When you’re hot, you’re hot. When “You’re Not So Hot,” you’re not. Vocal and acting veteran Carol Douglas knows both stories well: from her many highs – which include a slew of top-ten dance, R&B, and pop singles, a Grammy nomination, and being surrounded by entertainment blood from day one; to a few less settling points – a lack of proper attention from companies backing her and financial struggles caused by others’ business negligence. With all the peaks and valleys 30 years in any industry will bring one, her continued perseverance and creativity today in the fickle biz we call music is an inspiring testament.
Though she was already an experienced performer of ten years, it was “Doctor’s Orders” which claimed responsibility for the Brooklyn native attaining national recognition. That song – a remake of a popular British single by singer Sunny – began its climb to the top ten of R&B and pop charts in December 1974, and arguably gave large definition to an imminent category of music called “disco.” It wasn’t something planned that way, though, Carol remembers. “I really went on my producers’ say back then. I really just enjoyed singing, and I didn’t have much input on what I liked or disliked. In fact, ‘Doctor’s Orders’ wasn’t one of my favorites [of the songs I recorded in the ’70s] and still isn’t. But that’s the classic!”
Lo and behold, Carol was no stupid ingenue suddenly riding in on a magic carpet. She answered an ad in Showbiz magazine to audition for “Doctor’s Orders,” and got a five-year contract with Midland International Records “right off the bat” because of her thorough, well-groomed, and varied background in the industry. Her mother, Minnie Newsome, was a revered blues-and-jazz singer known throughout the New York club circuit; and her first cousin was Sam Cooke. Both of those personalities showed the youngster the ins and out’s of entertainment and provided her early experiences in the field. “I won Name That Tune at age 10, and Ebony magazine followed my career for the next three years,” she recalls. During that period, Carol served as an understudy for actress Jonelle Allen in the off-broadway production of The Life Story of Mary McCloud Bethune. She also appeared in a myriad of TV jingles for companies like General Mills, Ideal toys, and the makers of Gaylord the dog. A few years later, the teenager struck her first recording deal as Carolyn Cooke with the RCA label. “I Don’t Mind” gave her a quick pinch of success but was cut short when she became pregnant. Ironically, she reflects, “Eleven years later I walked in the door as Carol Douglas, and [RCA, the distributing label for Midland] didn’t know I was the same girl they had gotten rid of!”
In between times, the aspiring actress starred with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson in the play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. “I never thought I would be a singer, even though I was groomed to be. I was also a tap dancer.” Her classmates at the Quintanos School for Young Professionals in Manhattan included Bernadette Peters, Gregory Hines, and Patty Duke. In high school, she formed a trio called April, May, and June, which was signed on as a management client by the revered doo-wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials. Though the group’s life span was short, it helped Carol fill the shoes of lead singer in another, internationally known girl group, The Chantels, at the dawn of the 70s. She toured the US with the Chantels and recorded a single on Capitol with them entitled “Some Tears Fall Dry.”
As a Midland (later changed to Midsong) recording artist, Carol not only rode high off the success of “Doctor’s Orders,” but also on the strength of classics such as 1976’s “Midnight Love Affair” (considered instrumental in starting “The Hustle” craze); 1978’s “Burnin'” (for which Carol was nominated in the Grammy category of “Best Disco Single”); and 1979’s “I’ve Got the Answer.” She toured frequently with the likes of the Village People, Hues Corporation, and Vicki Sue Robinson – all, like her, working with Norby Walters. Walters managed and booked high-profile acts including Marvin Gaye, Blondie, and Dionne Warwick at the time. A rough spot followed at the open of the 80’s, with RCA buying the 20th Century label and transferring Douglas there from the by-then defunct Midsong. The company released only one single of hers in this time – a remake of The Three Degrees’ “My Simple Heart.” “But they really didn’t push the single,” she comments.
Bouncing back quickly, Carol soon found herself with two significant record deals. She relocated to Paris, where she signed with Carrere (then distributed by Polydor) and moved to Next Plateau, a label owned by her consistent producer and former Midland VP Eddie O’Loughlin, in the US. She released an album, Love Zone, which spawned three dance hits in “You’re Not So Hot,” “I Got Your Body,” and “Got Ya Where I Want Ya.” The album melded her signature dance savvy with mellow R&B leanings, and paved the way for a subsequent, more aggressive club track in 1984, “I Get What I Want.” After the deal closed, she co-wrote “When Love Goes Wrong,” released on producer Darryl Payne’s New Image label in 1987.
Since that time, she’s concentrated on performing jazz and R&B. A fine, hip-hop-laced R&B track she recorded entitled “Waiting for Your Love” recently sparked the interest of Brooklyn-based Black Wax Records, who’ve just signed her as an artist. The label helped launch the careers of present luminaries like D’Angelo and Ginuwine and the late Notorious B.I.G. – and having such a seasoned pro as Carol will certainly be a healthy addition. Her ability to cover both R&B and jazz effectively is reflected in her influences, including Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Eartha Kitt, Stephanie Mills, Diana Ross, and Aretha Franklin. And she’s even interested in “venturing over into gospel” before too long.
But the main focus now is fulfilling her goal of directing her own TV mini-series. She’s currently developing a script – along with protege Soul Brian, in which Carol tells her life story. She’s planning on portraying her mother, and Soul will play Carol. It’s a big undertaking, but one that will hopefully be at least financially eased if Carol wins her share of a current class-action lawsuit she and other dance artists have against a major reissue company. The company has failed to pay any royalties over a period of about eight years to a number of recording artists under contract to them, she states. It’s a real-life lesson that provides further insight into Carol’s own advice to aspiring performers: “Keep a good lawyer and accountant, and stay up with all your paperwork. Know what’s going on. If you have a computer, always be up on…what people have out on you. Watch the sheisters – they’re out there!”