Aiming for the big time Glen Burnie teen sings for top billing

December 07, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Not much rouses Marvin R. Parker from a sound sleep, but the voice on the phone a couple weeks back caused the talent agent to spring out of bed.

A vocalist belted out "I'll Always Love You" -- sung by Whitney Houston on "The Bodyguard" soundtrack. Mr. Parker swears he thought the lungs powering the caller's voice belonged to Whitney herself.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," said Mr. Parker, an agent for RPM Entertainment in Bethesda.

Even though it was nearly midnight and he was beat from being on the road, Mr. Parker found himself driving from Washington to Glen Burnie to meet 19-year-old Tanesia E. "Tee" Mack.

In 12 years in the industry, Mr. Parker has seen his share of determined, aspiring performers. But none, he says, impressed him as strongly as Ms. Mack, a North County High School graduate he now represents.

To Mr. Parker, Tanesia Mack is no less than "the next Whitney Houston."

At New York's famed Apollo Theater, where Ms. Mack has won competitions and performed as a guest, the young rhythm and blues singer who admires Natalie Cole and Smokey Robinson is known as "the little lady with the big voice."

Her first professional recording experience came last year, when she sang backup for rap group L. A. Posse in New York. The big city recording studio was a far cry from the small, basement studio in Glen Burnie where she had taped songs.

"It was pretty scary," she said. "I was surrounded by all these people I didn't know. I didn't know how to act. They put me in a studio booth by myself."

Regardless of how scary the surprisingly soft-spoken Ms. Mack may find the experience of recording, there is no doubt in Mr. Parker's mind that she will soon land a contract -- he's negotiating with five labels now. Though most amateur singers face incredible odds of finding fame and fortune, that doesn't phase Mr. Parker, who also represents former members of James Brown's back-up band.

"I haven't heard anyone like her, other than Whitney Houston," he said. "Some people have a God-given ability to be able to do it. Some just have it. She fits in the category of one who has it."

"It," in Ms. Mack's case, is a singing voice with range, power and versatility, a healthy attitude and a supportive family, the manager said.

"You need to be strong-willed and determined," he said. "You have to be ambitious. Her personality is charismatic and she has excellent stage presence."

Based on his recommendations, managers at three major record labels want audition tapes from Ms. Mack. The labels include Virgin Records, the British company that recently signed Janet Jackson, and two smaller, independent companies. Mr. Parker is also arranging a meeting with a producer of Whitney Houston and George Benton albums.

None of this comes as a surprise to the teen-ager's family or friends. Her friend Sandye Lomax recalls how no one wanted to stand next to Ms. Mack in the chorus at North County High School because she would unwittingly steal the show.

Mary Matlock, Ms. Mack's mother and "road manager who keeps her straight," recognized her daughter as musically gifted even before the child became a church gospel choir soloist at age 8 or learned the piano by ear.

With a mother and three aunts who sang in church, "she almost couldn't help but sing," Mrs. Matlock said. "It has taken a while to cultivate her. After she did a show, we'd review it and tell her how she did."

"I would go on my grandparents' porch [in Brooklyn Park] and and I would sing," recalled Ms. Mack, who seems content nowadays to let her manager and mother do most of the talking. "The neighbors would tease me all the time. Five blocks over, they could hear me singing." Throughout high school and after graduating in 1991, Miss Mack traveled and performed as often as possible, sometimes returning from New York just in time for school and skipping sleep altogether.

In 1989, she became a finalist in the state's Miss Talented Teen contest. In May 1990, she was featured as new talent at the Black Achievement Awards Presentation at The Cotton Club in Harlem. She has performed at numerous charity benefits and talent shows, winning many of the competitions. Two years ago, she studied voice at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.

Mrs. Matlock says her wish for others to appreciate her daughter's talents outweighs her concern about the competitive nature of the industry.

"With a voice like Tee's, you enjoy it so much, you don't want her just singing around the house," she said. In an age of technologically altered voices, the mother adds, "It's just a joy to be able to hear someone who can really sing."

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