Then a few years after that, there was a fire, and the album disappeared from my life (along with a couple hundred others, not to mention a great deal of other lost ephemera, ranging from every piece of paper I owned until that time to a portrait of Queen Marie Louise of Prussia that could probably be of assistance in forwarding my retirement had it survived). I don't think I thought at all about the album until last year, when disco star Loleatta Holloway died. "Ah," I thought, "she was that singer who was also on that bizarre Whitney Houston album I used to have." It never occurred to me to check if I were right.
And of course I wasn't. That other singer, tucked in between the fabulous Weather Girls and the soon-to-be superstar, is the nearly homonymous Leata Galloway. It turns out she's very much alive. She was older than Whitney, already in 1983 established on Broadway (the original cast of Hair, a few other things) and in the business in general. She put out a couple of albums, featured here and there in some films. She even sang backup on a track on one of my favorite albums, the Divine Miss M's Songs for the New Depression. She did a run as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill (is that something in which every black singer d'un certain âge is required to have a stint?); she's been available for corporate events. It seems, from a quick Google survey, like a respectable career, rather in the way an old pro once described hers to me as having made her "famous, at least on a couple of blocks in about 20 cities." She hasn't yet rated Wikipedia, though, and she's not exactly a household name.
I'm thinking of Leata Galloway today, and wondering what she thought, over the years, working away in clubs and on German TV, about the girl she once was billed above. Did she envy her, seeing her on some vast stage in one of those beaded white columns that made her into the goddess her voice made her seem? Did she wonder why it wasn't she herself vaulting up the charts, into the movies, up, up, up? And when, do you suppose, that envy stared to fade, to turn, perhaps, to something like relief? I suspect it was long before yesterday, and now, I hope, she knows how much better off she is, selling her reissued records on Facebook and turning up here and there (at a memorial, for example, for songwriter Linda Laurie - herself a fairly fascinating person - singing "The Very Thought of You" in what seems on shaky homemade video pretty good voice).
Fame is a funny thing, and rarely entirely good for the people it blesses. Sometimes it seems as if only the least prepared are chosen, and that for the most gifted is reserved the most special kind of hell. All too often, it boils down in the end to a hotel room, at last a few too many too wrong choices, and ... scene. Having played Billie, I suppose Leata could tell us a thing or two about all that, even if offstage she herself escaped. It's easy to romanticize the pain of stardom, to let the sentimental tears fall, for Whitney now as before for Judy, Dalida, Amy, La Môme, too many. Let's a spare a thought, a grateful feeling, for the working artists who soldier on. To paraphrase the Master: God knows at least they were there - and they're here. Look who's here. Still here.