MF 105 : A Conversation with Alene Wilson-Harris on Moving Forward
Alene-Wilson Harris is an artist, musician, television actress and budding media entrepreneur. On this special episode, Alene shares her extraordinary story which is a life of moving forward.
Successes at a glance:
Wife and Mother of 5 Kids
Daughter of legendary singer, Al Wilson
Made her TV debut on Soul Train!
Television and Film Actress
Co-starring and guest-starring roles:
Singer and Musician
Signed to Mercury Records and managed by Coolio
Song featured in the soundtrack for the film, Girls Town (1996)
Local Morning Talent for Steve Harvey’s Radio Show
Talent on The Rookery Radio Show
Co-host of the ‘Living w/ Danielle and David’ podcast series
Act 1: An Early Road to Stardom
One of the first things you will notice when listening to Alene is that her career journey in film and TV was anything but typical. Alene is the daughter of legendary singer, Al Wilson
Soul Train, Alene stole the spotlight when she was presented by Soul Train host, Don Cornelius. Soon after, Alene was emceeing for her dad while he was performing on the road. Imagine, having a full portfolio of print work, a global television appearance and then emceeing one of the biggest musical acts of the 1960s and 1970s, all before the age of 4!
Flash forward several years later. Alene isn’t quite old enough to attend grade school yet. Veteran broadway, film and TV actress Chip Fields (mother of Kim Fields) lived just up the street and opened a repertoire company as part of an afterschool activity. Through this repertoire company, Chip became an early mentor to many of the kids in the area, including Alene; introducing them to the world of musical theater. As Alene shares, her road to becoming an actress was never intentional but a series of serendipitous events, woven together along an organic road. One fateful day, Chip had an audition for a role in a television film and took Alene w/ her as she happened to be babysitting her that day. As Alene describes, Chip “nailed the audition” and then asked the casting directors if they have cast the role of a little girl in the film. This question would forever shape Alene’s early career. In just moments, Alene went from the girl who was waiting in the lobby to being cast as Chip’s daughter in Battered (1978), a ground-breaking, made-for-tv film that addressed the issue of spousal abuse.
Soon after, Alene was represented by famed talent agent, Dorothy Day Otis, and was soon booking roles for national commercials. One notable project was a print ad for KFC featuring Alene which ended up plastered all over Times Square!
From KFC to Normal Lear:
It wasn’t long before Alene’s talents were noticed by legendary showrunner, Normal Lear
A Chance Meeting w/ a Television Icon:
As Alene was continuing to work steadily as a child actress, she got a callback for an audition. Unbeknownst to her, the audition was w/ legendary film and television star, Michael Landon
Little House on the Prairie. Not only did Alene win over Michael Landon w/ her talent, he offered her the role of a lifetime, playing young Hester Sue on ‘A Christmas They Never Forgot,’ a Christmas episode of Little House that aired during Season 8. This was significant as Hester Sue was one of the few African-American female recurring characters on a hit TV series at the time. It was a formative experience and an incredible opportunity for Alene to really showcase what she was capable of.
Act 2: A Life and Career Transition
Just listening to Alene’s acting career, you feel as if you’re witnessing a career spanning a lifetime. But Alene experienced all of this before she hit her twenties! Despite being a busy successful actress and having become friends w/ such luminaries as Gary Coleman, Alene saw the other side of stardom; a turbulence where many young actors and actresses were not happy. By age 14, Alene realized she wasn’t having as much fun as she did in her younger years, especially as she continued to be sent out for auditions for 10-year old roles. While many child actors are consumed w/ the pursuit of stardom and maintaining a career, Alene made the choice to leave the industry and become a normal teenager. However, what has remained constant w/ Alene is a drive and curiosity to experience life to the fullest. “Normal” for Alene was a mixture of many different experiences, from being a cheerleader to jobs working in a yogurt store, at a bank, to modeling. Soon after graduating high school, Alene added another title, mother.
Alene got into a relationship and decided it was time to start the next phase of her life. She had her first child and decided to settle down and start a family. However, the reality of what Alene entered was what she calls a “hot mess.” Despite her best efforts to make the most of the situation, Alene’s first marriage was troubled and fraught w/ many difficulties throughout. However, Alene is a fighter and someone who doesn’t give up easily no matter the punches that life throws at her. She went back to school to study journalism but had to drop out when her husband suffered a stroke. During his recovery, they moved to a house in Culver City and that’s when another unexpected opportunity arose.
Much like her career as an actress, Alene’s is a life filled w/ unexpected gifts and opportunities. While purchasing a new TV is a rather banal experience for most of us, Alene had a chance encounter in the parking lot of Circuit City that was more fantastic than anything you would see on the small screen. Walking out of the store and in a deeply sullen mood, Alene spotted three girls who were laughing and looking like they were having the time of their lives, singing Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’
For many of us, joining a band would consist of singing some songs in a garage, maybe playing a few local venues if we’re lucky. But not Alene. Shortly after joining this trio, the group was signed to a recording deal w/ Mercury Records (now owned by Universal Music Group) and managed by artist, Coolio
Act 3: Finding Her Voice in Radio
As w/ acting and music, Alene’s journey into broadcast radio happened quite by accident. Her husband had the foresight to see that Alene could do very well in this medium. Although Alene strongly resisted this idea, another opportunity fell into her lap. Soon after, Alene’s voice was heard over the airwaves, first doing the local morning broadcast for Steve Harvey’s Radio Show and then other programs. Alene describes her experience w/ commercial radio as a mixed bag. Specifically, she did not enjoy the rigidity and the ratings focused environment of working in a commercial environment. Today, she much prefers the ability and freedom to discover and uplift “ceiling-breaking” talent on independent venues, including The Rookery Radio Show. For Alene, she is driven by the message she is putting out into the world rather than choices that are purely for ratings or monetary gain.
It is also notable that Alene found another venue to become a voice of positivity, podcasting. As it happened, Alene connected w/ David L. David, a former music producer and husband of former television star, Danielle Spencer. Alene had initially sought out Danielle as a guest for her radio show. Soon after, Alene left her stint at the radio station but several conversations w/ David led to an invitation to be a co-host on the ‘Living w/ Danielle and David’ podcast series. As a budding media entrepreneur who has experienced the joys of independent radio and the constraints of working commercial production, this was the opportunity that Alene was looking for.
Advice for Finding Your Passion and to Keep Moving Forward:
One of the most remarkable qualities about Alene is this incredible resilience to persevere thru life’s most difficult moments and a clarity of vision that allows her to tie together all of her seemingly disconnected experiences. Alene is a talented actress, musician and has developed skills behind the scenes, from directing to production. She is now back in school studying broadcast media and music engineering; piecing together all of the parts of her amazing career or as she puts it “filling in the gaps.” And her advice for you, Moving Forward listeners: “embrace everything you’ve been designed to be.” It’s easy to get “pigeon-holed and stuck in who we think we are.” So instead of trying to muddle through one particular situation at the risk of losing yourself, Alene simply advises, “be open to what God has for you in a day … there are some things you’ve been designed for.”
Advice to past self while going thru a difficult time:
Alene’s advice to her past self is to remind her that God is real and to be faithful that he will show you who you were designed to be, even w/ all of the difficult “stuff” that you may experience in life. Alene candidly shares two traumatic experiences in her life. She was molested at a young age (not by her parents) which caused her to muddle her understanding of who she was and adversely impact some choices she made in her teenage life. Later on, she dated a man who ended up raping her. It was Alene’s faith and seeking out counseling that allowed her to start healing. Alene eventually confronted the person who molested her when she was 18 and as Alene shares, the person was held accountable. Alene learned that this individual had also been damaged at an early age. Thus, Alene’s confrontation forced this individual to face his own past traumas in seeking repentance. Moving Forward listeners, as Alene’s story shows us, life is not simply a series of neat compartments and boxes that have labels like “career,” “family” and “other.” Rather, it is all part of a complex tapestry of events, opportunities, setbacks, tragedies, failures, successes and that drive to discover who is it we were meant to be. We don’t have to be defined by one career or one chapter in our lives. Alene has had what would be considered to be three or four-lifetime careers but she is far from finished. There are more vibrant colors w/ each and every day that Alene is painting w/ on a canvas that is her life. If you take a step back, you see that it is truly a work of art that inspires us to always be moving forward.
Parting wisdom (in a few words):
“Count your blessings gratefully.”
Connect with Alene:
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