“Help him, Lord.” Alisa Peoples uttered those three word at least 5 times during the course of our interview, as her lifelong friend (and husband of more than 23 years) carried on about how Halle Berry, Gabrielle Union and Tatyana Ali were his ‘girlfriends’ and let loose a stream of various other mischievous comments. “When I get to Heaven, I ought to get a crown AND some jewels” she sighed at one point.
When Cavin Yarbrough and Alisa Peoples met as pre-schoolers singing in their church choir, they had no idea they would still be singing together a lifetime later. Theirs is a real-life fairy tale that continues to this day. We recently caught up with the couple by telephone at their Dallas-area home.
The two began writing songs together as pre-teens, but, says Alisa (Lois to her friends and family) “We grew up, he went his way, and I went my way…” At this point, Cavin, who has picked up the extension in another room, prepares to launch into a ‘what had happened’ story about their back-in-the-day breakup. His wife warns him: “Don’t make me start telling the truth. Don’t forget, we’re talking to the media!” With that, the reminiscing (together with almost non-stop laughter) begins.
By the late 1970s, Cavin Yarbrough was playing with a local band called Grand Theft, while Lois was working a regular 9 to 5. Charlie Wilson of the wildly popular Gap Band happened to catch one of Yarbrough’s performances and invited him to join the Gap Band and Leon Russell on tour. Yarbrough returned to Dallas after the tour, and resumed his gig with Grand Theft. At a club date one night, Peoples took the stage, sang her little highness off, and you can probably guess what happened next. But if you can’t guess, here it is: Upon Charlie Wilson’s next trip to Dallas, Yarbrough passed Wilson a tape of Cavin and Lois performing together, and shortly thereafter, they were signed to Total Experience Records.
In 1981, their first of several hit singles, Don’t Stop The Music actually bumped their good friends The Gap Band and their hit Burn Rubber out of the number one R&B singles chart position. Yarbrough and Peoples' first dance anthem would go on to become a million-seller and was also nominated for the Grammy. Incidentally, Don't Stop The Music was the last song to be played on the final airing of The Midnight Special. To this day Don’t Stop The Music has been and is still covered by other artists; most recently, R&B crooner (and Halle Berry's ex-husband) Eric Benet.
Yarbrough and Peoples enjoyed continued success with a string of hit singles including Don’t Waste Your Time, Heartbeats, Guilty and I Wouldn’t Lie. But in the late 1980s, Total Experience folded, and Mr. and Mrs. Yarbrough returned to Dallas. They eventually formed their own production company, where they help talented, young, up-and coming artists get a foothold in the industry. They also produce commercial jingles that sometimes get airplay here at home, but that body of their work is more widely known in the UK, where they always had a tremendous fan base. And, they are putting the finishing touches on not one, but two new CD’s. One is a gospel CD, and the other, says Cavin, “we’re not even putting a name (genre) on it”, noting that its content is richly diverse, and their fans will be pleasantly surprised.
The couple also just returned from a 7 week off-Broadway run of Blind Lemon Blues. Their performances in this internationally acclaimed musical have won copious praise - a review from the San Francisco Chronicle gushes terms like “brilliant”, “inspired,” and “impressive." Blind Lemon Blues is based on the true story of blues pioneer Blind Lemon Jefferson (who was discovered in Dallas' Deep Ellum district), and the pair has appeared in this production “off and on for about 10 years.” The show toured Europe a few years ago (their touring company originally included dear friends and fellow Dallas area Divas Sheran Keyton, Benita Arterberry as well as Walter Fauntleroy) with the show’s lead character/musical arranger/playwright/director Akin Babatunde , and in the most recent run, Peoples was the show’s co-musical arranger. When they are not touring overseas and playing in the off-Broadway production, the couple often does ‘mini-productions’ of the show in local schools.
Cavin and Lois are good friends with another high-profile husband-wife team, Ashford and Simpson. Of the singer-songwriter legends, (who also met in church, and were ‘just friends’ for several years before finally tying the knot) Cavin and Lois say, almost in unison “they are very nice, very cool people. Each time we go to New York we try to take the time to hang with them for a bit.”
Back home in Dallas, Cavin notes that, with all their new and on-going projects, the two of them are pretty much “tied down to the studio.” They still sing at local spots from time to time, and can often be seen – and heard – funking things up at Ovation Dining and Entertainment in Fort Worth.
What are Yarbrough and Peoples really like? In a word, devoted. Obviously, they’re still devoted to their craft, and to their family and friends (they lend their scorching hot vocals as background singers on friend Candy Williams’ soon-to-be released CD). Most of all, they are devoted to each other, and to God. The two are passionate, yet never preachy, when sharing about their Christian faith. When I mention that perhaps her husband’s constant kidding around is a contributing factor to their lasting, harmonious (no pun intended) relationship, Lois agrees. “My daddy told me that, if you can laugh in the midst of any situation, you’ve already got it (opposition) beat." She adds that in the current state of the world, people should "find reasons to laugh."
Currently, their favorite collaboration involves their work at their church, North Park CME. Lois, who is the congregation’s music director, is especially excited about her upcoming Choir Day and workshop, and wants to welcome everyone who is interested in either singing in the workshop choir or attending the choir’s performance. Yarbrough and Peoples are still, more than 40 years after they met, making beautiful music together.
Yarbrough and Peoples invite all those who are interested in participating in their gospel choir workshop to register and attend rehersal sessions on November 19th, 20th and 21st. The choir's performance will be presented on Sunday, November 22nd at 3:30 p.m.
Rehersals and the final performance will be held at North Park CME Church, located at 6725 Tyree Street, Dallas, Texas 75209. For registration or other details, call the church at 214.351.4276 or visit their website at www.northparkcme.org.