An Old-Fashioned Torch Singer, Miki Howard Covers the 'Waterfront'

Film director Spike Lee--stubborn?

"That's putting it mildly," says singer Miki Howard huffily.

She should know. Playing legendary torch singer Billie Holiday in a nightclub scene in Lee's "Malcolm X," Howard thought the best song to perform would be Holiday's classic "Strange Fruit." But Lee preferred the obscure "I Cover the Waterfront."

Was there room for argument?

"Absolutely none," says Howard, who does a terrific job with that atmospheric oldie.

But, she emphasizes, she's not knocking Lee. "That was a big break for me," says Howard, who was chosen both because she looks like Holiday and can sing like her too--regularly performing a medley of the late singer's classics in her show. "I can't tell you how many people now recognize me from the movie."

Another prominent black director, John Singleton, was impressed enough to give her a small role in his upcoming second movie, "Poetic Justice."

But, Howard says, enough about her acting. "It's nice to do on the side but I'm a singer first and foremost," she insists.

The daughter of gospel singers and a Chicago native, Howard, 30, has been singing since she was 15. She has seven albums to her credit--three with a group and four solo, including her current "Femme Fatale," her first for Giant Records. Though she calls herself a torch singer--just like Holiday--Howard is versatile, performing everything from up-to-the-minute funk to heavily orchestrated '30s and '40s pop songs.

Despite critical raves, Howard's singing career has been, she jokes, in underdrive.

While not a pop blockbuster, her "Femme Fatale" album did make the R&B; Top 10 and has established her as a force in that market. "I think I'm finally in a situation where more and more people will find out what I really can do."

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