The Many Fabulous Faces of Margaret Belton and Kofy Brown
In a perfect world, Belton and Brown would be a prime time variety show straight out of Oakland. Kofy Brown would lead the house band, cracking wise from the side of the stage while her wife, Margaret Belton, interviewed guests, hammed it up in elaborately costumed skits and then delivered a song or two in homage to Patsy Cline. Yes, like Donny and Marie Osmond, Beltonâs a little bit country, and Brownâs a little bit rock ânâ roll.
Sonny and Cher, another famous variety show team, provided the inspiration for one the most striking images in an art project that helped Belton survive sheltering in place with her high spirits intact. A singer and graphic designer who suddenly found herself severely underemployed in the early weeks of the pandemic, she decided to recreate iconic album covers using herself (and sometimes Brown) as the polymorphously adaptable model. Posted on Facebook, the images circulated widely, providing a welcome jolt of delight and numerous double takes, as instant recognition was followed by an uncanny feeling that something was subtly amiss in the all-too-familiar tableaux.
Belton had done similar montages before, âbut with all this time on my hands I thought Iâm going to take things up a few notches,â she said. âThe response was immediate, with all of these comments saying âThank you! I needed that!â It snowballed into a weekly series. Creativity always lifts me, and I needed to do something creative and joyful. I also wanted to hone my skills on Photoshop.â
She enlisted Brown into an initial, less elaborate shoot, with Belton transforming herself into a blond-tressed Daryl Hall and Brown looking buff as a gloriously mustachioed John Oates. As a singer-songwriter and bandleader whoâs released 10 albums and performs in the all-star rock collective Skip the Needle, Brown didnât have to stretch far to portray a pop star.
âI was roped into it,â Brown said. âI see her with all of these wigs and glitter and at first I thought, âGreat, sheâs making herself busy.â Iâm just minding my business when she said, âWeâve got to do this Hall and Oates thing,â and she just dresses me up. Iâm looking at the album photo and Iâve got to flex my muscles. Sheâs fully committed and itâs infectious. I had zero to do with it, except that I was in the house and Iâll play along.â
The immediate response to the Hall and Oates image led to several other duo sessions, including Sonny and Cherâs âI Got You Babeâ and Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibbâs âGuilty.â More often than not, Belton was art directing herself solo, drawing from their extensive collection of LPs. Tapping directly into the artists who imprinted on her grade-school mind, Belton channeled Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett, Linda Ronstadt, Jennifer Beals in her Flashdance regalia, and a blue-jeaned triumvirate of Dolly Partons from the chart-topping, Grammy Award-winning hit âHere You Come Again.â
âHerb Alpertâs Tijuana Brassâ Whipped Cream and Other Delights album was the funniest,â Belton said. âI want that one to be the finale.â
She may be done with the album covers, but Belton and Brown isnât ready for syndication. Even during the pandemic, their show hasnât been confined to the studio. When theyâve heard about friends feeling isolated and lonely, they show up in costume outside their house to offer a serenade on roller skates (while often delivering a meal for good measure).
So long as there are costumes and those bold enough to don them, there is joy and hope.
Dressed up in one of her Dolly Parton outfits, Belton turned âIslands In the Streamâ into their Roller Gram theme song. âKofy would get out of the car and start dancing and I do this roller dance around her,â she said. âNeighbors would come out on the porch and chat. I had the costumes from the album covers, and then I found out I had more outfits and wigs. The closet is a hot mess.â
Given the opportunity by the Little Village Foundation label, Belton, who typically performs covers, stepped out of her musical comfort zone last year by recording an original song for the first time. A luscious ballad written with multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Vicki Randle (a bandmate of Brownâs in Skip the Needle), âLullaby of New Orleansâ was included on 20 x 20, a singer-songwriter anthology recorded by the artists at home during the depths of the pandemic. Brown also contributed to the Little Village project with vocal support from Belton and Randle, creating an unplugged version of âLove, Love, Love,â her benediction for families separated at the border from her 2020 album, Child of Providence.
While Belton enjoyed creating her own music, sheâs more than thrilled to step back into sparkly heels for her fifth run in Alwaysâ¦Patsy Cline, which plays at the Woodminster Amphitheater in Oaklandâs Joaquin Miller Park July 9-25. Featuring Belton belting out songs associated with Cline, backed by a six-piece band led by pedal steel ace David Phillips, director Ted Swindleyâs epistolary play tells the story of the country music legendâs evolving relationship with super fan-turned-manager Louise Seger (played by Julia Etzel).
As the front woman for the Cline cover band TheÂ Patsychords, Belton is best known for pouring her soul into the vintage Nashville repertoire. The pandemic revealed her as a protean artist with a knack for impersonating a variety of fabulous figures.
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