Rose Mallett is known for her singular voice, her striking appearance, and her frequent appearances in local clubs and theaters. The Moreno Valley resident has entertained throughout Southern California, in Las Vegas, and onscreen, and she can be seen locally at both Woody’s and the Purple Room in Palm Springs, and will be at Vicky’s of Santa Fe in Indian Wells once season begins again.
Born and raised in Chicago, Mallett, 70, knew from a very young age that she could sing—although there was concern that she would make it at all, after she was born two months premature. She weighed just 2 pounds, 7 ounces.
Her parents owned a tavern in Chicago, so Mallett grew up around music.
“Music just filtered in,” she says. “I first got interested in the stage from watching puppet shows when I was young. I started singing in the fourth-grade in the school chorus, and sang all through high school. Plus, I always sang in my church and was president of the young people’s chorus for several years.”
In junior high school, Mallett started singing as part of a rhythm and blues girl group.
“We were ‘discovered’ by (soul/R&B duo) Sam and Dave,” she recalls. “It gave us the opportunity to do a demo at Capitol Records, during the era of Lou Rawls and Martha Reeves. They offered us a contract! The three other girls in the group were all sisters, and their parents approved. But my mom said, ‘You have to decide whether to sing for the Lord or the devil.’
“That ended my career. I recognized that I was so young, and the church was a safer place to be. I thought giving up (the contract) would mean I was spiritually dedicated, so I chose the Lord. Unfortunately for the other girls, I was the lead voice, so there went the contract.”
The irony is that Mallett was molested by the pastor in that very same church.
“That took me away from the theology of the church for many years,” she says. “My mother’s resolve helped me to realize you have to love and believe in yourself.”
Mallett talks about her mother in reverent terms.
“My mom was one of 13 children in the South,” she said. “She married at 14 and worked in the fields. When they moved to Chicago, my mom ran her own kind of underground railroad, making sure the family all made it to Chicago. Then, when she moved us to California in 1960, she was again the one who paved the way for the rest of the family. She was the matriarch of the family, for sure. I learned fortitude from my mom. She was very methodical about getting things done, and she had a strong sense of survival.”
Once in Los Angeles, Mallett studied at the famous Dick Grove School of Music. “I got vocal training from Roger Love, and learned performance from Phil Moore who also taught Dorothy Dandridge and Dianne Reeves. Talk about being in good company!”
Mallett’s vocal influences were Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. “Sarah’s range and her phrasing were so amazing.”
As her life changed, Mallett didn’t sing for years. In the mid-1980s, she found herself in a situation involving domestic abuse, and was looking for an out, so she joined a community theater, the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
“My daughter was in a dance class, and there was an acting class upstairs,” she said. “One day, the director asked me if I could sing, and I ended up with my first role in a show called Earthquake.”
Mallett’s career has included shows at nightclubs and venues around the country. She has performed in Las Vegas, opening for Ben Vereen and backing up Susan Anton. She sang “I Never Think of You” in New Line Cinema’s Now and Then, and she has appeared in other films as well.
Mallett’s daughter, Monifa Burgess, is now a teacher; she also sang for a while. “She was on Soul Train!” boasts Mallett.
Mallett has been single since 2009. “I just met someone a few months ago,” she says. “I was told to try online dating. I tried for six months and hated it.
“Ironically, one of my supporters brought in a guy. He’s younger,” she laughs, coyly.
I had to ask: Do you need to have experienced the blues to sing the blues?
“So many blues songs are about loss of a lover, but I don’t think the blues is just about that,” says Mallett. “You can have that feeling from any kind of struggle. Everybody has had some kind of struggle. You don’t go through this life without some event or bad situation. … Sometimes, your life will be blue.
“It’s all about attitude. I’m a firm believer in meditation. I believe in awareness of life and in finding what I can do to overcome. It’s very important to learn how to love yourself. Looking for approval outside, you will fall … and sing the blues.
“I also listen to Cuban jazz; if I’m feeling down, it lifts me right up!”
Rose Mallett is one of the most uplifting and positive people I’ve met. Her motto is: “Ask, believe, receive. When you master believing, you have mastered your life.”
And then there’s that fabulous, uplifting voice.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.