An internationally known singer who lives in Mount Airy, where she has played a role in battling hunger over the years, now finds herself in a different kind of fight.
Melva Houston is undergoing treatment for lung cancer, and while that would be a frightening proposition for anyone, Houston is relying on the same inner strength that made her a force in the music world to deal with the illness.
“I’m still holding on,” she said Wednesday in determined tones. “My prognosis is good.”
Houston, who’ll turn 68 on Wednesday, is a highly acclaimed jazz vocalist also well known as a blues and gospel singer. She began her career in Memphis as a backup vocalist, lending her talents to many of the hits produced by soul singer Isaac Hayes on the Stax record label.
The performer who calls Mount Airy home has toured Europe for much of her 30-year career, becoming a star in Germany in the process.
Although Houston also has wowed local audiences with her vocal abilities on many an occasion, she further is known for charitable efforts in Mount Airy. This included serving as the coordinator for a free Thanksgiving meal for the community for 18 years before relinquishing that role after the 2014 event.
It has provided nourishment for the needy along with a welcoming holiday setting to those without family.
The singer now is experiencing the warmth of the community from the opposite end of the spectrum, explaining that while word of her struggle with cancer has not been widely disseminated locally, people are reaching out to help. “The ones in Mount Airy that know about it, they have been great,” Houston said.
Her medical issue surfaced in the fall.
“Actually, I was diagnosed last November and we started on a treatment plan,” Houston said of a chemotherapy regimen, which she indicated could be followed by radiation treatments.
The cancer was discovered on the left side of her chest near the lung. “I had been a smoker over the years,” Houston said.
Going through chemotherapy can be an ordeal in itself, but Houston says friends in Mount Airy have been a huge help in that regard, naming two in particular, Kini Snow and Karen Snow.
“I’m going with her to all her treatments,” Kini Snow said Friday.
“We’ve been friends for a long time and I actually traveled with her to Germany last year,” added Snow, herself a pancreatic cancer survivor.
“It’s been very tough, as it is with all cancers,” Snow said of Houston’s struggle. “But she loves life and she’s such an optimistic person, and she really has relied on God and the support of her friends.”
Snow said the singer “has a very strong faith in God and that’s helping her a lot.”
Despite the illness, Houston says she is still managing to maintain her musical career. “I still go and do my concerts and stuff.”
Wide support network
In coping with the disease, Houston credits the aid of others in the music industry in addition to that from her friends in Mount Airy.
This included a benefit concert on June 11 in Greensboro, where for the past couple of years Houston has been a member of the Gate City Divas. The group includes eight veteran female performers who sing and play multiple instruments, specializing in rhythm and blues, funk and blues.
A fellow member of that group planned the concert, along with a yard sale and auction, to assist with medical bills incurred by the Mount Airy performer. The talent lineup featured 12 different acts performing in 30-minute segments for a nearly seven-hour period.
“It wasn’t a surprise, but it was kind of a shock,” Houston said Wednesday of the benefit concert.
“It was beautiful, I tell you that — it was absolutely beautiful to have all those musicians,” she said of participants who came from near and far to perform. “I didn’t know it would be that degree of musicians showing up.”
The same kind of support has been noted here at home, where those aware of Houston’s illness “have been very nice — bringing stuff to me and cooking for me and things like that…people have been bringing me food, they come by,” she said.
This has included church members as well as friends.
“They haven’t let me down in Mount Airy,” Houston said of the “beautiful people” who have reached out to her.
An online account has been set up to raise funds in response to Houston’s medical expenses and a loss of work associated with the illness.
Donations can be made to it at gofundme.com/lets-help-melva-fight-cancer.
Hope a key
Kini Snow said that in addition to medical treatment, Houston is taking the holistic route, focusing on nutrition and other natural, healthy approaches to help overcome her cancer.
As a survivor of the disease, Snow says it must be fought on both a mental and physical level.
“You just have to stay strong, you have to stay mentally positive and you have to look forward to what lies ahead as far as getting your life back to normal.”
One ingredient is essential: hope.
“Having hope does amazing things — mentally and physically,” Snow explained.
Melva Houston reflected that outlook when telling a reporter last week to make sure he included a particular comment to inform everyone about where she stands with her illness:
“Let them know I’m doing pretty good.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.