It was Miki Howard exclaiming about a pivotal moment in her life. We were seated in her living room in the ’90s discussing her career. The events leading up to the moment recalled above had occurred in the mid-’70s:
Margaret Nash threw a party at her place in Hollywood. Augie Johnson was there along with two other members of his group, Side Effect. Their version of “Always There” was moving up the R&B charts at the time and was airing on my station, 1580 KDAY/L.A. Naturally, we four chatted. I talked to many artists at that time and over the years and became friendly with lots of them. But, Augie and I formed a genuine friendship beginning that night.
He had started his career as a child singing background for Frank Sinatra on the song “High Hopes.” Later, he was a member of the Doodletown Pipers. Always - certainly since I’ve known him - he had an eye for talent.
A year or so after Margaret’s party, I was recruited to host a teen pageant. The guys who put it together evidently knew what they were doing. I was asked to attend the final rehearsal the evening before the event. I was impressed at how it went almost like clockwork. Nonetheless, the next day, a Sunday, was my day off and I didn’t feel like working this pageant. But, alas, a commitment is a commitment.
I needed someone to share my pain. So, I called Augie.
“Hey, man, come to this pageant with me.”
“For what? What am I gonna do?”
“Just sit in the audience.”
“I don’t feel like going to this thing by myself.”
We met at the venue that afternoon. Augie took a seat. I went backstage. As with the rehearsal, things were remarkably well-organized. The show started and went well. As with most such pageants, there was an optional talent portion. A 15-year-old named Alicia Howard was among the performers. She sang and I could hear her, but the full effect of her performance didn’t reach me backstage.
After the pageant, as the girls and their parents milled around, Augie said to me, “Man, that little girl, Alicia Howard, can sing!”
He introduced himself to her, gave her his contact information and waited for her or a representative to get in touch. Nothing. So, he contacted her. Subsequently, he introduced her to background singing as a paid profession. Upon the departure of Sylvia St. James, Miki became a member of Side Effect.
Several albums and a few years later, she went solo and enjoyed a string of Top Ten R&B hits. Two of those went to Number One. She appeared as Billie Holliday, to whom she bears a notable physical resemblance, in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” and collaborated and performed duets with label mate Gerald Levert. In the late ’90s, Chaka Khan, unaware of my connection to Miki, commented on how intelligent a person Miki is.
Augie continued to record and appear at venues with his group, Augie’s Side Effect, which also appeared in the Adam Sandler comedy “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” He’s probably still discovering talent. I state “probably” because talent-discovery tends to be such an everyday thing with him that we rarely discuss it. Along the way, he asked me to became godfather to his youngest child. Of course, I accepted.
He and I were talking a couple of years ago. He pondered, “What if I hadn’t gone to that pageant?”
What if I hadn’t gone to Margaret’s party?
(Follow me on Twitter @jjsradioblog.)