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Interview: Tamia Talks About Illness, New Album, and Label Woes

Posted on March 14, 2004 by

Everything was going in the right direction for Tamia. She had chart-topping hits with “Officially Missing You” and “Into You.” She had Grammy, Juno, and Soul Train Award nominations. In June and July last summer, she was travelling to promote the August release of her third album.

Suddenly, she felt very tired. Parts of her body were getting numb. She went to see a doctor who told her she had probably just pinched a nerve. But a month after visiting the doctor, she was still feeling the same symptoms. A visit to another doctor resulted in uncertainty. He didn’t know what was wrong with Tamia and told her to stop everything she was doing until she could be properly diagnosed. “One minute I’m jogging two miles a day and the next minute I can’t even get out of bed,” she tells andPOP.

She spent a week in the hospital, going through countless tests, scans and x-rays. A doctor from Duke University finally diagnosed her with Multiple Sclerosis, the neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.

“Once I got over the crying, he told me that it is a disease that can be managed. I decided from that moment on, I wasn’t going to lie down and take it,” she says.

She delayed her album indefinitely. “Everything happened so fast that I was just concerned with being around for my daughter.” Music was the last thing on her mind but she says now that the timing of the diagnosis was good. “Had the album come out, I wouldn’t have been able to promote it anyway.”

Tamia is feeling much better. There is no cure for MS but drugs can help slow its course. She takes an injection every other day, and still has a few lesions on her spine. “One of the really big lesions went away, which is a really good thing. Technically the MS is still there, something that will always be there, but I don’t have any permanent damage.”

By her side through the ordeal was her husband, Grant Hill, a basketball player from the Orlando Magic. Hill was once one of the top players in the NBA, but the past few years he has been dealing with back problems and has played in very few games.

“When adversity strikes, that’s when your real character comes out. Anybody can be cool when you’re on top. He’s been so offering, so incredible, and I’m a really lucky girl.”

When her album, “More,” is finally released on April 6, expect the soulful R&B music to which Tamia fans have grown accustomed. Just don’t expect an appearance from her husband. “I can promise you two things: You won’t see me playing basketball and you won’t see us doing a duet.” The latter is probably a good thing, since Shaquille O’Neal spoiled all hope for other basketball players hoping to turn into rappers.

You can also expect a more mature Tamia. When she worked on her previous albums, she wasn’t married and she didn’t have a daughter. Things have changed since “Nu Day” was released in 2000.

“I’m older. I sing about things that are relevant to me. I just wanted to stretch vocally and try different things as well.”

Producers on “More” include Babyface, R. Kelly, Jermaine Dupri and Mario Winans. But Tamia says this album wasn’t about going to the hot producers to get an instant hit. “I tried to do songs that speak to me. Really not get caught up with what’s the trendy thing.”

Another set-back to this album occurred during the first week of March, when Sylvia Rhone, the chairman of Electra, Tamia’s label, was fired after Warner Music, the parent company, announced 1,000 job cuts. Rhone served as the executive-producer on Tamia’s album and worked very closely with the Canadian-born, native of Orlando.


“It’s a scary time for me. I think [Rhone] hardly slept a night without thinking about this project.”

There was even a report in the New York Post that Tamia would seek to leave the label. That is not going to happen, she assures.

“I definitely was very shocked that Sylvia was let go, but I’ve put in so much work on this project and I’d hate to walk away from it.”

Tamia joins Beyonce Knowles, Alicia Keys, and Missy Elliott for the “Ladies First Tour,” which will wrap up in mid-April. Surprisingly, this is Tamia’s very first tour of her ten-year career.

“I really don’t know what to expect.” Taking a break from rehearsing four days before opening night, Tamia is only sure of one thing that she needs to do to make sure everything runs well. “Pray.”

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