The stirring moment where the choir soloist sings in the award-winning movie The Color Purple (filmed in Marshville near Charlotte) was delivered by none other than petite singing bombshell Maria Howell. At the age of six, Wanda Maria Howell wanted to sing and act; her mom, who sang in her church's choir, taught her to sing harmony. Members of the Gastonia, NC, native's church benefited from the lessons when she joined their choir at 13.
Her favorite music genre is jazz and she lists some of its greatest female vocalists as influences. She also loves gospel, soul, contemporary R&B, and classical. Howell's stunning looks haven't hindered her opportunities, but she possesses the pipes to go with her beauty. The songstress graduated from Hunter Huss High and obtained a bachelor's degree in biology from Winston-Salem State University with the goal of continuing her education and becoming a doctor.
But the showbiz desire was strong and medical goals were set aside to pursue singing and acting opportunities. In addition to The Color Purple, she played Goldie in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, appeared in the USA network movie Linda as Shirley, and was Elsa in the CBS movie Shattered Dreams. On-stage, she played Maya Angelou's daughter, Marietta, in Langston Hughes' Tambourines to Glory and co-starred in Celebrations: An African Odyssey.
She worked with General Johnson (Chairmen of the Board), whom she calls a hoot, and supplied backing vocals for Chairmen of the Board's What Goes Around Comes Around CD. She has shared stages with a growing list of artists, including: Najee, George Howard, Ramsey Lewis, George Benson, Nancy Wilson, Tuck & Patti, Marvin Hamlisch, Kim Waters, Ray Charles, Boyz II Men, K-Ci & Jo-Jo, Philip Bailey, and Babyface. She cut some regional singles -- "Something You Got," "Love Flight 109," and "Misconstrue" -- all handily compiled on the Ripete CD Carolina Soul, Spirit Records Anthology. In between beach music gigs, movies, and plays, she tantalized patrons at Jonathan's Jazz Cellar (a long-running gig) with sultry jazz and R&B sounds with her group, the 7th Street Band.
She relocated to Okinawa, Japan, in 1995 with her military husband, Louis Stukes, a machine gunnery sergeant, and continued singing, cutting a 12", "X-Ray Eyes," for Tandem Records. She also released two albums -- both produced by Rodney Shelton -- on Highwaves Records: a mini-CD, Peace of Mind (1999), recorded in Charlotte at the White Room and Same Old Story, waxed in Atlanta, GA , in 1999 (released in 2000). The stylish singer took the Asia-Pacific region by storm, appearing on-stage and getting rave reviews in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Singapore, Sapporo, and Okinawa (Naha City Club D-Set, Kadena Air Base, and 7th Heaven Club). She was in two Japanese commercials, and the CD Same Old Story is popular in the United Kingdom. ~ Andrew Hamilton