High belting doesn't really excite me as much as it does some others. But, that doesn't mean I don't have some favorites. One of the all time greats is Melba Moore, who made her professional debut as Dionne in the original cast of Hair. Moore came from a musical family (her mother was singer Bonnie Davis and her father Big Band leader Teddy Hill; her stepfather and great influence was jazz pianist Clement Moorman). Moore eventually moved into the role of Sheila, a couple years into the run (replacing none other than Diane Keaton).
In 1970, she opened in a new musical based on Ossie Davis' Purlie Victorious. A light comedy with satiric edges about race relations in the Deep South, the play was about a charismatic and cunning preacher who returns to his Georgia hometown to save the church and also to get the cotton pickers out of the clutches of the mean old plantation owner (who treats the workers like slaves). The plan is to get an inheritance out of the old racist codger and use the money to help the townspeople, with the help of the plantation owner's liberal son.
The musical starred Cleavon Little as the "new-fangled preacher man Purlie Victorious Judson, and featured Sherman Hemsley, Novella Nelson, Helen Martin and Linda Hopkins. The score was written by Peter Udell and Gary Geld, the book by Udell, Davis & Philip Rose. (Davis had no actual involvement with the musical, but so much of his original work remained that Udell and Rose felt that he deserved credit).
Playing Purlie's love interest, Lutiebelle, Moore created a sensation out of town with the musical when she stopped the show with the show's title song in act one. She went over so well, that Udell and Geld wrote another song for her, which was such a sensation it would bring the show to a complete stop. The song is "I Got Love." It comes towards the middle of the first act, and begins as a quiet, plaintive reflection. But it soon explodes into one of the most joyous musical theatre numbers I've ever heard. It pops out on the original cast album, but the recording doesn't contain the alternate ending that Moore used in the theatre. (For the record, the show has one of my all time favorite opening numbers too).
Melba won the Tony for Best Featured Actress, besting Penny Fuller and Bonnie Franklin in Applause and Melissa Hart in the bomb Georgy. (Little won for Lead Actor, the show was nominated for several others including Best Musical). The success of the musical jumpstarted Moore's career as a recording artist and actress, with several successful albums and some film and TV work.
Moore returned to Broadway in 1978's reboot of Kismet called Timbuktu, but reportedly friction with co-star Eartha Kitt sent Moore packing within a few weeks after opening. She provided music and lyrics and starred in the 1981 play Inacent Black, which lasted 14 performances. Later stage work includes a Broadway stint as Fantine in Les Mis and the national tour of Brooklyn.
Here is "I Got Love" in its show stopping splendor from the 1981 telecast of Purlie, which I think is even better than her high octane performance on the 1970 Tony telecast. Much of the original cast was involved, with the noted addition of Robert Guillaume, who replaced Little on Broadway, in the title role. Oh... and she does her alternate ending here...