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SoundTRAX: Táta Vega from "The Color Purple"

Whoopi Goldberg appears in silhouette on a purple background with the words "A Steven Spielberg Film" and the title "The Color Purple."
John Alvin
Warner Bros. Pictures

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

Novelist, poet and activist Alice Walker turns 79 today and chances are when you hear her name you immediately think of her landmark Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, or the subsequent film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Which gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about the soundtrack.

Where there is Spielberg, there is always acclaimed composer John Williams, right? Not this time. But an equally huge name was tapped to steer the music, both as producer and composer: the one and only Quincy Jones.

For the pivotal role of showgirl Shug Avery, it was rumored that Spielberg pursued both Tina Turner and Chaka Khan— either of which would have been fascinating— but both turned him down. (Wonder if they regret that decision now?) Sheryl Lee Ralph, Patti LaBelle, and Phyllis Hyman did audition, but actress Margaret Avery was cast instead.

However, it's not Avery's voice you hear in the film.

Táta Vega, an acclaimed vocalist who had musical theatre and several albums under her belt— not to mention a long career as a backing vocalist for the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder— sang four songs on the soundtrack, including this showstopper that was nominated for a "Best Original Song" Oscar.

In honor of Alice Walker's birthday, today's SoundTRAX is "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)" by Táta Vega from The Color Purple.

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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