Paula’s father kicked her out when she was sixteen. That’s when he found out she was sleeping with a Black piano player ten years her senior. When Paula called her mother, her mother was made it even clearer. She said, “You are dead to me, you whore.”
Paula moved in with the piano player and lived with him for two years or so. He taught her to be a jazz singer while she worked as a cashier in a supermarket to earn her keep. The piano player said she was a natural and he was right.
Paula never learned to read music. Didn’t have to. As soon as she heard a song, she knew it and started to put her own style on it. The first time Paula made up her own song, she was just a couple of months over her seventeenth birthday. The piano player wrote it down, went to an agent, and sold it as his own. He did this a few times, until Paula figured out what was up, tracked down the agent, and complained. The agent took one look at this punk-ass teenage kid and kicked her out. The piano player threatened to beat her up.
“You shut up, you little bitch or I’ll beat the shit out of you. And get busy writing more music or I take a coat hanger to your ass.”
Paula didn’t say anything. She got up, smiled and, then, punched the piano player in the mouth. Then, she took off. She went straight to her cousin, Seymour, who happened to be a cop. Even though they were just cousins and Paula’s father had banned everyone in the family from having anything to do with Paula, that didn’t apply to Seymour. He had always seen Paula as his little sister. So, he took her in and went to see the agent who was buying Paula’s songs. At first the agent wasn’t having any of the story. But when Seymour took out his detective’s badge, the agent got a lot more helpful, especially when Seymour started talking about “exploitation of a minor.” And when Seymour said there might be a few more of Paula’s songs ready to go, the agent got even more helpful.
The first thing agent did was get on the phone. He knew just who to call. There was a music director, a studio for auditions, someone to transcribe Paula’s music, some other folks in the business, He made one other call – to this big guy named Jackson. Jackson is a bouncer by trade and, when he can get an assignment, he’ll work as a bodyguard. When the piano player Paula had been living with showed up at the agent’s office, he met Jackson. Jackson suggested he leave by the fastest means possible. No one’s seen that particular piano player since.
And from that time onward, everyone who was anyone in the music business knows Paula and her music.
That was all a long time ago. Paula’s been talking about retiring. But she can’t help doing a weekly set at a local club and, last year, she wrote the music and some of the lyrics for a movie. She’s been married to the same guy since she was 25 and they have three great kids. Her family, Seymour aside, is another story. When asked about them, Paula says, “They’re all dead a long time ago.”
But she lives in the same town she grew up in. And every now and then, Paula tells her driver to go by the house where she spent her childhood.