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Maria Howell
The Color Purple Movie
Trend Magazine Online™
Part I of II
#mariahowell #thecolorpurplemovie

By Jay Whipple,

Spiritual, Multi-Talented, Still Down to Earth!

Maria Howell The Color Purple Movie Pic

I arrived in Charlotte, NC, in December of 1985 to begin my career as an electrical engineer with Duke Power Company (today Duke Energy) which at that time was the biggest and baddest employer in the area. It was the company that practically every adult wanted to work for and had an application on file. I personally was not as impressed and a bit disappointed that I was not hired by nearby IBM or Northern Telecom in the Research Triangle area of Raleigh, NC (the Capitol). It was not long before I actually began to like the Queen City and its night life which was head over heels and above any other metropolitan area in North and adjacent South Carolina. One night I ventured into one of the bars in Downtown that featured a Jazz cellar called Jonathon's (now defunct). As I wrote in my book Charlotte From a Tour Guide's Perspective "It was and is still the only real jazz club that Charlotte has known that could rival the Unleaded Blues Club -- on the south side of Chicago -- and clubs along Bourbon Street in New Orleans a.k.a. "Nawlins"" The featured performer back then was a cute petite local Jazz vocalist by the name of Maria Howell. If she were not performing, I simply would not stay.

Maria Howell The Color Purple Movie Pic!Fast forward to 1991, the year that I resigned from Duke, and ventured into the publishing business full time. At that time there was no magazine that featured Black culture, so I started one called The Guide to Black Charlottetm which later became Trend Magazine Onlinetm. I was simply ecstatic when Maria accepted my invitation to be interviewed for our Spring 1991 edition (Page 26) and even more surprised when she stopped by my office and ingratiated us with her down-to-earth Southern Belle personality and effectual smile punctuated by natural dimples that rival those of actress Debbi Morgan. The interview took place just five years after the release of the blockbuster movie The Color Purple (1986) directed by the iconic Steven Spielberg and starring Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, and Oprah Winfrey; in which Howell played the role of the Church Choir Soloist who sings the memorable "God is trying to tell you something" hymn towards the end of the movie. She has since gone on to appear in other block buster movies and TV shows to include the Vampire Diaries series (CW Network) and the Army Wives series (Lifetime), as well as The Blind Side (2009), a recurring role of Grace on the NBC (National Broadcasting Company) drama Revolution (2012 - 2014), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013); Hidden Figures (2016), Saints and Sinners (2016-2018), A Christmas Carol (2019), Maneater (2020); to name a few. She still performs mostly on the east coast, does speaking engagements, voiceover work, merchandising, and is consistently and constantly working in the acting arena.

I caught up with Maria again in late 2020 while back in her home state of North Carolina sheltered in place from the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. This is what transpired three decades since our last interview.

Jay (Juan) -- Maria do you know that you and I both have Spanish names and translated their both biblical?
Maria -- That's right; John and Mary

Jay -- Do people still recognize you from The Color Purple movie?
Maria -- Ummmmm; That's a tricky question (pause); They don't.

Jay -- Really?
Maria -- The reason why I say it that way is because I constantly get, "You look familiar!" They know my face, but they don't know where from, and when I say The Color Purple they say "Yeahhhhh, you look the same, you haven't aged a bit" once I give them the confirmation or affirmation. It is usually someone else telling them that "She is the one from the Color Purple," or if I just walk up to people in public I always get "You look familiar!" It also depends on where I am for example here [Charlotte, NC, area] the majority of people know pretty much; but when I am in California, say LA [Los Angeles] there are so many other actors there everybody looks everybody up so they will know from research. People are always looking to see [who's who] because when you audition for something you look at who the other cast members are and then you look at their background and then they know that way. But if people there just see me walking down the street -- no.

Jay -- Out of all the hats that you wear; you are singer, actor, composer, producer, entrepreneur, and board member -- which do you prefer wearing the most and why?
Maria -- Singing; singing is my number one simply because it's the first thing that I ever did and it's more of a natural Segway. It affords me to be able to branch out and do all these other things. So, singing is the core and that's the one I prefer to do first.

Maria Howell The Color Purple Movie Pic! Jay -- So, if God said you can only do one for the rest of your life that's what you would do?
Maria -- Yeah; probably, in this list yeah. Yeah, singing, yeah because it's the thing that feels more organic and more of a part of me and my spirit and my soul. Yeah.

Jay -- To date what has been your favorite character to play and why?
Maria -- Ummmmm, I have to go back to The Color Purple because if it's a good experience, you never lose that first time. And that was my first time in a professional acting capacity, and I will never forget what it felt like and I will never forget the experience and I won't forget what it has afforded me since then. God allowed that to be my door opener.

Jay -- Walk me through the first day you showed up on set?
Maria -- Ummmmm, the color green because I was green as I don't know what, I had no clue as to what I was doing; I was just so happy to be at the party!

Jay -- So, you drove yourself or did somebody else drive you to the set?
Maria -- Well, you have to report to base camp and then they bussed us all over because that's typically how that happens.

Maria Howell The Color Purple Movie Pic! Jay - So, it's just like going to a regular job?
Maria -- Pretty much yeah, I mean yeah, as regular as it can be in that capacity. You drive to the base camp and then if the set is somewhere else, they get you on a bus or a van and then take you to the set. If the set is right there then you walk across the yard or whatever to get to it.

Jay -- Where was the base camp; wasn't it in the Burlington area?
Maria -- No, no, no, it was in Monroe [just east of Charlotte, NC], Union and Anson County.

Jay -- Oh yeah, there's a sign there; have you seen the road sign?
Maria -- Yeah, in Wadesboro; that's where I shot my scenes -- now of course there are different locations for different parts of the movie, but my parts of the movie was there.

Jay -- So that's where the church scene was?
Maria -- Yeah.

Jay -- Now what about Harpo's [The Juke Joint]?
Maria -- The church, the big house, and Harpo's were all in proximity.

Jay -- OK; and those places were actually built for the set or real places?
Maria -- I think the Juke Joint was -- the church they moved into, they rolled it there, it was something like a very old building, they just put it on some wheels and rolled it to where they wanted it. You have to think about camera angles and all that kind of stuff; they knew what they were doing. Movie magic, movie magic.

Jay -- Yeah, Hollywood! And then you got to hang out with Mr. Glover; Danny [Mister Albert character]?
Maria - Ummmmm; yeah kinda, but I hung out with Whoopie [Celle character] and Margaret [Shug Avery character] more than anybody because think about it, when you got scenes with them, you're around them more.

Maria Howell The Color Purple Movie Pic! Jay -- OK; so, we're you a bit starstruck at first?
Maria -- Ahhhhh; kinda, more with Whoopie Goldberg. Yeah, yeah; I guess we all were because as featured extras go, and extras, that's not something you see every day.

Jay -- Yeah; was that after Sister Act?
Maria -- Ummmmm; I wanna say it was before because Whoopie blew up after that; she did a string of movies after that -- Ghost and others came after that.

Jay - OK; now let's see what else I got on here. Oh yeah, who or what was your inspiration in joining the Advisory Board of Students Without Mothers, Inc..
Maria -- With that organization, Mary Torrence Williams was my inspiration. She's the one that founded it, and the reason why I joined it is because one night in Atlanta, when I resided there, I was performing at the Sambuca Jazz Cafe and that particular night; I performed on Monday night for a long time for 9 or 10 years I think it was, and some Monday nights they would double duty us, we would automatically be there performing, me and my piano player, and they would also rent the room out for you know special events, so they would always bill it as "And we got built in entertainment;" you know what I mean. So, we we're taking a break and they got up on stage and they were talking about the organization; it was a fundraiser, and I was just listening to them/her talk about the organization and she kept talking about scholarships because that's what they do. And, because I went to college on a scholarship, I attached to that quickly; and then she was also talking about the high school seniors didn't have their mothers and that hit me because I couldn't imagine not having my mom while I was in college. I went to the same college my mom did [WSSU, Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina]; so, there was a deep connection there. And I went up to her after she finished talking and said look, I was on scholarship and can relate; is there anything I can do to help the organization? And, here we are, more than 10 years later and on the board and advisory board. Yeah, they got me good though, at first, they made me secretary to see if I was serious; I had to take minutes and I was like whew.

Jay -- Wow; some celebrities would have been like uhhhhh, you want me to do what?
Maria - That's an interested word you use celebrity all the time; I understand it, but I don't, I don't operate in that definition, I don't operate with a title called celebrity.

Jay -- What would you prefer?
Maria -- You want me to go deep on you.

Jay -- Yeah, go deep.
Maria -- I; a child of God is what I call myself. I am a believer first, and I do my best to have discernment and use my wisdom. Ummmmm; I come from that place first because that's how I was raised and as I got older, I realize that really serves me well. I bump my head a lot, but to be able to serve and do things, I'm not ever above myself to think that they can't just snap me out of the picture and somebody else will take my place; I am not delusional.

Maria Howell The Color Purple Movie Pic!Jay -- One of the things that I remember from 30 some odd years ago, when you appeared in Trend Magazine; it was The Guide to Black Charlotte back then, is how down to earth you were. I said to my then editor; I said wow, she was just like a regular person, she let me pick her up! [both of us laughing hysterically]
Maria -- You know, we take life seriously but then we don't take it too seriously in the sense that I don't think this is the only place to dwell. So, I don't wanna get that caught up in my little hype whatever that might be for the moment, you know what I mean; because all that is fleeting, all that is fleeting. I can do my best to share it with somebody who shares it with somebody else, pass it on, whatever; I know I want to help somebody.

Jay -- Yeah, you can get caught up in yourself to the point where you start referring to yourself in the third person as if you are a different person. You are a down to earth person, you were back then and you still are to this day, and I really appreciate people like yourself because you know it lets me know that there are good people out there; regardless if they are well known or not well known, or famous or not famous, or what their status is in this life because you know it's fleeting and one day your status is going to be you're not here anymore.
Maria -- Yeah, you have a legacy and that's the thing when we leave a legacy and the legacy is not at the end, it's like what are we doing every day. Are you familiar with that poem called the dash?

Jay -- Ahhhhh; no, I'm not.
Maria -- It's not about you being born, it's not about you dying, it's about what you do in the dash, in the middle. And then so, that's the legacy, I want to live, I want to be a legacy everyday so that when I am gone people can look back and say you know what, she was trying to teach us this, it's all about love, that kind of thing. I want to live that day-to-day, it's not something you write on a piece of paper and say hey, here's my legacy, when you die; that's not how that goes.

Part II>>>

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