The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter speaks on returning to the big screen to portray the “Queen of Disco” in Timothy Bogart’s Spinning Gold.
It will always be of great importance to tell stories about women — especially the unsung heroes who made big things happen without receiving their eternally overdue flowers. We saw it with Hidden Figures through Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monae portraying three Black women who were essential to sending astronauts into orbit. We got to know the story of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom through Viola Davis embodiment of the titular character, one of the most influential singers in jazz and blues, alongside the late Chadwick Boseman and Taylour Paige.
Now, we have the pleasure of diving deeper into the story of “Queen of Disco” Donna Summer as originated by singer-songwriter Tayla Parx in the new film Spinning Gold upon its theatrical release on March 31.
Parx was personally contacted by Spinning Gold writer and director Timothy Bogart, son of the film’s central protagonist, Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart. she said that he may have first received her contact information from his brother, Grammy-winning songwriter Evan Bogart, with whom she has collaborated in the past. The director and his team made what she described as “random” proposition to take part in the film, as she was in the midst of a hiatus from acting to focus on her music career.
Parx entertained the idea and agreed to read the script. The rest is history.
“I read the script and I was able to be a fan of these artists in a very different way. Of course, I know the music as a musician and a student of my craft, but to be able to learn more about how these artists became these artists and to see more of the background behind it and seeing that in the script, it made me extremely excited,” Parx told Boardroom.
Once on board, Parx found herself connect closely with Summer’s journey as a Black woman in the music industry, especially as it related to the hustle and grind of breaking into a competitive, male-dominated space. “I really, really related to the fact that she was just extremely adamant on making it no matter what she had to do,” she said.
From her foundation as a child born LaDonna Gaines to a musical journey that took her to Germany, Spinning Gold explores Summer’s path in its entirety as she ventures through the trials of self-discovery as a female artist.
“It’s not like she had a mother or father who did music; they came from very different backgrounds,” she said. “To be able to find the people that believe in you and to keep going, that was something that I really related to in that aspect. In anything you enter in entertainment or freelancing, no matter what you have to believe in yourself. That’s something that to be able to share that together was awesome.”
Before she adopted the handle Tayla Parx, her “Tayla Tots” — alliterative shorthand for her fans — knew her better by her birth name of Taylor Parks as she made guest appearances on teen shows like Victorious and True Jackson, VP alongside best friend and millennial mogul Keke Palmer. Most notable for her breakout role in 2007 movie musical Hairspray as Little Inez Stubs in an all-star cast alongside Queen Latifah, John Travolta, Zac Efron, Elijah Kelly, and Amanda Bynes, Parks admitted that returning the focus on acting chops was a bit more difficult than she’d anticipated because of how much she has grown as an artist since her last on-camera gig.
“It’s definitely challenging because even what I represent as a female artist. I represent a different line of sensuality and sexuality in my music. I know that my Tayla Tots are gonna see me in a very different dress that they would never see me in my own artistry,” she said with a laugh.
Parx continued to explain how playing Summer allowed her to embrace her femininity through fashion and style, which she has been grateful for alongside the opportunity to pay homage to the late singer.
“To challenge myself and step into that type of character was something really, really beautiful, especially because I knew that my fans had been asking like, Okay, when are you gonna go back on screen? I’d only been doing voiceovers for all this time, but I wanted to make sure it was gonna be something that was really gonna inspire me and this story was extremely inspiring because I was able to be a fan all over again,” she said.
In addition to Parx being cast as the late Queen of Disco, Bogart intentionally sought after top artists of today across pop, hip-hop, and alternative genres of music to represent the past roster and key figures from Neil Bogart’s (Jeremy Jordan) Casablanca Records. The cast also includes Grammy and Golden Globe nominee Wiz Khalifa as George Clinton, multi-Grammy Award winner Ledisi as Gladys Knight, Jason Derulo as Ron Isley, and Pink Sweat$ as Bill Withers.
From Parx’s perspective, it all amounted to an excellent opportunity for artists like herself to walk in the shoes of those who paved the way for where they are today in the industry.
“I think it was really awesome because you’re getting out of yourself and you’re really happy to act. We don’t often see musicians who can step out of themselves as artists. It’s very, very hard to do because you’re so used to being this artist, and it’s most of the times a character in itself,” Parx said of stepping out of one’s own artistry and into the mind of another. “So, when you’re having to do the work of stepping into ‘how does this person sing,’ I was very impressed because it’s a moment to get away from yourself and it forces you to do that. You know what you wouldn’t have to really do if you weren’t playing an artist and just playing a character that’s made up.”
As for Summer specifically, it was not a difficult task to step into character as an acclaimed singer-songwriter herself dominating the pop space from behind-the-scenes and with the mic turned on. In her journey to embody and celebrate Summer, Parx was not only in awe learning that she was the pen behind so many hits at Casablanca Records but she was able to break into a genre of music that wasn’t originally devised for Black and brown women to take over.
“She was a singer-songwriter writing a lot of hits when that [was] very rare, but also, it is very hard for a Black person to be a pop star, and I say that because we are put in all of these boxes constantly,” the “Dance Alone” singer told Boardroom. “For her to do that in the 70s and the 80s, that’s a very, very, very different thing and very impressive. Honestly, it led the way for every person who would be kind of in that pop R&B era. She was pop R&B before that was really a thing. That was really cool to have that reminder, honestly, because then I would see the way that she would use her voice and it was a great moment to be able to just learn again.”
Beyond Donna Summer, expect Parx to continue to call on every one of us to honor women across the history of modern music before their times are up — especially Black women, queer women, and women of color.
“Man, it’s important to give them their flowers because when you do that, you allow space for the next iconic woman to come,” she said. “If you don’t give them their flowers, these stories eventually disappear. These stories eventually fade away with time and we miss out on a really key opportunity for the next generation to take and learn from those experiences and help evolve them and push forward opportunities for people that look like us, that sound like us in every single way and aspect.”
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