The delivery-room doctor almost didn’t have to give Rochelle Lightfoot the customary slap on the bottom to get her lungs working.
The Miami-born vocalist practically came into the world singing.
Lightfoot laughs when she recalls the story her mother Anna Lightfoot Ward likes to share.
“I’ve been singing since I was 18 months old. Mom said I heard a song on the radio, and that’s when she knew I could sing,” she said. “She threw me in front of anyone I could possibly sing for, and she was my biggest backer.”
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The song was Aretha Franklin’s sassy Respect — a tall order for a vocalist of any age. On Lightfoot’s website, her mother said, “I was shocked hearing Rochelle mimicking the radio, which was playing Aretha Franklin’s song ... She sang it in perfect pitch and has been singing ever since.”
These days, Lightfoot, 43, commands respect for her ability to sing all sorts of genres: R&B, jazz, gospel, country, pop. She regularly sings at worship services at area churches, including Merrell United Methodist in Lauderhill Lakes.
On her current album, Jazzy Classics, she sings standards primarily from the ’20s to the ’40s, from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Nat King Cole, all with a swinging big-band orchestra backing her. Lightfoot’s voice — a rich, soulful and warm mezzo soprano — does justice to the material.
“I wanted to sing with a big band. That was my biggest motivation for this album,” she said.
She’s recording her first album of R&B originals, due in 2016, and the songs will trace the arc of relationships. The subject is inspired by recent personal events.
“I want love in my life. I welcome it. There are things people will relate to, trying to find yourself again after a divorce. It’s a love album [about] the many stages of love.”
Some would say Lightfoot’s arts awakening happened the first time she sang for her family as a toddler, and that wouldn’t be off-base, she said. But there was another singular moment: Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem at Tampa Stadium for Super Bowl XXV in 1991.
“When I heard her sing it in front of all those people, I said, ‘I’m going to do it one day like that in a stadium.’”
And so she did, at SunLife Stadium for the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints game in August 2013.
“That’s what I’m famous for. [It was] a fantastic experience.”