Old connection brings star to borough

Photo Courtesy of Ron Richardson
Singer Melba Moore is scheduled to appear at the Women’s Club of Glen Ridge.

Trisha Turiano, the music department chair at the Women’s Club of Glen Ridge, is very happy.

This is because next week, on the club stage, Hollywood Walk of Fame star recipient Melba Moore will be appearing.

Turiano has waited for this. Her desire to have the three-time Grammy nominee and Tony Award winner come to the borough began several years ago. The spark was that Turiano knew Moore and Kathleen Gaffney, a club member and retired long-time borough music teacher, were classmates and good friends at Montclair State University, then Montclair State Teachers College. Both young women set out to become educators, but their paths diverged dramatically.

“Kathleen had told me about her friendship with Melba,” Turiano said, “and we thought it would be great to see if we could get her to the club someday. But that was during the pandemic. It was a goal of mine that we make it happen before I left chairing the music department. It is a bit of a homage to Kathleen as she gave the gift of music to so many of our children for so many years.”

In college, Gaffney was Moore’s piano accompanist for her singing recitals.

“We were very close,” Gaffney said last week in her Cambridge Road home. “I haven’t been in touch with her for years, but she was a sweetheart. Both her mother and father were musicians and her father would always come to the recitals. He raved about my skills. I told him when he heard us, Melba and I were playing as one and that’s why he was so enamored. But my playing improved because of Melba.”

Moore, who was born in Harlem and grew up in Newark, attended Arts High School and commuted to college. Gaffney was born in Ventnor, a residential section of Atlantic City. She attended Atlantic City High School and resided on-campus at college.

“It took Melba over an hour to get to school,” Gaffney said. “I went home with her a few times. I don’t know how she did it. But when we had an exam, she stayed with me.”
Their musical partnership lasted into senior year when Moore began to often perform away from school to establish her career. Moore told this newspaper that her Glen Ridge appearance will include reminiscences about Montclair State, her life and career.

She appeared in the original production of “Hair,” eventually replacing Diane Keaton. In 1970, she won a Tony Award for featured actress in the musical “Purlie” and has released over two dozen albums. She will sing at the club accompanied by pre-recorded tracks. But she said if “Kathy” wanted to perform together again, they would.
“We haven’t done anything since college days,” Moore said, “but we’re going to have a good time.”

She said her parents — her mother was a singer and her father a big band leader — did not want her to follow in their steps.

“They wanted me to be a public school music teacher,” she said. “It would be a more stable and secure career and less exposure to racism when traveling around. They were disappointed I wanted to be an entertainer. They loved that I was going into music, but not to make an occupation out of it.”

Gaffney, who retired in 2006, taught in the Glen Ridge district for 40 years.

“I really believe I was blessed with my profession,” she said. “I was always excited when the school year was about to begin.”

She taught general music education to fifth- to eighth-graders. In the higher grades, where music was an elective, she taught chorus.

“All the lower grades had music class,” she said, remembering colleague Cindy Barrow who taught music to kindergarten to fourth-grade students. Gaffney married in 1965 and had two children, a boy and a girl. She divorced in 1983 and did not remarry.

“Once is enough,” she said.

And while Moore’s career ascended, although not under a spotlight, so did Gaffney’s. She went back to school and received two masters degrees, on fellowships, from the Teachers College at Columbia University.

‘“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “The advanced degrees added to my salary and also helped with my pension. How could a single woman live and stay in this house? I also had my mother’s help. She was somebody and a spitfire.”

Gaffney displayed a framed certificate designating her mother as the 1964 NJ State Mother of the Year, selected by the American Mothers Committee, an organization initiated by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Moore said she will sing a song from “Hair” and others identified with her. But the upcoming gig is new territory.

“This is the first time I’ll be performing at a women’s club,” she said.

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Retired Glen Ridge music teacher Kathleen Gaffney

Melba Moore will appear Friday, June 7, at 8 p.m. Ticket information can be obtained at: infor@womensclubglenridge.com or by calling 973-748-5459. Doors open at 7:15 p.m.