionally long before the married couple became Hollywood heavyweights. Richardson was Chandra’s drama teacher at Booker T. Washington High School.
One day when the teenager was to act out a scene, Richardson became annoyed at her student’s joking around.
“It was a monologue from ‘Ain’t I a Woman,’” Chandra says. “I was clowning but I liked her a lot. She was my buddy and it was just part of me being a ham.
“I got up there playing and she said, ‘Get off the stage. When you get ready to do it, just let me know.’
“I went back there [and did the scene again]. Something happened. I was just channeled and I forgot where I was. I just remember her being quiet and she started to laugh. She said, ‘Um hmm, I thought you had something.’”
It was Samuel Jackson that advised Chandra to spread her wings beyond one form of entertainment, considering she had a powerful singing voice. “He said, ‘Sing. Get some voice lessons and you will work more because people love musicals,’” Chandra recalls. “And that’s what I did. He paid for my theater workshop. And she [LaTonya] paid for my male friend’s workshop.”
Samuel Jackson’s advice proved to be true after the S.O.S. Band’s record label A&M records was sold to PolyGram in 1989. As subsequent mergers took place music groups disbanded including S.O.S.
Chandra turned to musical theater. It was while performing in the Duke Ellington music showcase “Sophisticated Ladies” at 14th Street Playhouse that the singer was sought out by Tyler Perry.
“He said, ‘I would like you to read my play,’” she says. “It was a different kind of theater. I was seeing characters that I recognized but never [before] saw on stage. [Tyler] said, ‘I want to uplift people.’ And I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
Chandra is reluctant to choose a favorite music experience, as they are all different. Among the most treasured, she admits, was about eight years ago when she performed composer Ray Leslee’s “MAYA Songs: The Poems of Maya Angelou” with The Riverside Chamber Players of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
The songs compositions were based on the late poet’s poems on the theme of time.
“It was classical. It was beautiful,” Chandra says as she turns to reflect on her entire career. “And I realized, I’ve been singing a long time.”
Come and see Chandra up close at The Velvet Note, this weekend, Oct. 18-19. Get your tickets at http://thevelvetnote.com/chandra-currelley or by calling 855.5.VELVET.