The odd group climbed up onto the makeshift stage, and Gracellen caught site of Annie, who was where she always was at this time, sitting on top of the polished wood of the bar, smiling at her. Gracellen half smiled back. It was nice to be cared for.
Brandon cut the music, and the lights dimmed. A hush
fell over the packed club, and Gracellen took up the mike. There was no
introduction, because none was needed. And the shy little girl who never talked
in class, the one who was ignored and abandoned as a child, opened her mouth,
and sang to move the heavens and the earth. Her voice came out clear and strong,
with a rough, raw edge that made her distinctive. And she remembered, like she
always did every Friday night, her mother.
12 years ago, 1984----
“Come on up here, baby. Don’t be shy.”
Gracellen Whittaker looked up at her mother, her innocent brown eyes wide with fear… and excitement. Cheriss Whittaker reached down her free hand, the one not holding the mike, to her daughter. Her most prized possession, her favorite thing in the world. The daughter that she treasured above all.
“Com’ere Gracie. You know you want too!” she teased gently.
Soft laughs rippled through the small audience of the little club, and Gracellen grinned up at her mother. Then she placed her little hand in her mother’s larger one.
“That’s right, baby. Come on up here.” Cheriss helped her daughter up and stage and hugged her. “Yall are gonna get a special treat tonight,” she said, her thick Texas accent coming through like it did when she was happy. It was indistinct most of the time, but never when Gracellen was there. “Yall are gonna hear my daughter, Gracellen, sing. And man, she’s got some pipes that’ll blow you away.”
Cheriss looked at her daughter, her own violet eyes matching Gracellen’s. “Are you ready, Gracie?”
Gracellen nodded, and the band behind them began to play again. Her mother began the song she sang to Gracellen every night, until Gracellen was old enough to sing it too. The familiar, loving notes washed over her like a blanket, and suddenly she felt safe and protected. And that’s when she sang. Her high, delicate, six year old voice soared over her mother’s, matching her tempo for tempo. The audience watched open- mouthed at a tiny six year old with a powerhouse voice and undeniable talent.
“A gift,” her mother beamed when it was all over. “My Gracie has a
“My Gracie has a gift.” The words echoed over and over in Gracellen’s mind. No one had called her Gracie since her mother. Even though she was only six, she remembered the scene clearly. The dark, smoky club. Her mother, up on stage like she was every night. Invited Gracellen to come up there with her. And finally, opening her mouth to sing. And how right and perfect the notes felt leaving her throat, and how comfortable she was up on that stage. And how that feeling of reassurance came back every time she stepped foot on a stage. And through all her musings, she kept on singing, one song after another. Some she had written, in the nondescript black notebook, and some she had not. Everything blurred together as her voice rose and fell, filling the small club with brightness and warmth.
In the back of the dark club, Thomas Roberts sat.
Executive recruitment manager for Jive Records in New York City, this wasn’t
exactly his scene. Beside him was Jeff Wallace. He was the talent scout. And
boy, had he found one. He had discovered this club a little over 2 months ago,
and had enjoyed the atmosphere on a Thursday evening. He returned the next
night, Friday, curious as to what a small town club had for entertainment. And
he had found Her.
Her name was Gracellen Whittaker, but the DJ and the two guys that played with her, Jake Thorton and Mouse(that was the only name anyone knew of) Woods called her Gray. She was tiny, Jeff guessed she was around five foot even, if not shorter, and her hair was a deep brown, with no identifying style. Jive usually went for the tall and leggy blondes, like Britney. Her eyes were the most unusual feature about her, a dark, expressive brown like rich chocolate. He wondered if she had enhanced them with contacts. But no, everyone said they were real. Jive went for the sparkling baby blues. But damn, when that girl opened her mouth, its like you were taken away from your own comfortable world and put into her own. He could tell which songs she had written herself and which one’s she had not by the expression in those vivid eyes.
She was damn good, and the world needed to hear it. And that was why
he brought along Thomas Roberts, the top executive recruitment man of the
Thomas Roberts was a silent, intelligent man with steel blue eyes in his mid fifties, more dignified and distinguished than handsome. He was known for finding and signing only the very best and newest talents. Every record company had and still wanted him, and he had chosen Jive. His penetrating eyes carefully examined Gracellen Whittaker, wondering what was so different about this girl that made even him, the one who had seen it all, sit up and pay a little more attention than usual.
It could have her voice, but astounding as it was, it
wasn’t that. It was the look of reminiscence in those unusual eyes as she sang
the last song of the set, some kind of funky lullaby with a lilting beat. Her
tone was rich and full, throatier and sexier, with a kind of raw edge that any
of Jive’s other female artists didn’t have with their cute, breathy little
girl voices. She was attractive enough, she had an exotic look that no one else
in the industry had. Her hair needed a cut and a wash and some style. Her skin
was a bit pale, like she had never seen the sun before, and he doubted she knew
how to dance.
All that could be fixed. He wanted this
girl, wanted her for his record company with a vengeance he had never had
before. She was talented, in a way that he had never come across in all his
years of recruitment and talent scouting. And he knew, if he didn’t get her
now, someone else was bound to come along and recognize her talent and take her
away. This girl was going to change the music industry, providing the reigning
pop queens with the biggest competition they would ever face.
He turned to Jeff Wallace, the guy who had actually found her by stumbling upon her by accident. Jeff looked at him, expectantly. Thomas nodded, and Jeff’s eyes gleamed. Thomas was not a man of many words, and a nod was the next best thing.
And then Thomas Roberts spoke. “How fast do you think we can get her to Jive?”
Jeff almost keeled over. It was actually going to
happen. Thomas Roberts’ word was as good as a guarantee.