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Aurra (Curt Jones & Starleana Young)
"Aurra's music is good music. You can listen and dance to it anytime. It represents harmony"
(Jennifer Ivory, 1981)

Aurra was formed in 1979 as a spin-off from Slave and originally consisted of Starleana Young (lead vocals, percussion), Curt Jones (lead vocals, guitar, percussion), Charles Carter (keyboards, flute, percussion, sax, vocals) and Buddy "Hanks" Hankerson (bass). But just like Slave, Aurra was not a group in the strict sense of the word, more like an extended family, where members from both camps collaborated freely across the borders that record contracts, managers and personal egos normally sets up.

Steve "The Fearless Leader" Washington was a key figure in Aurra's formation and direction. Steve was born in Newark and raised in East Orange, New Jersey. At fifteen, he toured with his uncle Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks of the Ohio Players during school vacations and had a band of his own with East Orange high-school buddies Mark Hicks and Tim Dozier called Black Satin Soul. When Black Satin Soul eventually fused with the Young Mystics (Floyd Miller, Mark Adams and Tom Lockett), Slave emerged. "The members of Aurra was an ever changing thing," Steve Washington wrote in an E-mail to this author in November '97. "Aurra was conceived in order to help Slave's hired personnel that toured on the road. At one time Slave stage personnel grew as large as eighteen, plus a five man road crew. Then as time went on, I hired most of my so called friends to record and tour with Aurra. Aurra actually grew to twelve on stage. Learning from James Brown and George Clinton, I looked for a label to sign my people from New Jersey. You see, Slave was primarily an Ohio connection by me because I was with the Ohio Players. Steve Arrington (lead vocalist in Slave) was actually a member of the first edition of Aurra, along with Charles 'Cedell' Carter, Curt Jones, Buddy Hanks, Starleana Young and Starleana's brothers. Slave were signed with Atlantic Records, so I got Aurra the deal with Salsoul, somewhat like what George Clinton did with signing Parliament and Funkadelic to different labels. Later, two Aurra members became the foundation for Steve Arrington's Hall Of Fame and another two became the foundation for Mtume's band. Another Aurra studio personnel formed the group known as Surface. I also aided in the signings of Young and Company (Starleana Young's brothers, plus Buddy Hankerson), Sabrina Johnston and many others from the New Jersey & Ohio regions." To make a very intricate story more comprehensible, Starleana Young and Curt Jones were the stable nucleus and fronted Aurra, but backing them was an array of talented musicians and songwriters from the mighty Slave Organization.

The sweet-voiced Starleana "Star" Young (whose distinctive vocal style, according to a 1983 Salsoul press bio, was influenced by Michael Jackson, the late Minnie Riperton and Stevie Wonder) was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in 1961 and had first started singing in the church choir when she was twelve. When her family moved to Orange, New Jersey, in 1976, Starleana joined a group called Symphonic Express, where she met her future Aurra partner Curt Jones. Curt -who was born in Linden, New Jersey in 1957- came from a highly musical family. Not only was his uncle, Hirshall Davenport, a big band leader, Curt's aunts recorded as the Davenport Sisters for Motown. Before Curt became a member of Symphonic Express, he had been the lead vocalist in Starchild, a band which toured the Top 40 clubs and concert circuit.

It was in 1977 that Steve Washington spotted Curt Jones and Starleana Young singing together in Symphonic Express. After being approached by an impressed Washington, they agreed to join the then freshly assembled Slave. Starleana Young's first appearance came on Slave's third album "The Concept" (1978), Curt Jones' on the subsequent "Just A Touch Of Love" (1979) and they were both featured on "Stone Jam" (1980). Curt and Star were obviously great vocalists, but they were accomplished song writers too and co-wrote some excellent tracks for Slave, and had a hand in the majority of Aurra's material. Sometime during this period, Starleana also made a solo record called "Heartbreaker", a brilliant Disco-Funk track which was co-written and produced by Starleana and a Joshua Thomas, together with Star's brothers William (Billy) and Mike Young. The brothers were members of the initial Aurra line-up, but had shortly before or after the recording of Aurra's debut LP formed their own group Young & Company. They enjoyed a U.K Top20 hit with the irresistible "I Like (What You're Doing To Me)" on the Brunswick label in November of 1980 and the subsequent LP is well worth seeking out. Starleana's "Heartbreaker" came out on the independent Eastern Records (distributed by the New York label Stanpico), but the 12" doesn't indicate what year.

Aurra (LP, 1980)Aurra's first album, issued on the Salsoul subsidiary Dream in 1980, was produced by Steve Washington, Charles Carter and Tom Lockett and contained "In The Mood To Groove" and "When I Come Home" (co-written by Slave's Steve Arrington and bassist Mark Adams). By 1981 and the "Send Your Love" LP, Aurra were signed to Salsoul proper and the line-up was changed. Bass-man Buddy Hankerson had left for Young & Company. He would later join Steve Arrington's group Hall of Fame. So would Charles Carter, another original member of Aurra, who at this time apparently decided to devote himself to Slave. The Aurra re-enforcements arrived in the shape of Tom Lockett (tenor sax, percussion), Philip Field (keyboards) and Jennifer Ivory (vocals, percussion, handclaps). On "Send Your Love", Steve Washington was for the first time listed as an actual member and played bass, guitar, drums, trumpet and percussion. "That LP marks the beginning of the departure of Tom Lockett and myself from being members of Slave, although I still own both groups to date", Steve commented.

Aurra (1981)Dayton, Ohio native Thomas "Tom" Lockett, who had played both piano and sax professionally since he was fifteen, was a founding member of Slave. Philip Field had a background in classical music and was an old friend of Steve Washington's. A true musical wonder child; Field played with the Newark Symphonic Orchestra at ten years of age (!) and his solo recitals at Carnegie Hall earned him several awards, plus scholarships to the prestigious Pingry School and Oberlin Conservatory of Music, which he attended. Jennifer Marie Ivory was born in Jamaica, but grew up in England where she studied music, speech and drama at the London Royal College of Music. By chance, she bumped into Steve Washington while in New York and joined the Slave Organization, as Business Coordinator. But Jennifer had a knack for more than figures and numbers, which she proved by co-writing "Let's Spend Some Time" on Slave's 1980 "Stone Jam" LP. Although only an official member of Aurra for one album, Jennifer Ivory continued to play an integral part in the group, as one of the main songwriters. Jennifer's modest start with Aurra in 1980 had been to supply handclaps, but on the sophomore "Send Your Love" , she co-wrote six out of eight tracks, among those the funky "Are You Single" and "Kingston Lady", where she also sang.

Live And Let Live (LP, 1983)Like its predecessor, Aurra's third album "A Little Love" was produced by Steve "The Fearless Leader" Washington. The single "Make Up Your Mind", taken from that album, shot to # 6 on Billboard's R&B charts and the hits just kept on coming with "A Little Love", "Checking You Out", "Such A Feeling" and "Baby Love". The last two mentioned were pulled from Aurra's 1983 album "Live and Let Live", which would be their final on Salsoul. Something went sour between Curt, Starleana and Steve Washington. "Our relationship was going down the tubes mainly because Salsoul never sent us statements or royalties," Steve Washington wrote. "The members of Aurra accused me of taking their money, but to date, they owe me because I spent my own money and my parents' money and credit".

Things got truly ugly. Steve says that even before -and during- the recording of "Live and Let Live", he had felt that there was "nothing more he could do for Aurra" and consequently offered Curt and Star to buy the Aurra trademark, which belonged to him. They seemed interested, but never paid, so Steve went ahead and used the name. "There is also an Aurra double LP, 'Satisfaction', recorded in 1983 on Qwest Records with 'Pablo' Davis, manager of the Deele/LA Reid and Midnight Star", Steve continued in his E-mail. "This project consisted of Sheila Horne (Former Bride of Funkenstein and Steve's ex-wife) replacing Starleana and Chaka Khan's brother Mark Stevens replacing Curtis Jones, with long time friend and Aurra touring guitarist A.C. Drummer. As far as I know it was never released, thanks to Curt and Star. When they found out I was recording Aurra for Qwest, they wrote Qwest, claiming that they had the copyright, but all they had was a application that was abandoned. So a little time later I presented my trademark and again, they had their chance to pay me, but they refused. So I had them change the name." After a solo-album, "Like A Shot", and an extremely hard-hitting Funk album with his wife Sheila and various musicians as Civil Attack, Steve too departed from Salsoul. "Why? Ken Cayre sold the whole Salsoul catalog to RCA for $ Ken and his brothers were starting a new gold mine, Good Times Home Videos." Steve was also able to answer a question many visitors to these Salsoul Pages has asked. Did the label really go belly-up? "By no means did Salsoul go under. They are worth 1.2 billion dollars by Forbes. Salsoul continues to sell their vast catalog and pay no one!"

Star and Curt 1985Curt and Star, still recording as Aurra, cut the cord with both Salsoul and Steve Washington and signed with Next Plateau (Ten Records/Virgin in Europe), where they almost instantly found success. There, they released the singles "Happy Feeling"and "Like I Like It" (from the 1985 album of the same title). The latter was amazingly enough Aurra's first record to hit the British charts. The following year, the single release "You And Me Tonight" became a huge hit (U.S. R&B #2/ U.K. #12), which led to a quick re-issue of a partially remixed version of the "Like I Like It" LP, with the addition of the hit single, of course. Then, the forced name change to Déjà, which according to Steve Washington "came about because of Curt and Starleana's refusal to live up to the settlement agreement that would have enabled them to continue as Aurra". In an 1987 interview with Blues and Soul columnist Steve Bryant, Curt offered his and Starleana's take on the situation. "We felt we all owned the name just as much as anyone else, but we decided to change it so we wouldn't get into any legal hassle. It was leading up to that and it could have held up our progress." Curt continued "We hadn't had a release of album there (in the States) for about two and a half, to three years that they were familiar with, so it seemed this would be as good as time as any to change the name." "I didn't want a name that sounded too much like a group name. Starleana was looking through a dictionary and she stumbled upon the term 'deja vu', then came up with Déjà. It means we've all come through this road before, so it's appropriate."

Curt also revealed that during the recording hiatus, the two had been close to splitting up, as they had slowly drifted apart. Starleana had been doing a lot of advertising jingle work through boyfriend James "J.T." Taylor (lead vocalist in Kool & the Gang, who later became her husband) and Curt was working on songs for a solo LP. "It was the support of our British fans that kept us together", Starleana said. Even so, Curt and Star only recorded one more album together, "Serious", which was produced by Monte Moir of the Time fame. Initially, the duo had approached Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but were discouraged when they learned that the hit maker's waiting list was eight month's long. The "Serious" album contained the R&B Top 20 single "That's Where You'll Find Me".

Meanwhile, Steve Washington got knee-deep in P-Funk. In the mid-eighties, Steve played various instruments, wrote and produced for George Clinton, starting with "Pleasures of Exhaustion (Do It Till I Drop)", an album track from Clinton's "Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends" ('85). The collaboration continued with "Hey Good Lookin'" and "Do Fries Go With That Shake", incidentally the only two singles to be lifted from "R&B Skeletons In The Closet" ('86). Steve also wrote, produced and played with Jimmy G. and the Tackheads. Sometime around 1986/87, Steve struck a deal with Armen Boladien, owner of the legendary Westbound Records and the man who signed Funkadelic and Ohio Players, to put out a four song EP with the Slave/Aurra Crew. "It was released on a jointly owned label by Armen and myself, via Armen's Nine record label network," Steve wrote. "This project was released by Armen, in conjunction with me and my ex-wife Sheila Horne and various P-Funk All Stars members. Performing on the tracks were 'Blackbyrd' McKnight, Lige and Patty Curry and David Spradley. The Slave/Aurra Crew sounded like the Aurra album 'A Little Love', with a few Slave influences. It was never truly promoted."

'Serious' (1987)Starleana Young left Déjà to pursue a solo career in 1988. The reason, Curt Jones told Blues and Soul's Steve Bryant, was that she wanted a different management, whereas he felt pleased with the people they were associated with. Starleana's self-titled solo album came out in 1991 on Virgin Records. Two singles were pulled from it; a remake of the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" and a ballad entitled "Stronger and Better." Star also performed back-up vocals on husband J.T. Taylor's albums "Master Of The Game" ('89), "Feel The Need" ('91) and "Baby I'm Back" ('93). Following Starleana's departure, Curt teamed up with songstress Mysti Day, who landed the job after having sent Curt a video tape of herself, performing with a local band in Houston, Texas. Mysti had never been in a studio before, but did a good job on the second Déjà LP, which was issued in 1989 and featured the production skills of Gene Griffin and Teddy Riley. The album's title track "Made To Be Together" was an R&B hit in the U.S. and so was the follow-up "Going Crazy". The following year, Curt Jones recorded a 12" called "Running Away" as Trilogy on the -by Dance music specialists- well respected Fourth Floor label. In 1992, Salsoul subsidiary Double-J Records released a 12" remix by Steve "Silk" Hurley of the Aurra classic "A Little Love".

So where are they today? Steve Washington had the 411. "Curt is married to a doctor and plays Holiday Inn's and weddings. Star has a beauty parlor with her sister-in-law and I hear she has a child.." Steve and his wife Tracy Washington had a baby girl on August 28, 1996 and her name is Kia Ilean. The couple owns a research-recording-production-entertainment facility called Dept. Of Funk Research in East Orange, New Jersey.


Suggested Aurra CD listening

Anthology (2-CD) 1996 CNR 530 01 04 (Europe)
Anthology (2-CD) - - 20-2012-2 (U.S.)
Send Your Love - - 20-1014-2 (U.S.)

Aurra LP Discography

Aurra 1980 Dream DA 3503
Send Your Love 1981 Salsoul SA 8538
A Little Love 1982 Salsoul -
Live and Let Live 1983 Salsoul SA 8559

Post Salsoul LP's

Like I Like It 1985 10 Records/Next Plateau 207215-620 (U.K.)
Like I Like It 1986 10 Records/Next Plateau DIX 42 (U.K.)
Serious (as Déjà) 1987 Virgin 7-90601-1
Made To Be Together (as Déjà. Mysti Day replaced Starleana Young) 1989 Virgin -



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