The irrepressible Millie Jackson has reigned supreme for over 50 years as the “Queen of Raunchy Soul.” Throughout the years, age-spanning audiences have always marveled at the prowess and mighty assurance of Millie’s voice and phrasing. Millie could sing and emote more wickedly than any of her contemporaries. The diva songstress mastered how she makes her risqué lyrics do her bidding with full-throated abandon.
No one would dare argue that Miss Millie Jackson is a bad…”shut yo mouth!”
Mildred “Millie” Jackson was born in Thomson, Georgia, on July 15, 1944. After the death of her mother, Millie’s father, a sharecropper, moved the family east to Newark, New Jersey. As a teen, Millie was sent to live with an aunt who lived in Brooklyn.
While in New York City, the striking youngster decided to pursue a career in modeling and did print work for such mainstream African American magazines as JIVE and Sepia. In 1964, Millie took on a bet that would change the course of her life. She was dared by a friend to go up on a stage to sing in a talent showcase being held at Harlem’s famed Smalls Paradise nightclub. Millie won the contest, and a singing career was born.
Eventually, Millie was hired as a professional singer at a Hoboken, N.J. club, where she received lots of exposure. In 1970, Millie signed with MGM Records, where she stayed briefly. The soulful songstress then moved to a lesser-known label Spring Records, based in New York City. Millie’s first single was A Child of God (It’s Hard to Believe), released in 1971; it reached the number 22 spot on the R&B charts.
The year 1972 brought about a huge change for Millie when her follow-up hit song Ask Me What You Want reached the number 4 spot on the R&B Top Ten singles chart. Millie’s next chart-topper was My Man, A Sweet Man; this reached the number 7 spot. Millie’s 1973 hit cover of (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right, caused quite a stir. In the middle of the song, she starts talking about being the “other woman” in a relationship, and loving it. The protests put her on the path to stardom. The soulful siren continued to ride a wave of successful hits with I Miss You Baby, Breakaway, and Hurts So Good. She also received a cowriter’s credit on her early hits.
When the sexy and charismatic legend released her Caught Up album, this marked the beginning of her trademark unrestricted risqué style of entertainment. She became a comedienne of sorts where she mixed a humorous cocktail of singing, along with explicit monologues.
The concoction worked!
After a long association with Spring Records that produced several Top 100 singles, Millie signed with the Jive label in the mid-80s. Two of her Jive singles, Hot! Wild! Unrestricted! Crazy Love (1986) and Love Is a Dangerous Game (1987), both wound up on the R&B Top Ten chart.
In typical bold Millie fashion, an album cover that will forever live on is Back to the S t! that depicts her sitting on a toilet implying that she is defecating. Of the many songs recorded and released by Millie over the years, her Phuck-U-Symphony remains the most re-recorded.
Over recent years, Millie has guest starred on TV shows like Martin, appeared in movies and even created, financed, directed, and starred in a ‘hit’ musical stage play that was based on one of her previous recordings, Young Man, Older Woman. She hosted a daily radio show on KKDA in Dallas, Texas, from various locations around the country. In addition, the high-voltage performer launched her own record label, Weird Wreckuds, where she had the freedom to do Millie on her own terms.
The musically mesmerizing and iconic singer, kept it all the way live as she BOLDLY discussed the incredible makings of Millie.
50BOLD: It is such an honor to interview you because you are one of my favorite performers. You are certainly an originator of many musical firsts. Your music was my guilty pleasure. And your signature laugh just sets the tone for this interview.
Millie: (laughs) I don’t know about being an originator of many musical firsts.
50BOLD: What was it like growing up in the Jackson household?
Millie: At around age nine or ten, I was down on a farm with my daddy who was a farmer. He was working on his second wife. (laughs)
50BOLD: (laughs) You’ve really carved out a reputation for yourself. You’re someone who is candid, and you certainly pull no punches. Have any of your songs ever gotten you into trouble?
Millie: WHAT! Most of my songs have gotten me into trouble which is why most of them weren’t played on the air.
50BOLD: Well, back-in-the-day a few of your songs couldn’t get airplay.
Millie: Now this is a true story. I recorded a song that I wanted out as a single but the record company disagreed. So, I recorded a song that I knew would not get any airplay. I refused to edit out all the curse words in the song. My partner and producer Brad Shapiro was then asked to remove all of the explicit four letter words in the song and there were 52 of them! After the task was done, the radio station refused to play the song which now had 52 bleeps instead of curse words. (laughter) So the original recording that I wanted released to begin with, won out in the end.
50BOLD: What a great story! I once heard you described as the Ann Landers of songs, what does this mean?
Millie: I have no idea! I didn’t even know I was the Ann Landers of songs.
50BOLD: Well, I think the Ann Landers reference means that you have doled out love lessons, advice, through all of your recordings.
Millie: I’d say that my songs were more about telling men off. Can you believe, there were men who would not allow my records to be played in their home! And if the women back-in-the-day were pissed at their men, they’d play Millie Jackson songs loudly on a record player.
50BOLD: So very true! I remember my siblings and I would sneak and play your records when my parents were not home.
Millie: People tell me now that they secretly listened to my records because they weren’t allowed to do so. (laughs)
50BOLD: All you were doing with your music was just offering good advice on how to be a happier person.
Millie: You know I was giving relationship advice in a language that I assumed Black women could relate to. So, to make them listen, I said it exactly how I felt it.
50BOLD: Speaking of love, weren’t you married for a short time?
Millie: I was married for an entire 11 months. I feel like the first year of marriage should be the honeymoon period. But, what if a relationship is falling apart before a first anniversary? Well, I got a divorce from my husband and we certainly didn’t make that first anniversary.
50BOLD: You are lit but in a good way, where does your fire come from?
Millie: I was an only child, and a tomboy. As I mentioned, my daddy was a farmer who made his own corn liquor. I was the water girl for the cotton field workers. And my father just let me do, what I wanted because I was his baby and a girl. On the weekends, we had the hang out house. I was pouring corn liquor shots for 50 cents at like 9 or 10 years old. But that was then…. And the music we were exposed to was all country because we were in the country. If I wanted to hear an R&B song, I had to order a record from Randy’s Record Mart in Nashville. So, everybody came to our house on Saturday and Sunday to hang out because we had all the latest records and corn liquor.
50BOLD: Now, you’re an originator, as stated earlier. You are the original bad girl of a few different genres of music–progressive soul, blues and even rap.
Millie: I had the first pop record, but I did not know this. As far as rap, I just felt like I was the female version of Isaac Hayes or Barry White because I also liked talking on a record. You know, I never had voice lessons of any kind. As far as talking on a record, I learned that if I felt I was losing my audience, I’d make a joke about someone in the crowd.
50BOLD: So, your gift for talking to folks in the audience was kind of accidental?
Millie: Not necessarily accidental but OK, I’ll give you an example of how my talking on songs came about. My first show was at the Crystal Ball Room on 125th Street in Harlem. I didn’t get paid for the show. I spent two weeks of my salary to buy an outfit for the performance. One of the gentlemen who was also performing at the ballroom, booked a gig in Hoboken, New Jersey. The gentleman felt sorry for me because the Harlem gig wasn’t paying me, so he took me to Hoboken with him. I sang three songs and one of them was B. B. King’s, Rock Me Baby. The gentleman suggested that I add something to the King song. So I got to thinking and came up with, “One and one is two. Two and two is four, put it on me baby, I want a little bit more,” I was wiggling my butt as I was saying the words and that got ‘em all.
50BOLD: Love it! Okay tell me, how scary was it being in your shoes at the height of you fame because you spoke your truth and used a few good curse words?
Millie: No! I was never scared or bothered by nothing! I’ve talked so much trash! Men who would tell their women what not to do, couldn’t tell me what not to do because they were semi-afraid of me. (laughter)
50BOLD: I’m sure they were Miss Millie!
Millie: Listen, I know how to shoot. My daddy taught me how to shoot. For recreation on the weekends, you know what we did? We’d get match sticks, the ones you strike on a box. We’d push those matches into a tree trunk. The one who could strike the most matches with their rifle would win the contest.
50BOLD: So, I guess practicing with the match sticks made you a good shot?
Millie: Oh, I was a very good shot. In fact, about 15 years ago I think it was, I went down to Don ‘DC’ Curry and his brother’s farm outside of Atlanta here. I wanted to get some shooting practice in, so I took all my guns with me. We went out in the yard and everything to practice shooting. I also had a magnum that a boyfriend of mine had left at my home. I stole it from him because I was scared he was going to do something with it. The gun belonged to his grandfather and I knew it was not going to leave him. He told me he had gone to the pawn shop to get rid of all his guns.
Anyway, I tore the house up until I found the gun and hid it from him. He couldn’t ask me where the gun was because he had supposedly gotten rid of it. That magnum was so heavy, but I learned how to shoot it. When shooting with a rifle, I can hit the second ‘C’ in Coca Cola from 100 yards away.
50BOLD: Most of your songs have love related themes despite their funny titles like Muffle the Fart/I’m Still Waiting, Ugly Men, and Slow Tongue.
Millie: I didn’t write those songs, but I sure performed them, didn’t I! (laughs)
50BOLD: You sure did! Tell me, how hard is it to love Millie Jackson? You appear to be that strong Black woman who doesn’t need a man.
Millie: Well, you have to ask the men who know me that question. Is it hard to love me? Well, I’m a very nice person; I really am. And I’ve just always had my own money, my own ideas of who I’m supposed to be, and I’ve remained true to myself, you know. I can cook my ass off, and I don’t have a housekeeper. I clean my own house because if I pay you to come clean my house, you do as I say, or get your ass out! And I got tired of people not listening, so I don’t have a housekeeper.
50BOLD: I love your song Phuck U Symphony! How did the song come to be?
Millie: A musician in New York who was working with me put together the music for the song. I did the cut as a joke. It was a funny combination of Beethoven’s 5th and 8th symphony music. I used to laugh about the song. I also felt bad about the song because the musician put together the symphony music and all I contributed was two words–“phuck you!”
50BOLD: Well, I think “Phuck You” should be our National Anthem right about now!
Millie: Well, I’ve made more money off that song because rap artists use it and have to pay me.
50BOLD: Another one of my favorite Millie Jackson songs–“Now that I got your attention again, I wanna get right to the point. Hey, you over there with the braids in your hair. Sucker put out the joint! Say ho! (Ho!). Here we go. I got your attention again. I wanna speak to you about white girls, on the arms of our Black men….”
Millie: Yeah, yeah, that was another song that I did because I saw a problem. I had a contract to do two albums a year and had nothing to talk about. The record company was bugging me about doing an album. So, I was on a bus heading to a gig, bored to death, and reading Jet magazine. I continued reading and then, I come across our gangster ball player, O.J. Simpson with his white wife. And I go…“Well damn!” Seeing O.J. with a white woman didn’t bother me because he wasn’t my cup of tea anyway. I kept reading and when I almost get to the back of the book, I see that Richard Roundtree is married to a white woman! “OH, HELL NO!” I decided that after reading that Jet issue I knew what I’d be talking about on my record and writing the lyrics took all of 10 minutes! Seeing Shaft with a white woman did it!
50BOLD: (laughs) Shut your mouth! If he only knew…. Do you still not give a damn about what folks think of you?
Millie: I really don’t give a damn about what people think of me. The funny thing about it all now is that men like me too.
50BOLD: Oh, we liked you before. We may not have liked what you’ve said, but we liked you, nonetheless.
Millie: I mean, men actually like me now. They even tell me that they like me now.
50BOLD: How difficult was it being a performer back in the day? You were definitely in a lane by your lonesome musically. You can’t really be compared to any other Black female songstress. However, when I listen to some of your songs, I do hear a little Gladys Knight.
Millie: I couldn’t get away from that Gladys sound! It’s that Georgia peach sound in both our voices. We are both from Georgia, you know. And I love Gladys Knight. I see her now and tell her, “You’re the reason I’m going straight to hell, cause I had to curse to get rid of you.” In fact, I would perform Gladys Knight songs, then begin rapping to get away from her musical style. (laughs)
50BOLD: Wow, you know I’m wondering, will there ever be a Millie Jackson story on the silver screen?
Millie: I’m working on that right now. I’ve got one hell of a long way to go though.
50BOLD: Do you have an exercise program that you follow because you look phenomenal at 75 years young.
Millie: You know, even though I was serving corn liquor as a child, I didn’t like the taste of it. I also never did drugs. Doing all that stuff takes a toll on how you look! Here’s a story for you. On my 29th birthday, I had a party at my Brooklyn apartment. All these people were at my house. My drummer told me that since it was my birthday, I should have a hit of reefer. I took two puffs of the reefer and woke up the next morning. All my guests were gone; I had slept through my birthday party! I realized that reefer was not for me because I would never be able to perform on stage.
50BOLD: What is life like for Millie Jackson these days? What makes you smile?
Millie: Watching TV makes me smile! (laughs)
50BOLD: Anything in particular?
Millie: I watch a lot of TV. I still watch shows the Young and Restless and General Hospital.
50BOLD: I know you had a radio show in Texas. Would you consider doing radio again?
Millie: I quit radio about five or six years ago and the station was sold to some Koreans, I think. If you dial my radio station now you’ll hear Korean! (laughs)
50BOLD: Your signature laugh, I tell you.
Millie: I did radio for 12 years. And for the last few years, I was on it five days a week from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm, excluding weekends.
50BOLD: Aside from your daughter, what is your greatest accomplishment?
Millie: My son!
50BOLD: Your daughter Keisha is your mini-me. I mean she looks just like you, and sounds just like you.
Millie: The only difference between my daughter and I is that she’s younger and sings better than I do. I had on-the-job training and my daughter studied music in college.
50BOLD: What is the likelihood of the two of you working on a project together.
Millie: Well, Keisha used to sing background for me until I fired her!
50BOLD: Oh, you fired her?
Millie: Yeah, I fired Keisha because she would come late to rehearsals! Keisha felt that since she was my daughter, she didn’t have to get to rehearsals on time. She’d have the band sitting and waiting on her! Oh no, no, NO!
50BOLD: You do not play! So tell me, do you still perform?
Millie: Yeah, but I’m semi-retired. Last year in 2019, I did two concerts and the Tom Joyner cruise. In 2018, I only did two concerts period. People are bugging me to perform again. My band has been with me since the beginning, some of them. And I’m not going to work without my band. A lot of these new artists bring tapes with them when they perform and I’m not going to do so. If I get paid, my band gets paid.
50BOLD: Is there a particular artist you like to listen to?
Millie: I only listen to country music and turn on a radio, only when I’m driving. My car is ten years old and it does not even have 10,000 miles on the odometer yet. (laughs)
50BOLD: It’s just unfortunate that you don’t get the honors I think you deserve as a pioneer in the music business. You came before the bad girls of rap like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. I mean had there been no Millie Jackson…
Millie: But I have been given props. For a 1999 ad, the Coca-Cola company ran a campaign called “The 5 Deadly Women,” which featured Roxanne Shanté, Eve, Amil, Mia X, and Angie Martinez. They included me in the campaign, they determined that I had the first female rap record with a song that was a play on Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang. I made fun of rappers like the Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow. Up until then, I thought that Roxanne Shanté was the first female rapper. She wasn’t, but she is one of “The 5 Deadly Women.”
50BOLD: You have a comedic gift, what about a comedy show?
Millie: Everybody keeps asking when am I going to do my comedy show. I would have to get my band together. My drummer who had been with me since 1978 passed away. So a comedy show would take planning but people sure keep asking me all the time.
50BOLD: Tell me, do you have dates set up for any future performances?
Millie: Nothing planned yet for future dates. I actually received some proposals for performances but I haven’t accepted them yet because they are in Spain, England and Maryland. So, I am trying to decide.
50BOLD: Well if you do perform nearby and I hear about it, you’ll have Russell Wilson, one of your biggest fans, in the audience for sure!