Why have you made an Ella Fitzgerald album?
It was supposed to be a little project we did to celebrate Ella’s centennial last year but everyone went mental for the two tracks I did with Guy Barker, who has an orchestra. We did the Love Supreme festival and had 7,500 people in our tent. So now we’ve made an album and have just done a little tour. It’s been the most wonderful thing. I’m nearly 50 and you suddenly have this appreciation for jazz as you get older.
What is it about Ella that you love?
I fell in love with Ella when I was about eight. She sang and broke the glass on an advert for Memorex tapes, and I said to my dad: ‘Who’s that woman? I want to be like her!’ There weren’t many black people on TV back then. Dad told me all about her music, that she did scat, and played me it. I’ve been in the business 30 years this year but I never thought I’d do anything of Ella’s. I’m blessed that I’ve done many different things in my career and people embrace it. I’ve done some really stupid things as well, though!
What do you count as stupid?
Oh my God — Strictly. I was shocking on that. My dad rang me and said: ‘Mica, you have a great voice but don’t dance.’ That’s how bad I was! I didn’t enjoy it at all. It’s hardcore! I run 5km six days a week but that’s a different type of training. You have to have no life. It’s good for sportspeople but in my day people danced in my videos. I didn’t do the dancing!
Why do you think you need to be older to appreciate jazz?
You only really appreciate the nuances when you’re a certain age, I think. Singing jazz feels so freeing. You’re very naked as a singer, you can’t hide or fake it. You have to be really good at it otherwise you’re screwed! Gospel is exactly the same. With pop music you can have an instrument or stuff covering you up.
There are lots more black artists to look up to now. Who are good role models?
Musically you have people like Shirley Bassey and Jessye Norman. I always tell kids to look to older artists because that’s what I did. I wasn’t looking at the contemporary ones other than Prince. I was looking at Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, while all my mates were looking at Michael Jackson. It’s important to do that because a lot of artists are trendy and trends go. Old is gold.
You ended up working with Prince…
That was amazing. I’d just got signed and hadn’t released My One Temptation yet but I was invited to this private show and everyone was there — Bono, Mickey Rourke, every major A-list star. And he called me to sing in the middle of the show! I knew Prince for years and never asked him how he knew me. He was like that, though, and always knew where I was. He was in London a lot on the quiet and I’d go and meet him at a club, usually at 3am, with my sister and hang out. He wasn’t a big talker — I’d do all the talking!
Who else do you hang out with in the industry?
I have a lot of mates in the industry but I’ve lost a couple. Natalie Cole I lost a couple of years ago. She held my hand through some dodgy moments from the beginning of my career so she was very special and a mentor for me. I lost Bobby Womack a few years ago — he was a great friend. But there are still a lot left, like Jill Scott, Mary J and Chaka Khan, who’s godmother to my eldest daughter.
What does it take to have a long career?
When I got signed at 17 to Island Records, I said I wanted to make a record that lasts at least 50 years. I thought, if people like Marvin Gaye have been around that long, I need to do the same.
What else do you have going on this year?
I’m going back to radio again to do a show celebrating female voices. It’s all about women this year. I’m writing a book about why females have such a hard time, from Mahalia Jackson to Whitney Houston to Amy Winehouse — it’s not just a black thing. We’re doing a TV show and a stage show about Ella Fitzgerald too. So there’s a lot going on and I pray that some of them stick!
Paris’s album Mica Sings Ella is out now