CoM&L - with Antoinette Montague
“Some smiles are hopes to get other people to smile, but just as often there is embarrassment or a broken heart just behind those upturned lips,” said jazz/blues/R&B singer Antoinette Montague in a 2010 interview with Allaboutjazz.com. At the time her album Behind the Smile, which includes a same-named song written by Montague, was new. That title track, a smart lament over how little other people can know us (and vice versa), marked her as a talent to watch.
Montague, the youngest of seven children, grew up listening to her mother sing inside their Newark, New Jersey home. Her first turn on stage came in high school: She sang “When You Wish Upon a Star” as part of a tribute to Walt Disney. During her studies at Seton Hall University she joined a gospel choir and frequented an East Orange jazz/blues club called the Peppermint Lounge, where she got to invited to sit in occasionally. On a jazz cruise in the 1990s Montague met singer Etta Jones, who became the Newark native’s mentor. Jones introduced Montague to singers Della Griffin and Myrna Lake, whom Montague “filled in for … when they were traveling,” as she notes in her online biography.
With her 2006 album Pretty Blues Montague arrived as a solo recording artist. Its 12 songs revel in jazz tradition, without ever losing a straightforward freshness the singer brings to each performance. She also makes bold choices of material—“Miss Celie’s Blues,” from the screen version of The Color Purple, on her debut recording; Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” which she recasts in distinctive jazz form on her follow-up, Behind the Smile. Montague’s most recent projects are the albums World Peace in the Key of Jazz, which includes a song she wrote, and Jazz Woman to the Rescue, half a dozen cuts for young listeners of all ages. That second title additionally names her 501(c)(3) foundation, which strives to put old and disused instruments into the hands of young musicians whose schools lack arts instruction. The many nods Montague has gotten for her various philanthropies point to a performer just as generous off stage as she is on it, all of which makes clear that what’s behind her smile is the real goods.
Host & Exec. Producer, CoM&L
Edward Austin Hall
FAS Editorial Director