"In South Africa, I'm a superstar," Lattimore said proudly, as we spoke from his home in Southern California. "When I go there it's stadiums of people that want to hear me sing and they can sing any of the albums word for word. That is the greatest highlight of my career."
Lattimore wasn't being braggadocios either. He was simply talking about more than ever, it seems as though foreign countries, particularly those in Africa and Europe, have a greater appreciation for R&B singers than here in the U.S.
The 41-year-old soul crooner, who is best known for hits like 'For You,' 'Never Too Busy' and 'Weekend,' has released three albums since hitting the scene as a solo artist in 1995.
After being romantically linked to both actress Kellie S. Williams ('Family Matters') and talk show host Star Jones ('The View'), Lattimore wed R&B singer Chante Moore on New Year's Day in 2002.
As a couple they released two duets albums, 'Things That Lovers Do' (2003) and 'Covered/Uncovered' (2006).
Now the former member of the R&B group Maniquin has released a new solo offering, this time a collection of standards called 'Timeless' on the jazz label Verve Records, which is also home to Herbie Hancock, Ledisi, Diana Krall and Lizz Wright.
During our intimate conversation, Lattimore opened up about becoming an ordained minister; spoke about the balance between things secular and sacred; and shared why he and his wife have nixed the idea of doing a reality show.
What's it like when people come up to you and just start singing your songs?
It's a little nerve-racking at first because depending on the setting that you're in, it's extremely flattering and a big ego booster. But the first thing you start thinking is that you hope they sound really good. You don't want to be like 'thank you, thank you' and you really want to leave the people. Fortunately, when we were in the [recently] a couple of people sounded really good. It was the anniversary of one of the couples that we were with and we were serenaded and while we were at the table this guy just burst into song. We were sitting there like, 'whoa,' but he sounded really great.
Well you sound great singing these classic songs. How did this project come about?
It was interesting because conceptually we were going to do an album that was a tribute to Otis Redding and Sam Cooke and the music of the Memphis era. It evolved into this 'timeless' music because my A&R director, Mitchell Cohen at Verve was compiling his list of songs and then my manager Michael Mauldin and I started to compile our list of songs. My songs were like 'Giving Up' by Donny Hathaway. 'Undeniably,' by Terence Trent D'Arby, came from Chante and my father loved 'I Love You More Than Words Can Say' by Otis Redding and 'You Are My Starship' [by Norman Connors]. That stuff came from us, but Mitchell came up with the more interesting songs that took us out of the typical R&B genre. He asked me about 'Everybody Here Wants You' by Jeff Buckley and Elton John's 'Come Down in Time.' It was a lot of other songs on there by The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. We were just experimenting, so once my mind went there and I think all of us as a team went there, it made the project totally different. We said, 'lets do timeless music that is obscure and you're not expecting.' That means it will come off like a brand new CD to a lot of listeners depending on what genre they listen to or what era they lived through because I didn't know some of the songs that we did. I didn't know the Otis Redding song or The Beatles' song. I thought I had heard it before. I didn't know the Al Green song either. It almost became a fun trivia kind of thing. Conceptually, it just grew and it wasn't as clear that we were going to do an obscure remake as much as it evolved into that. We knew that if we did a remake, this is the way that we would have to do it.
Kwaku Alston, who is Oprah [Winfrey's] photographer, shot me and my son for 'Essence' magazine and has been a friend for years. The first time we shot together was back in 1998 when there was a men's magazine called 'Code.' He did a very interesting shoot with me at an airport out here in Los Angeles and he asked to do the shoot for my new album. I was shocked that he asked. He's friends with some folks at Verve and sent me a text message saying he heard I had a new CD coming out and that he would love to shoot the cover. I said absolutely! A lot of this is his vision with Hollis King who is one of the greatest art directors I've ever worked with and I've worked with some good ones. He is very passionate about what he does and made me feel like he was super passionate about my project across the board. He said, 'we're gonna shoot this thing.' We're actually on an old train and then we took the shots that look a little western and the ones outdoors in an area that looks like a swampland. With the CD being called 'Timeless,' we didn't want the photos to look like I was in a particular time or place to where people could say that it's modern or retro. There's this modern guy, but he's in the middle of a world that you don't know whether it's in the 40's, 60's or 2010. We definitely wanted to give some kind of ode to the past with some of the settings, particularly the ones when I'm near the swamp because I'm from the South.
You and Chante work together a lot. How do you separate the professional time from the personal time?
I think I'm just getting that together now because we've never had to be apart until now. One thing that she did early in our marriage was established that if we were on the road then we would not be apart from each other for a certain period of time. If we were gonna be away from each other for three weeks then one of us would have to fly to where the other person was or bring the children or something to that degree. That way we stay connected as real people. We talk everyday and check in. Sometimes it's not a real serious conversation, just checking in to say hey, but it's just about having that time where you stop and just communicate about what's happening and keep the other party involved about what is going on, it helps to keep the connection. It's not easy, it's very difficult. I used to laugh about it a lot because I was happy when the duet project came, but I would talk about actors and people who get married and then within a few months you're in two different countries. The next thing you know you're on a set with somebody else and you are pretending that you're in love with them and then you actually fall in love with them or start developing some kind of feeling. You go back home and you don't know the person you married and you end up filing for divorce. It's a crazy lifestyle where the duet project helped me and my wife establish a really strong foundation because we have problems just like everybody else, but we were able to at least be in the same space to work it out as opposed to being in two different worlds.
Was the touring play 'Things That Lovers Do' loosely based on your relationship?
'Things That Lovers Do' was very loosely based on us because it wasn't written by us. Initially, we thought it would have been nice if we wrote it to say the things that we wanted to say, but I'm grateful for that project. It was hard. The hardest part was singing all of those songs every night. Getting through the performances was very demanding. If you go see a Broadway play, usually the lead actors might have three big songs. They might be in the other songs, but it's just three big songs. We had 17 songs that we were singing back to back. It was a great vehicle to showcase the album. We ended up selling a lot of records as a result of that. It wasn't close enough to our real story for me to be emotionally attached to it or have any other opinion outside of that. We wanted to establish a quality in the production that was hopefully above what people were calling the chitlin' circuit at the time. What we knew was that there were tons of actors and singers who really were making a lot of money doing the plays, but if we really looked at the traveling play market as viable and not just as chitlin' circuit and we demanded it being quality, it would be a tremendous income for a lot of people. Hopefully that genre will continue to grow. We won't be doing it anytime soon with us being back to solo careers and all, but I hope that genre continues to grow because it was a lot of fun and it was a viable way for our income.
My wife was like, 'no way!' Partly because when you do your household your children become celebrated and they haven't chosen to be apart of this industry. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith decided to have an entertainment family. Their children wanted to act so they put them in films. For our family, our children have not been that excited about it. Sophia has had the opportunity to do movies and different things because her father is an actor [Kadeem Hardison ('A Different Worlds')]. Her grandmother is Bethann Hardison [who discovered Tyson Beckford] so she can do fashion if she wanted to at least in terms of being introduced to it properly. She's 12 and she hasn't made any decision to say that she would love to do it. I don't think Chante or I feel like we should thrust them into the spotlight. One day we were all in the living room and my son [Kenny Jr.] said, 'ladies and gentleman Kenny Lattimore and Chante Moore.' We turned around and looked at him like, 'what are you talking about?' We really want their lives to be normal because I think they know that their parents are famous and people come up to them and say things, but we have them in a very guarded and comfortable circle of people who compliment us without it being over the top. That can be a real head trip for a kid so to then have them see themselves on TV, we just didn't want them to have that kind of pressure.
I hear you recently became an ordained minister.
I am a part of a Christian ministry called Hope's House in Southern California. What really happened was there was a time in our lives when we moved into this area of the valley that was pretty far from L.A. Chante and I were driving maybe 45 minutes to an hour to get to church on Sundays. I used to pray this prayer, 'oh God, I know you live in the valley somewhere.' God took me to a point where I got over the fact of it being a Black thing. I got so hungry for God's word that I didn't care anymore. I started to go and visit churches of different nationalities because if I could go here and get something out of the word I'll be fed and built more in my spirituality. I prayed for maybe two years and one day an email went out from this guy named Brother Steve who does this email about the things that are happening with gospel music in the valley. He was saying there was a bible study at Cal State Northridge. I was so hungry that I didn't care. I needed to sit in and find some folks that I could just bond with. I asked the person in the email if there was a church that they go to and they said they are starting the church in two weeks. This was amazing to me. I called up a few people and asked if they had ever heard of these ministers before. Incidentally, I had a mutual friend with one of the pastors who was starting the church. We went and when we got there, I really liked it. I wasn't sure that I was going to stay as long as I have, but as time went on I just continued to go. I didn't go to my pastor and tell him that I wanted to leave and become a member of this other church. My old church was so far away that I was just gonna go to the little church today because I don't have much time to get ready. I just kept going to the little church. When I would go in, I would speak of we like, 'when are we gonna do this?' I got involved in the administration of the church since it was beginning and structuring it. Then I got involved with mentoring because they were college students. I hired college students to go on the road and do things with me. I got involved in a new members class and I had to teach because there was nobody. The pastors had to figure out who they knew that understands the word and I had to go through a test and some other things before the ordinance, but it was pretty much what I was naturally doing anyway. I just didn't have a title. They blessed me with that and told me that they appreciate what I'm doing and that they know my heart is in this ministry and that I'm capable. They said, 'we would like to ordain you an elder.' With that I just went through the process with several people and eventually we had the actual ceremony last year.
The music that we've always done has always had a certain amount of purity that does not lend itself to a lot of questions in terms of our character. Nowadays, the church is a little different, at least in California. The church doesn't judge people the same way out here because most of the members are in the industry and they know who the people are behind the scenes. They know that these actors are not writing raunchy roles for themselves. The pastors get a chance to see these people for who they are and they understand that it is a business and it's these folks job. What helped me was that I had songs like, 'For You' and 'Never Too Busy' that are not anything questionable against God's word. As a matter of fact, they would be songs that any married couple should be saying to each other. There are churches now that ask me and Chante to come in and sing 'It's Alright' and even 'Chante's Got A Man' to the married couples and at the same time we sing the gospel and we worship. We did something for Dave Hollister's New Direction Church in Memphis. I got to the alter and said, 'we're gonna go right on the edge with your pastor sitting right here in the front and I'm gonna ask for all of the married couples to come up to the alter to dance to this song' and it was 'Love Ballad' by LTD. I said, 'one, you probably haven't been saved all your lives so you probably remember this song even if you don't listen to R&B as much anymore. Tell me when the last time was that you danced with your wife.' We've been to seminars and people have said that they haven't danced with their wife in years because they don't really go to the club anymore or take advantage of the romantic things that they could take advantage of because everything turns into sin unless we're worshiping. When you start to buy into all of that it affects your relationship and certain aspects of what you would do. The beauty is to have a couple or a person come up and say, 'I love God.' I know they're not going home and making love to Kirk Franklin either, but wouldn't you like to know that when you put on Kenny Lattimore or Chante Moore or Kelly Price that if they did a love song it would be in its purist form. You don't have to worry about hearing something perverted or something that offends you. That became the bigger greater message in the church. We have pastors and ministers who come in quite a bit and talk to the couples and do concerts. It's wonderful because it's a whole other avenue for us to look at.
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