Q&A: Karyn White: A ‘Superwoman’ Taking the World by Storm on Her Own Terms

Imagine rising up the Billboard charts with hits such as “Superwoman,” “Secret Rendezvous,” “The Way You Love Me,” and “Romantic,” with music titans like Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, L.A. Reid, and Babyface crafting the soundtrack before stepping away from the spotlight. After a nearly two-decade hiatus, R&B singer Karyn White is back, equipped with more than just her vocal prowess, but now she can add actress, scriptwriter, and executive producer to her resume as she takes the next phase of her career into her own hands and on her own terms.

Gale & The Storm is Ms. White’s first feature film. She stars as the lead character, co-wrote the script, and executive produced the film. The movie is about a legendary funk singer who at the height of her career walks away from the industry thanks to feelings of betrayal. She meets a successful music producer who eventually helps get her back into the game. White also released the soundtrack, Gale & The Storm: Bringing Back the Funk that is an album full of throwback 70s funk and soul sounding songs.

She most recently had a role in the Centric series, “Beauty & The Baller” playing the ex-wife of a professional athlete.

I had the opportunity to chat with the singer about coming back into the entertainment industry after a 17-year hiatus, her new film Gale & The Storm, and the 30th anniversary of her self-titled debut album Karyn White.

Shameika: You took a lengthy hiatus from the music industry. Did you think that you would come back around to entertainment or had you been planning a return? What were you doing during the years you were away from the spotlight?

Karyn White: Honestly, I would be lying if I said I thought I’ll just take a break and raise my daughter then get back into the business. That would be the craziest plan. First of all, we all know the music business is about the now, so you have to keep constantly grinding or putting out records or people will be like who is that? I really went through a dark period in my life. I went through a divorce, my mother passed, and all of this was at the same time. I was also raising my daughter.

I was very successful at reaching my goals. All through school I was really focused on wanting to be an entertainer, so I was really honestly working towards that since I was 14 years old and then it happened for me at 18 with my first record contract. I didn’t really like who I was becoming, I felt like is this success? I felt like I was losing myself, I took a lot of stuff for granted, success happened for me so fast. I was trying to regroup, so it kind of happened that while I was regrouping, I looked up and time was just going by. I was becoming more insecure about coming back as time went on. I started to second guess myself. Everybody thinks that once you’ve had success you should have all this confidence.

In the meantime, let me tell you what I was doing because this is rare because most artists don’t start other businesses.  I became an investor. I was flipping homes before it really became popular. I would buy these homes in these beautiful areas that were foreclosed. Then I would take over the note, go in and finish building them and make them beautiful, and sell them. I did that for a few years. I was making great money before the market crashed. I was still that person, very goal driven. I knew to be a singer or at the level that I was on, I mean when I left the business I was peaking and if I had stayed I could have been as big as Mary J. Blige. But I didn’t feel like I was strong enough and I didn’t want to compromise myself of my daughter. It wasn’t drugs or alcohol or anything it was just a battle with myself.

I really feel like I was preserved, because coming back I feel so young! I really feel like God preserved for me this time.

Shameika: You look amazing! Spill those beauty secrets!

Karyn White: To go a step further, forgiveness. I believe in when you are walking in love and not holding that anger that people have when life lets you down and you let yourself down, it can start showing up in your body.  I believe that having forgiveness and having that childlike spirit keeps me young and keeps me fresh. Of course, also doing physical exercising, and I love the results. I do Pilates, weight lifting, and train, so I try to make sure I exercise 4-6 times a week. The less you eat the less your stomach has to work. It helps you look younger and not age you faster. I started doing more fasting and eating healthier, and the last six months I’ve become a vegan. I’ve seen a huge difference in my skin.  I drink a lot of water, no sodas.

Shameika: Talk about  your filmGale & The Storm.  Is this your first project that you have actually written and starred in?

Karyn White: I’m so courageous. You have to know your strength and weaknesses, I’m not fearful. It can open you up and you realize you can do it, you can dream it, you can do it. Gale & The Storm is my first time writing a feature film. I co-wrote it with my partner Derrick Muhammad. It’s loosely based on my life. It’s funny, people call it like a Love Jones type of Tarantino type of film. It’s got a quirkiness to it which I love. I took acting lessons after I took that 17- year hiatus. I trained with the best acting teachers that coached Halle Berry, Brad Pitt, and Beyoncé. I’ve been taking vocal lessons again, and picking up that instrument again in your 40s and hearing music different now, so my vocals are so much better. It’s so much fun. I’m 52 but I don’t believe it because I don’t feel like that. We had a premiere in Sacramento to a sold-out audience. You can watch the film online by renting or purchasing it.

Shameika: The Gale & The Storm soundtrack is a throwback. Can you talk about some of the songs on the soundtrack?

Karyn White: Oh yeah! We’re bringing the funk back. We wanted you guys to feel the essence of the 70s. I used independent artists, and with me being an independent artist, I used unsigned artists like Joe Leavy, Anthony ‘AK’ King, for something that Donny Hathaway would sing. I’m singing songs with an Al Green feel or like a Teena Marie, James Brown, Parliament, Bootsy Collins. I love that era of music, the 70s was dope. It was so fun. The brilliant part about it, people are seeing that movie thinking they are going to see Karyn White but you don’t see her. It’s a way for me to get out of the box of people expecting me to do the same type of music. I was able to say this is Gale Storm and put myself in it and be able to do all of these different styles. It takes me out of a box and hopefully it worked. The fans that said they would have never expected me to do and they love it. You have to evolve y’all. I know you all love “Superwoman,” but can we move on? (laughs).

 

Shameika: 2018 will mark 30 years since your debut album Karyn White was released. Do you have plans to commemorate the occasion?

Karyn White: Thank you for telling me! (laughs) I have to do a re-release on that! I will be able to get my masters back from Warner Bros. which is huge and I get to control my music. This is what Prince fought for and why some things happened with him once he got his masters back but I won’t go into that. I’m excited! I’m like I am about to get these masters back and I’m about to work this catalog! My ex-husband Terry Lewis was saying we can re-do some songs, you know the ones we worked on together, and we are definitely for owning our stuff and licensing our own music and just being in business and not just the show part.

Shameika: Who do you listen to? What albums do you have on repeat?

Karyn White: I listen to a variety. As for new school music, I love Jhene Aiko, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Jay Z, I love Beyoncé as an artist. As far as others I love Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Al Green, Sarah Vaugh, classical music, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone. I’ve fallen in love with real music again, and I just am really kind of everywhere. I still like to keep my ear to the streets, I love hip hop too.

Shameika: Why do you think it’s important to have a museum like the National Museum of African American Music that celebrates and preserves our music?

Karyn White: Knowledge of self is power. It gives you history and that’s everything, that’s what the problem is now. Our culture is very rich and if you don’t know this, then you can believe lies. I believe it’s important to have as much knowledge about self is everything.

Shameika: Fav moment in music history?

Karyn White: I would have to say what inspired me. It was seeing Michael Jackson on Motown 25. That moment inspired me to dream huge. To see that made such an impact on my life. It made me dream and it was magical.

Check out Karyn White’s website for more information.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika