Pamela MacCarthy
Pamela MacCarthy

Photo by Michio Yves Ueda

Jazz Vocalist & Artist

I was born January 9th, in an Army hospital in Massachusetts, USA.
I was raised upstate New York, in a rural town called Pine Bush.
My mother, Shirley, and my three younger sisters, Debbie, Wendy, & Bonnie,
and my grandmother, Ethel, were my family circle.

My parents divorced when I was young.
My father, John P. MacCarthy, was an ex-army man gone musician.
A drummer, he was also a cook at his parents' establishment called The Cabin,
an Italian/American restaurant with music on the weekends.
My grandmother, Antoinette, from Bari, Italy, ran things. She was the main cook, bookkeeper, and business head.
My grandfather from County Cork, Ireland, John F. MacCarthy, tended the bar.
He also played boogie-woogie piano there on weekends- sometimes joined by my father on drums.

I remember when they started to play, that feeling—
Especially my father, when he played the drums, an expression would come over his face,
like the rest of the world and it's troubles were far away—
The sound that they created was magic...

I worked in the kitchen there in the summers as a young girl.
On weekends, it felt great to glimpse into this adult "live music" world.
I'm sure this had something to do with what would later become my path...

Meanwhile I did learn how to cook!

My talent for the creative arts was to first surface in grade school.
I had won awards for my paintings, drawings, illustrations, & cartoons, as well as the attention of my art teachers.
I sold my first painting at age 12 to a very enthusiastic math teacher.

As a child I sang with the radio and 45 records at home. A few artists were my favorites; Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross and the Supremes.

At night, I would listen to the Gospel radio station, that featured artists such as
Andrae Crouch, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Reverend Al Green, etc.
I was a big fan of SOUL music, and it became obvious to me that my "voice" was emerging, although I was shy about it.
As an art major in high school, I kept my "voice" my own secret till I left home for college...

I met a very musical man while attending art college, named Larry Walton.
While in chorus together, we talked about music, and people we liked to listen to. Larry had an Andrae Crouch-styled gospel band going on.
He invited me to listen to him play piano and sing, and he encouraged me to join.
I started to sing along, and I still remember his words: "Girl, you can SING!"

He invited me to join his group for an upcoming gospel show. I was one of three back-up singers, the low "anchoring" bottom of the chord—like Ruth Pointer, of "The Pointer Sisters".
It was the best feeling in the world to sing with 2 other women who held their own!

While attending college, I did a short stint as a radio host, on a college-run station. I played jazz to funk
and any other good LP my fellow students would bring me to play—
I still remember my amazement the first time I heard Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith's "Expansions"...
And then of course, Billie Holiday.

The first time I heard her recordings I was mesmerized.
Billie's music was it for me, the culmination!

I left college, and returned home for awhile,
now in Middletown, New York.

I joined my first band, a disco/funk outfit of 7 players called "The Watkins Family".
Myself on lead vocals, Jack Guisenheimer, bassist and band leader;
Watkins Glenn on vocals and guitar, Ana Hernandez on trumpet, percussion & vocals; Rich Blauvelt on tenor sax and flute; Rich "Stretchums" Bruin on Fender-Rhodes (who later replaced Paul Brower, rhythm guitar and vocals); and John Gelosi on drums...

We were solid for about a year or so. There was some attention paid to us in the form of a newspaper story;
"Lady Sings the Blues, and the audience is hers"
carried by The Times-Herald Record, Middletown, New York.
Chris Farlekas, the writer.

I left the band, and took a Greyhound bus during the Jimmy Carter "gas crisis".
This was a campaign to get people to ride the bus instead of flying—$55 would get you anywhere-to anywhere-in-the-US.
I got on at the friendly Port of Authority, NYC bus terminal bound for Los Angeles, California.
I had a few dollars collected, one "power" suitcase, and a dream to sustain me...
I can't say what made me go, it was one of the scariest things I've ever done—
I just had to.

I went on the "Gong Show" in 1978 as Mela Maccar.
I don't really know why, it wasn't a particularily glamorous shade of limelight,
but I was very young and looking for adventure!
So when I saw the ad:  "When in Hollywood, why not audition for the "Gong Show"
I thought, "Why not indeed!"
I sang "What a Difference a day made" first for Chuck Barris,
who told me he'd love to have me croon on his show.
Next, a soundcheck with the orchestra on the set, in Burbank Studios.
Then, the actual taping, which they did 5 shows, in one day.

I did well enough, I suppose. I scored two 9's and an 8 from the judges:
Pat Paulsen, [I believe he ran for president?] Johnny Paycheck ["Take this job and shove it"] and Jo Anne Worley, [the operatic voice of "Laugh In".]

Some Country/Western act won the prize.

Incidentally, Chuck Barris said in his introduction of me on his show:
"I love this girl, she kind of reminds me of Carmen McRae".
At that time I wasn't yet hip to the fabulous Carmen McRae,
but in time I did listen to her—Both on recordings, and live at Carnegie Hall, in NYC.
I know now that he paid me an extraordinary compliment that day!

Some other artists [in addition to Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae]
I've enjoyed listening to over the years—all for different reasons—I like to listen to artists who teach me something.
Some of those are, Joni Mitchell, [her lyrics and poetic melancholy]
Etta James, [her spunkyness and grit] Alberta Hunter, [the "mother-sister" of the groove,] Stevie Wonder, [his melodies and soul] Nina Simone, [her uniqueness in interpretation] Al Green, [his all encompassing groove]
and Shirley Horn, [her elegance, subtleness, timing and ability to manipulate tension.]

I went to NYC after my first visit to Los Angeles.
I took the long way back, cross country by car.
Once in NYC,, I modeled for a bit.
At 5'11", and slim, I was a natural...

I also worked in piano bars in NYC during the 80's.
In NYC it's tough for up-and-comers to find work in the music world.
The piano bar scene was one way to get in vocal practice as well as performing in front of an audience.
On Saturday nights, that was when the jazz "cats" came to play. And I was THERE ready to meet 'em.

Jo Jones Jr., Barry Harris, even Jaco Pastorius came in one night!
It was always a surprise at who would fall by, and what fun to occasionally "sit in" with these musicians...
I sang regularly with NYC pianist Rich Clements, who also worked at this club.
I would reunite with him again many years later, in Tokyo, coming in from Paris, France, performing with the wonderful Archie Shepp.

I met my husband, Akio Ueda, at this very same club.
"Club Shige", an avant-garde sort of Japanese piano bar now defunct, was on W46st., NYC.

We hit it off immediately.
He was fresh out of Berklee College of Music, and we became a team, the tenor sax player, and the girl singer.
We later married and had our beautiful son, Michio.

Eventually we came to Japan to continue our musical lives,
but first,
a short musical visit to Paris, France...
I LOVE that city, and I vow to return there someday.

Then, here I am in Tokyo!
We arrived here in Dec. 1990.
I never thought I'd be here all these years!
A lot of challenges, personal and professional.

I have traveled throughout Japan with some of Japan's best jazz musicians.
I've rediscovered the painter I started out as years ago,
and a new form of self-expression in digital art.

I have tried to first and foremost be a good mother,
raising up my son, Michio, as he grew up bilingual.

I have met some wonderful friends and supporters of me, my art & music, and musicians that are like family.

I have seen different perspectives, being here in Nippon...

Feelings created between musicians that don't necessarily share a mother tongue, yet in the music, create magic...

I named my record label "Mighty Oak Records" after an Irish proverb
that was visible to me, all those years ago, tacked up on my grandfather's bar :
"If you worry because you work hard, and your rewards are few—Remember—The Mighty Oak was once a nut like you."

I look forward to the future, and where it will take me next!

For my Press Kit,
(Professional Resume, Quotes, and a downloadable Press Photo, in English and Japanese)
click here.

© 2007 Pamela MacCarthy