On New Year’s Eve, people around the world hold epic celebrations to welcome the coming year. The revelers of the Azalea City are no exception. In fact, the MoonPie Over Mobile has become one of the city’s biggest celebrations. A multitude of locals and tourists alike flood the streets of downtown Mobile to watch as the city’s patron pastry descends into 2015. As with all celebrations in this fair city, music is a very important factor.
The event requires the perfect lineup to keep the celebratory vibes going steady into the midnight hour. For this year’s MoonPie Over Mobile, organizers have recruited two headliners from the days of disco. Those in attendance will be able to boogie into 2015 with the soulful ‘70s grooves of Evelyn “Champagne” King and the disco sounds of The Village People.
Modern times have allowed labels and the public to discover bands through social media and audio or video websites like SoundCloud and YouTube. Many have forgotten how musical acts were discovered in the past. With this in mind, stories such as the discovery of Evelyn “Champagne” King could be considered one of the classic legends of modern music history.
The Philadelphia native began singing in vocal bands at the age of 14. Meanwhile, her mother worked as a receptionist/janitorial worker (with help from her older sister) at Philadelphia International Records alongside her father, who worked maintenance. One day, King’s sister took ill, and she went with her mother to assist at her work.
“I started cleaning,” King explained. “I cleaned the men’s room. I came out of the men’s room and started vacuuming. I just started singing. Nobody was supposed to be there, according to my mom. She said, ‘You just get in, do our thing, and get out.’ I was singing ‘Change Is Going to Come’ by Sam Cooke. T Life (Theodore Life), the producer that discovered me, he came out of one of the rooms while I was cleaning. He asked, ‘Was that you singing?’”
At first, her initial reaction was to deny that she was singing. After Life went around the office and found she was the only one there besides her mother, he knew that King was the origin of the beautiful sound he had heard. He approached King and promised her that one day he would make her a star. Life took King to meet with songwriters John H. Fitch, Jr. and Reuben Cross.
The song she sang was her 1978 super hit “Shame.” Her teenage years were filled with touring and performing alongside bands such as Sun, Parliament Funkadelic, The Bar-Kays and Teddy Pendergrass. As with most young artists, the road did not come without complication, but her passion for her singing trumped any desire to quit.
“Honestly, for me, being in the business so early and so young was very tough,” King said. “I was young. I was only 15 when I started traveling on the road. You’re out there with giants with other artists who have been on the map. I was out there all the time on the road. I travelled six months out of the year.”
King has continued to have an extremely productive career filled with touring in support of 11 albums, and penning such memorable tracks as “Shame,” “Love Come Down” and “I’m in Love.” King also made her presence known in the modern dance scene with the 2011 track “Everybody,” which was produced by deep house producer Miguel Migs.
“Miguel is such a cool guy,” King said. “When I was introduced to Miguel, he knows what he wants, and he knows what the artists can bring. We wrote together, and it felt like I was reborn in the dance market.”
The Azalea City is full of Evelyn King fans, and she is thankful for each one of them. She guarantees that she will “give it her all” at the MoonPie Drop and leave locals knowing they had a good time indulging in her R&B dance hits from the past and the present.
Before the strike of midnight, one of the most prolific groups of the disco era will take the stage to help usher in 2015 properly. The Village People’s mark on music history can still be seen in modern music. Donning costumes ranging from a biker to a construction worker, this group has spawned hits such as “Macho Man,” “Y.M.C.A.” and “In the Navy.” For members such as Eric Anzalone (the biker), the longevity of the band is partially due to the nature of the music.
“I think one of the main things is that our music isn’t political, and it’s not religious,” Anzalone said. “We’re not up there trying to make a statement. Our music is just about having a good time. It’s fun. There’s nothing negative about it. It’s a party. Who doesn’t want to have a good time?”
Anzalone replaced original biker Glenn Hughes almost 20 years ago. His entrance into the band seems almost by random chance. Before The Village People, Anzalone already had a successful career as a performer. After moving to New York, Anzalone was looking for a job in a band to fill in the time it took for him to find an agent and start his career in the Big Apple. He answered a classified ad in The Village Voice, which asked for a singer with a passport. Anzalone sent in his demo, promo shot and résumé. A couple of months later, he was touring with The Village People and loving every minute of it.
“After 20 years, it’s part of my life,” said Anzalone. “When you step out of the box and look at it, I think, ‘Oh, my God! I’m the biker in The Village People.’ It still makes me giggle. I think you might even get the same answer from some of the other guys in the group, including some of the original members.”
The Village People entered the studio in 2013 with Harry Casey (KC and the Sunshine Band) to record “Let’s Go Back to the Dance Floor.” According to Anzalone, it was a great experience to get back in the studio and “get those creative juices flowing.” He also explained that Casey was a natural choice to act as producer and songwriter for this project.
Anzalone calls Casey “the hookmeister,” because of his talent with songwriting. The group has really enjoyed performing the new material for their audiences.
“We do try to keep it fresh and change the show from year to year,” Anzalone said. “When you’ve been touring non-stop for almost 37 years and you get a chance to bring something new in, there’s nothing better, especially if it’s new. For us, it’s a lot of fun. The song pumps, man.”
Anzalone explained that they view their New Year’s Eve performances as the “Super Bowl of concerts.” Each New Year’s Eve celebration is special for The Village People, and Anzalone said that the band feels honored to celebrate with the denizens of the Azalea City and promised to bring their “A-game” to the streets of downtown Mobile.
MoonPie Over Mobile 2014
Date: Wednesday, Dec. 31, 7 p.m.
Venue: Downtown Mobile