- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002


I want to respect you,
The only way to do that is make you my wife.

I want to love you every night,
The only way to do that is make you my wife.

Lyrics from "Put It on Paper"

Michael Orr and his son, Jamal, both love music, and each discovered this love at age 3. Now the father and son have written "Put It on Paper," a song that hit the top of Billboard's rhythm and blues chart two months ago.
Grammy Award artists Ann Nesby and Al Green sing the song, which remains in the top 10 of Billboard hits and has climbed into the upper echelons of lesser-known charts.
"It's talking about making a commitment," says Michael, 53, of the song he and Jamal, 28, wrote in his home and studio southwest of Upper Marlboro.
Jamal, a recording engineer with the U.S. Postal Service, says, "Me and my dad have been doing this for quite some time. It's frustrating at times, but we love music so much."
Miss Nesby's album, titled "Put It On Paper," includes "You Always Cared," another song written by the father-son duo with Dinah Chapman, which has a similar message.
The Orrs continue to work on other songs, which often mix ballads, gospel and modern hip-hop, and have contracted to write background music for the stage play "Alex and the Search for God Within," about Alex Haley, the author of "Roots."
"It's a small world," Michael Orr says, recalling that Mr. Haley's aunt was an English teacher at West Virginia State College near Charleston, where Mr. Orr met Cynthia Douglas. They were married and graduated from there.
The senior Mr. Orr remembers watching an 11-year-old cousin play the piano. He was 3 at the time. After watching and listening a while, he asked his mother, a schoolteacher, to let him sit on the piano bench. He began to play.
Twenty-five years later, Mr. Orr remembers, he heard Jamal in the next room beating on something with drumsticks from a Christmas gift drum. The drum was useless because the skin had broken.
"I heard arappa-tap-tap, arappa-tap-tap" and then the sound of breaking glass a window, Mr. Orr says, recalling that he and his wife rushed in to see what had happened.
"[Jamal] had a piece of glass in his hand. He says, 'I was playing drums,'" Mr. Orr recalls with a laugh.
When Jamal was a ninth-grader at Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro, Mr. Orr, who worked at the Computer Services Corp. as a customer services representative and promoter, came home one evening with a brochure about the legendary musician Quincy Jones attending Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Jamal decided then and there to attend Berklee to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering production, never considering another college. He says Mr. Jones "was my mentor."
Michael Orr, who earned a political science degree because it offered better jobs, says, "I wasn't exactly crazy about college."
Born in Detroit and reared in West Virginia, the senior Mr. Orr sang, played the piano and organ later keyboards with a guitarist and drummer while growing up. They played at proms, socials, dances and "juke joints," he says.
"When it was a juke joint, I didn't tell [my mother] where I was going to be," says Mr. Orr, who remembers receiving a "fortune" of $150 after one gig.
After college, he got a job in personnel service in Ann Arbor, Mich., but continued to sing and play music during off hours. That's where his son, Jamal, and daughter, Chana, now 25 and seeking a film career in Los Angeles, were born.
One of his early ambitions was to write a gospel album. "I failed with that," he says about "Love Will Rise," a gospel album dedicated to Martin Luther King.
In 1975, Mr. Orr produced "Spread Love," a record that was played in London. In 1999, a disc jockey in Switzerland called Mr. Orr and paid $100 for the original recording.
"That was the fuse that got me started," Mr. Orr says.
By then, he and Jamal were enthralled with producing records. In April 2000, the senior Mr. Orr quit his job after 16 years as a human resources manager to devote full attention to his desire. He sings and plays piano at corporation dinners, annual get-togethers and churches in the Washington and Baltimore areas.
The father and son say they work well together. Michael brings the "old school" of music, while Jamal brings the "new school" to mold into song. Jamal also is an engineering expert with the banks of recording gear, monitors, microphones, track players and other equipment in the upstairs studio.
What does wife and mother Cynthia, a human resources employee at Laurel Regional Hospital, think about it? She helps the two by organizing their albums and records and typing the lyrics.
"She's allowing us to do this," Mr. Orr says. "She's not only my wife and mother of my kids, but she's my best friend."
Also, the music is beginning to pay its way. As he says, "I'm doing OK. I don't have to borrow money to pay for my home."


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