Remember the scene in the movie, “54,” about the world-famous New York City discotheque, Studio 54, when the female singer is hoisted 30 feet in the air to sing the disco classic, “Knock on Wood?”
That memorable moment showcases Mary Griffin, a Houston icon – by way of New Orleans – who’ll perform for a local audience Saturday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. at the Bender Performing Arts Center in Humble.
“I was 30 feet up in the air,” Griffin recalled, “nothing underneath to catch me if I fell.”
Griffin’s star has only risen since that 1998 movie. She performed with “Funkmaster” George Clinton for seven years and was a backup singer for Patti LaBelle for 13. In between and during those times, she did club dates and corporate events.
On The Bender stage, Griffin will showcase her “Motown Holiday Opener.”
“Expect the unexpected, because I’m going to take you through a wide variety of music,” said Griffin. “I love all kinds of music: rhythm and blues, gospel, disco, jazz, and pop/techno/dance. This will be the toughest gig I’ve done in 25 years. Just me and a baby grand piano.”
Griffin has performed with some of the musical greats – Etta James, Nancy Wilson and Phyllis Hyman – for starters.
Not bad for a Louisiana girl born in Amarillo who nurtured her vocal chops in church singing behind her traveling preacher father. Griffin had so much talent that she got a scholarship first to Northeast Louisiana University and, two years later, a full-ride scholarship, majoring in opera, to Grambling State University, where she became their ambassador.
“What a thrill,” she said. “I got to travel the country promoting the college.”
And that’s how she got to meet another singing icon and her inspiration, Etta James.
“Every year, Grambling has a big alumni banquet featuring a major singer,” she said. “My first year at Grambling, I opened the show before Etta James performed.”
At the end of the concert, James gave Griffin a treble clef necklace.
“You remind me of myself when I was your age,” James told Griffin. By this time, James was in a wheelchair and very sickly.
“I didn’t know who she was. I was just a country girl who’d never been anywhere, done anything,” Griffin confessed. “It was a couple years before I discovered how extraordinary she was and what an unforgettable moment it was for me to receive that necklace from such a gifted woman.”
Griffin has traveled the world performing in London and Paris, Portugal, Austria, even Madagascar. She’s got quite a fan base in Europe after performing there for “Holiday on Ice” and she’s a superstar in Germany where she sang the theme song for Cirque du Soleil.
When she performs at The Bender, it’ll be just Griffin and Les Lebo at the baby grand.
“He’s awesome,” she said. “I heard him at Pappas Steakhouse in Houston and I walked right over to ask him to accompany me.”
“The Mary Griffin performance is our holiday opening,” said Director Jennifer St. Julien-Wooden, “and we’ll follow her in future weeks with several holiday performances, including METdance, the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company, on Nov. 9, the Summer Creek High School Orchestra along with the Atascocita High School Holiday Choir on Nov. 17, and a special concert on Dec. 15 featuring the Houston Tidelanders Chorus, presented at no charge to our community by the City of Humble.”
To experience Griffin’s talent and hear her new album, go to her website, marygriffin.com. To experience her in person at her Motown Christmas at The Bender Nov. 3, or to learn about the other performers scheduled during this holiday season, call 281-446-4140, visit humblepac.com, or log onto Facebook at Charles Bender Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $15.