Augusta singer recalls success, 'Good Times'

The eldest daughter of Alfonso and Essie Anderson never imagined a little Southern girl from Augusta would find herself touring world stages as an entertainer.

 

"I always wanted to be a social worker," said Alfa Anderson, "just like my mother was."

Instead she ended up as performing with the group Chic and singer Luther Vandross, before taking on her current career as a New York school administrator.

Although she left Augusta years ago, she still remembers growing up in a hometown that nurtured her talents.

"I never imagined being a professional singer," she said in a telephone interview from Brooklyn, N.Y. She does remember playing in her McCauley Street neighborhood near 15th Street and the Sunset Homes.

"I never referred to myself as being from the 'hood, but it was a working-class neighborhood. We didn't know we didn't have a lot," she said. Her father worked for the post office.

At Lucy C. Laney High School Ms. Anderson played saxophone, flute and piccolo.

"My mother always had a piano around our house and I took ballet and tap lessons," she said. As the oldest of four siblings, Mrs. Anderson said she led sing-alongs around the house and sang in the Antioch Baptist Church choir.

She also credits the late pianist and band-leader, Jerry Harris, for teaching her jazz and classic standards when the two played various local gigs

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After graduating from Laney in 1964, Ms. Anderson knew she had talent, but realized the benefit of a job "to fall back on." She earned a sociology and English degree from Paine College, and then moved to Harlem, N.Y., to begin a career in social work.

She still loved music and joined a band made up of fellow Laney High alumni Kenneth Brawner and Everette Brawner. The two helped her meet several New York artists, including a young crooner named Luther Vandross.

"The first time Luther opened his mouth to sing, I fell in love. We were best friends. He'd come over and we'd cook biscuits, eat and sing. He was very shy, but we had a bond. I still miss him," she said.

Mr. Vandross died in July 2005 of complications after a stroke.

It was Mr. Vandross who introduced her to bassist Bernard Edwards and guitarist Nile Rodgers, front-men and producers of Chic.

After completing graduate school at Columbia University, Ms. Anderson started teaching at Hunter College in Manhattan. She then joined Mr. Vandross' group on Cotillion Records, before joining the group Chic.

The timing was perfect. Chic exploded on pop and soul charts in 1977 taking advantage of disco's streaking popularity. Their hit songs included Dance, Dance, Dance, Le Freak and Good Times.

After Chic split up in 1981, Mr. Vandross asked Ms. Anderson to become one of his highly featured backup singers.

Also in Mr. Vandross' band was her future husband, bassist Eluriel "Tinker" Barfield. They celebrated 20 years of marriage in September. Both left the Vandross band after getting married.

Ms. Anderson still sings occasionally, but spends more time working as an administrator with the New York City School Board.

"But I'll never forget the past," she said. "Those were good times."

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.

ALFA ANDERSON

OCCUPATION: Administrator, New York City Schools; former singer and performer

MUSIC AFFILIATION: Former member of Chic and Luther Vandross' band (circa 1978-1990)

AUGUSTA ORIGINS: Graduate of Lucy Laney High School, 1964; and Paine College graduate

FAMILY: Married to Eluriel "Tinker" Barfield, with two sons; three siblings remain in Augusta area

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