Born Eartha Moore in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Zinna (a musician) and Philip Moore. Education: Attended El Camino College and Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Addresses: Record company--AFRT Music, P.O. Box 6590, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, phone: (310) 277-4601, website: http://www.afrtmusic.com. Management--Ariass Management Group (AMG), P.O. Box 6590, Beverley Hills, CA 90212.
Little-known Los Angeles singer-songwriter Eartha stunned the music world in 2003 when she earned not one, but two Grammy nominations, and took home the Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. The multitalented artist, who writes, produces, and arranges her own music on the independent AFRT Music label, also plays saxophone, keyboards, drums, and guitars on her albums.
Eartha Moore was born in Los Angeles, California, where she learned to play music at an early age. Her main influence as a child was her birth mother, Zinna Moore, who was forced by a debilitating illness to give up Eartha and her older sister to a foster home shortly after Eartha's birth.
Growing up, Eartha lived during the week with her foster parents, Lucy and Otis Rushing, and spent weekends with her birth parents, Zinna and Philip L. Moore. Eartha later credited both sets of parents for giving her the support and encouragement she needed to become a successful recording artist. She told Contemporary Musicians of her foster home, "I know for a fact that I was very blessed to have been placed in that home." With the Rushings she had a "strict Christian upbringing" and this was "part of the reason that I have the morals that I have today." But she also acknowledged that "being raised in a foster home added to my isolation, because no matter how good things are, you still long to be with your [birth] family."
Interestingly, both Eartha's birth and foster fathers worked as machinists at the same company and knew each other professionally without at first realizing that they were both parents to the same daughter. The two men recognized each other the first time Philip Moore arrived at the Rushing house to visit his daughters. As Eartha told Contemporary Musicians, that while the first visit "was a shock" to Philip, "it was a sense of comfort" because he knew that his daughters were in good hands.
Zinna Moore played guitar and sang, and was the organist at the family's church. Eartha would tag along to rehearsals on Saturdays, and on one such occasion, tried out the church's drum kit. From then on, she told Roxanne Ruben in Venice, "I was hooked" on music. Eartha also took inspiration from her grandmother, who had a piano. After learning to play, Eartha moved on to the saxophone and trumpet in junior high school. Meanwhile, she experimented with poetry, which became song lyrics.
Both Eartha's birth and foster families listened to gospel music, and this would influence Eartha strongly when she began to write her own compositions. She was exposed to additional musical styles through extended family members, and she cites Stevie Wonder, among others, as an additional influence.
Eartha lost both of her mothers just as she was getting her career off the ground. Zinna died in 1995, Lucy in 1998; each loss had a profound effect on Eartha's music. As she told Ruben, "My record Sidebars is a result of ... this experience." Lucy's death was a blow not only to Eartha and her sister, but to the people in Lucy's neighborhood, who knew her as Mama Lucy because she was such a strongly positive presence.
Eartha debuted her first album, This I Know, in 2001, and it received critical and popular acclaim. A single from the album, "Love Jones," landed on the Billboard Hot Dance Singles chart in the number two position. The album features Eartha playing all of the instruments, and it covers a wide range of styles, from gospel to R&B and hip-hop.
Eartha's second album, Sidebars, seemed initially not to do as well when it was released in 2003. Although it sold briskly in nontraditional outlets, it received little airplay and moved slowly in traditional music outlets. According to SoundScan, which tracks album sales, the album had sold only 52 copies through traditional outlets at the time of its Grammy nomination. AFRT reported selling 10,000 copies at Eartha's concerts, parties, clubs, and special events, but even this figure was insignificant compared to the millions of copies sold by Eartha's fellow nominees. Nevertheless, the album garnered not just one, but two Grammy nominations.
Many people wondered how a relatively unknown musician could win a Grammy Award. Some credited Eartha's record label, AFRT, which in the weeks and months before the Grammys had launched an all-out publicity campaign, conducting massive CD, T-shirt, and cap giveaways. (The company handed out 50,000 copies of Sidebars.) In addition, AFRT copresident Glaurys Ariass told USA Today's Steve Jones, "We hit different key people [with CD giveaways], sent product to retailers, specific editors, producers and musicians just to try to get in front of them."
The hard work paid off. Eartha earned a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Female Performance for the song "I'm Still Standing," sharing the field with Mary J. Blige, Ashanti, Aaliyah, and Jill Scott. It was, however, her nomination for the Sidebars album for which Eartha won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album.
This double nomination in two distinct categories--R&B and gospel--reflects Eartha's unique approach to music, which combines gospel lyrics with infectious dance tracks and other popular music forms. Eartha credits AFRT with fostering this unique approach--an approach that might not have been possible at a larger, more conservative label. She speaks in glowing terms of the label's willingness to let her produce her own work and follow her own path, without regard to what might or might not match the tastes of the label's executives or accountants. "I didn't really initiate the choice to select them," she told Marie Cruz for Inside Connection, of the beginning of her relationship with the label. "They kind of selected me."
The singer/songwriter was understandably delighted at her Grammy win. As she told Cruz for Inside Connection, when she heard the announcement that she had won the award, "I could have just fallen to my knees. It was so exciting ... I'm still kind of speechless." Eartha also expressed hope that her success would inspire other musicians working outside of the musical mainstream to pursue their dreams and to keep the faith.
That's not a word Eartha uses lightly: her Christian faith is the foundation of her work and her life. As she told E. Christian Moore in Dysonna, "I understand where my help comes from and without God I couldn't do any of this." She also described her music as her ministry, and her disarmingly fun approach to music gets her in the door at many clubs and other venues that would not ordinarily showcase gospel music.
In addition to music and her faith, Eartha has a strong interest in fashion. "I love fashion," she told Moore. "I love style. I have a sense of individuality about my style and the way I dress.... It's funny because sometimes people will look at me and assume that I'm doing something else other than gospel because of [my] appearance or because of [my] clothes. Well, I'm gospel. Maybe you can't tell but that's good." Eartha also writes an advice column each month in the teen magazine Fresh.
As for the future, Eartha says that she plans to keep performing music that makes people want to dance, that brings them closer to God, and that, as she told Contemporary Musicians, helps to "encourage and ... strengthen other people."
by Michael Belfiore
Released debut album This I Know on the AFRT label, 2001; released Sidebars, also on AFRT, 2003.
Grammy Award, Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album for Sidebars, 2003.
- Selected discography
- This I Know AFRT, 2001.
- (Contributor) Love Jones (soundtrack), Challenge, 2001.
- Sidebars AFRT, 2003.
- Dysonna, May/June 2003, p. 32.
- Inside Connection, April 2003.
- Jet, February 24, 2003, p. 39.
- USA Today, January 28, 2003, p. D4.
- Venice, April 2003, p. 22.
- Additional information was obtained from AFRT publicity materials and telephone interviews with Eartha in June of 2003.