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Maria Howell: A Gift of Grace and Glamour

By: Brandon Arakaki

Date Posted: 1999-11-10

When will we ever learn
It's not so hard to live as one?
We must find a way
To make a change in this world...
I know a place in time
Where in the dark, there will be light.
When it's all said and done,
What have we done, to make it all right?

(“Peace of Mind”)

It’s still so hard for many people living in Okinawa to understand why so much of the best in terms of artistic talent resides on their small island. This semi-tropical prefecture has produced some of the best musical performers in Japan, to the point that it is now a major center of inspiration even for sure American talents. The best proof of Okinawa’s new status as international source of lyrical stimulus lies in the person of Maria Howell, the lady who made grace and glamour a staple for excited US Marines.

From her bedroom in the Camp Foster home, where she lives with her husband Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Louis Stukes, Maria spent only one night to produce the lyrics for the song “Piece of Mind” which is now the title cut of her first solo album. “It was such a thrill… it was a spiritual experience that made of Okinawa a place special to my heart – not just a place where I chose to live with my spouse after we got married four years ago in North Carolina.”

For many of her fans in Okinawa, Maria is the thrill. She is a delightful enigma of spiritual proportions, but who wastes no time and energy in trying to impose herself on any audience. During a suave, highly professional concert last Saturday night at the Club Rhapsody (a.k.a. Chesty on Camp Foster), the lady mesmerized over 200 debonair admirers with a performance so perfect it almost gave the impression angels and saints had been on stage. A Japanese lady who was lucky to be sponsored into the Rhapsody for this special show could hardly conceal her excitement at the end. “It is my best show by American woman singer,” she screamed. “I will go to her big concert with all my friends. I already have her CD.”

Maria Howell’s debut CD is the main topic of conversation in Okinawa bars and clubs nowadays. It is a collection of mellifluous lamentations laced with jazzy rhythms, soul and R&B themes. The product is a beautiful compilation of yesterday’s feeling with today’s inspiration. She sings like Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige and Lauryn Hill at the same time. Both her lyrical and vocal qualities have the right to be compared with those of the best in any category, though the lady admits she still has a long way to go. She has already come a long way to settle in Okinawa and make a career out of her life’s euphonic dreams.

In one of her romantic songs (“You Read My Mind”), Maria offers a lyrical communion for lovers of all sorts, and it instantly translates into the relationship with her own fans. It seems almost personal when, in another ditty, she cries out: “Give me the chance to show you I can truly love you, let me reassure that you can always count on me, give me the chance to prove that I'm deserving of you.”

Her first official solo concert will consecrate her as an international star, and offer her the occasion to prove that she she’s really deserving of her ever growing admirers. After four years of living and singing in Okinawa, she will be on a big stage for the first time as Maria Howell after Maria Howell. It will be on Friday, November 12th at the Citizens’ Theater of Palette Kumoji from 7:00 p.m. Tickets will be ¥2,700 in advance at the Teruya Record Shop on Chuo Park Avenue near kadena Gate 2 and Book Box Hamby. They will be ¥3000 at the door.

The main point of difference of that much anticipated performance will be in its intensity. Maria says she feels like “a debutante”, as she looks forward to that day. “That’s my entrée, the day I’ll receive an official stamp of approval on my work. An acceptance ritual…” she told Japan Update.

With the help of a very imaginative and pro-active Nami Higa of the Okinawa-based PM Agency managing her career, Maria can now concentrate on taking care, for the best, of her most unusual situation: that of learning to be a western musical star, married and living on a military base, in a country very Far to the East. Her acting career will have to be on a hold till she goes back to the States. Before coming to Japan as the wife of a US military officer, she had played a small but remarkable role in Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple” and other gigs, and acted in other respectable productions.

For now, the lady of grace just wants to make the best of her new album, which is in all Okinawa music stores. It can also be ordered from her official homepage on the internet (http://www.mariahowell.com).

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