By Jeff Maisey
“I’m going to make you a star one day.”
A young teenaged Evelyn King was cleaning the offices of Philadelphia International Records headquarters. She came from a family of entertainers, joined her first local R&B group in Philly at age 14, and happened to be singing one day as she worked a temporary job her mother arranged for her when she was “discovered.”
“I was filling in for my sister when she was taken ill at the time,” said King. “My mom told me, ‘Let’s get in and get out.’ She was a cleaning woman and my dad worked in maintenance. While I was cleaning the men’s room I was singing — I just have a habit of singing — and when I came out Ted Life — he was a producer and songwriter — was in the hallway.
“He asked, ‘Was that you singing?’”
“I said, ‘No.’”
“He must have found my mother around the other side of the hallway. He came back around and said, ‘I knew that was you. One day I’m going to make you a star.’”
Life made good on his promise. He got Evelyn King a recording contract with RCA Records, put together some songs, recorded and produced what would be her 1977 debut album, “Smooth Talk,” when she was age 17.
From the start, Evelyn “Champagne” King was a star. The “Smooth Talk” album included the hit single “Shame,” which peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A second song, “I Don’t Know If It’s Right,” climbed the chart to #23.
Before the record album was released, “Champagne” was added between her first and last name for a less serious vibe and as a suitable stage name. It was a fitting name given her nickname from early childhood was Bubbles.
As amazing as this fairytale sounds, her musical career began even earlier.
“When I was 14, I recorded ‘Shame’ and ‘I Don’t Know If It’s Right,’” said King. “I started traveling and touring at (age) 15. My mom and dad made sure I had a tutor; they switched off as road managers. I was well protected.”
King’s father sacrificed his own dreams of being a touring musician and recording artist, and dedicated himself to helping his daughter’s career.
“He made sure that I followed the path,” said King. “He wanted all of his kids, his family to do what I was doing, but I just ended up being the one chosen.”
Evelyn “Champagne” King knew her life had changed for good a few months after her RCA recording studio sessions.
“I was at home on Appletree Street in West Philadelphia listening to the radio when I heard ‘Shame’,” she explained. “Nobody else was in the house at the time. I freaked out. I said, ‘That’s me.’ I didn’t believe T Life’s words ‘I’m going to make you a star one day.’ It was a surreal moment. I felt like a little Cinderella at that moment.”
From that point, Evelyn “Champagne” King became a full-on R&B, pop, and disco/dance recording artist, releasing new albums almost every year through 1989.
Hit singles kept coming: “Love Come Down,” “I’m in Love,” “Your Personal Touch,” and “Betcha She Don’t Love You.”
King’s popularity kept her on the road six months out of each year. She hit the road in support of groups like Parliament Funkadelics, the Bar-Kays, and Con Funk Shun. She was a frequent guest on the nationwide television music/dance shows “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand.”
Still, King said she had moments where she missed being a teenager.
“One day my mom noticed I was crying in the back of my tour bus.
“She said, ‘Are you okay?’
“I said, ‘I’m scared.’
“She said, ‘If you don’t want to do this you can turn back around because stars do fall. You can climb up and you can fall. You’re no better than anyone else.Nobody’s better than you.You do what you do, or you just go home.’”
Evelyn “Champagne” King obviously kept doing what she does.
Virginia Beach Funk Fest Beach Party
Friday, August 25 | 6:30 pm
Con Funk Shun
with Evelyn “Champagne” King and The Champagne Band
Saturday, August 26 | 6 pm
with Vivian Green and 5Starr