Singer and pianist Shelea can be found Tuesdays to Saturdays covering soulful tunes at Q’s — Quincy Jones’ newly opened bar and lounge — at the Palazzo Versace in Dubai, up until April. The two-time White House performer told Gulf News tabloid! about meeting Barack and Michelle Obama, collaborating with Stevie Wonder and her next big dream.
Can you tell us when you first began singing, and when you first began to play the piano?
My earliest memory is singing with my mum at two years old. I was told I was already able to harmonise, so we would fight over who would do certain duet parts. I got my first little piano at age four. I remember making up songs to sing to my sisters. I [started] formal piano lessons at age seven.
Do you come from a musical family?
Both of my parents are musicians and singers and my childhood was filled with music — always listening to it no matter what we were doing. But the environment that defined my musicality was the church. I was exposed to mostly gospel and classical.
Tell us about your experience being in a girl group.
We were called IV Given. We were almost the gospel version of Destiny’s Child. It was a lot of fun and that’s when I realised I actually wanted to be an artist for the rest of my life.
Was there ever a time when something other than music grabbed your attention as a career option?
When I first went away to college, my major was psychology. I wanted to be a marriage and family counsellor. That still interests me, and I even sometimes work in that capacity with my friends and family. But my heart is in music. Always has been. Always will be.
Can you tell us about the time you played in the White House? What was the experience like?
I was blessed to perform at the White House twice. First time, I did a tribute to Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I sang Anyone Who Had a Heart. The second time, I did a tribute to Ray Charles with Anthony Hamilton. We sang The Right Time. I took my father with me the first time because my grandmother lived in the South during the civil rights movement and having an African American President was life-changing for her. So I wanted her to be able to say her son was able to see that in her lifetime. Meeting [the] President and Michelle Obama was one of the biggest honours of my life. They are both so kind and warm, yet so electrifying. Just being there made me feel like I was in the middle of a history book. And getting a standing ovation from them just made my heart flip.
You’ve collaborated with Stevie Wonder. Can you tell us about that?
Meeting Stevie Wonder has been the greatest blessing of my life. I was on multi-Grammy award winning jazz vocal group Take 6’s album and he heard me singing Someone To Watch Over Me. He immediately wanted to meet me and that’s when our friendship began. He was very instrumental in getting me to the White House the first time. And I could name countless opportunities he’s lovingly created just to make me shine. He was so gracious to be on my first album, Love Fell On Me, playing the harmonica. I was able to tour with him for the last two years on his Songs In the Key of Life Tour, and that was just pure magic.
Why did you decide to come to Dubai and take up a residency at Q’s?
I did a tribute to Quincy Jones for the Los Angeles Jazz Society just a couple of months ago. Our connection was immediate and he asked if I would be open to coming to his brand new lounge that he opened. A few weeks later, there was an opening and he officially asked if I could come and of course I couldn’t tell Quincy no.
What can people expect from your sets at Q Bar?
You’re gonna go through a musical journey. We start off with American Songbook classics from the likes of Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughn. Then we add in some soul and R’n’B. By the end of the night, it’s one big party. On the third set, I allow guests to put in song requests and that’s when it gets really fun.
What’s your biggest dream that you’d like to achieve?
I have so many dreams that have come true. But my biggest dream right now would be singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.
Don’t miss it!
Entry to Q’s Bar is free but there is a minimum spend of Dh250 on food and beverages. Shelea plays from 8.30pm, except Sunday and Monday.