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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 $100.000.000.00. 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!"
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
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
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.