I asked my friend John Frazier to contribute something to Stargayzing because when it comes to our shared interst in popular music, John is simply one of the most knowledgeable people I know. He brings to the table a unique perspective shaped by his experiences as a writer, cultural commentator, and music lover. As a regular denizen of some of the most storied music venues ever, like the Paradise Garage, John bore witness to some of the great moments in New York club history.
A poet, novelist, and all around mensch, I am thrilled that John agreed to share some words here and tell us all about Zulema, a singer that I confess I had never heard of till John schooled me!
Do you remember Zulema?
Recording artist Zulema Cusseaux is an extremely talented singer and songwriter best known simply as “Zulema” Her musical beginning were in Tampa, Florida where, with high school friend Brenda Hilliard, she formed the R&B group Faith, Hope and Charity. They met legendary writer/producer Van McCoy (The Hustle) and were signed to Maxwell Records. Their early R&B hits included So Much Love and Baby Don’t Take Your Love (both 1970). Though the group later went on to achieved greater success with their 1975 hit To Each His Own, Zulema had already left the group to pursue a solo career with RCA records. Her journey had begun.
The first time I saw and heard Zulema was on Soul Train and I was blown away. Though Ms. Zulema has opened for such performers like Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight and Pips, and the late Marvin Gaye, for some reason her solo efforts didn’t take flight. Her 1972 recording of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s If This World Were Mine is particularly magical.
In total, Zulema only released three albums, none of them significant commercial hits. Perhaps it was due to her record labels’ lack of financial support and giving her efforts enough push, exposure and publicity. The talent was certainly there. Zulema was not the kind of artist that had to have 100 dancers on stage with her. She didn’t ooze sex appeal . Nor or give the audience the glamour of fancy gowns and dresses. Zulema was a beautiful woman in her own right and wanted her talent to speak for itself and to her audience. In this sense, she was not unlike artists like Roberta Flack and Nina Simone. In fact, Zulema dressed in African attire most of the time when performing, proud of her blackness and being a woman.
Zulema experienced a small bit of fame when she recorded Change which burned up the disco floors. Though Zulema doesn’t sound like anyone else, she has the power of Aretha Franklin. Appropriately another career high point was when her old friend Van McCoy recruited her to sing back up on Ree’s disco-flavored La Diva album (1979), which was underrated and sold poorly.
My favorite Zulema songs are No Time Next Time, What Do I Do Now? and Standing In the Back Row of Your Heart. If you like great R&B singing, you will enjoy her music—she’s unique. If you happen to know me, you will know that I’m a lyric person; the drama within the song and Zulema always gives you that. Other notable recordings are her excellent 1975 cover of Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Where You Are and the track I Just Can’t Say Goodbye from the 1974 Michael Schultz film Honeybaby, Honeybaby.
The last I heard of Ms. Zulema was in the 1980’s, that she’d retired from the music scene. Earlier this year, a friend of mine told me that he heard that the diva was arrested for selling or carrying drugs. I hope this isn’t so! Instead I hope that Ms. Zulema will return to the piano and share her wisdom through song. We are in need of some real music and some real singing. Have you listened to the radio lately? Come back Ms. Zulema, we need some real music!
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