It's easy to assume that Kelly Price has officially traded R&B for TV and advocacy. It's been more than two years since her last album dropped and she's currently starring in one reality show ("R&B Divas") while developing another ("Too Fat for Fame"). These days, she's more likely to appear on the red carpet of a show premiere or a fundraiser than under the spotlight on a stage.
Price admits she's gladly taken advantage of many amazing opportunities that 20 years of musical successes have offered her. In the same breath, she quickly clarifies music's place in her world.
"Every day in my life, as busy as it is, everything builds around music -- it's foundational for me," said Price, 40, in a recent phone interview. "It's what I do professionally, it's what I do personally -- it's a language for me."
Price speaks music fluently. She's an award-winning performer and songwriter who refuses to let genres, expectations and trends define her path. She's best known for being a passionate singer whose vocal power gives life to the hope, heartache, trials and triumphs in her lyrics.
When she sings of being fed up with life's stresses on her anthem "Tired," you don't just believe her, your body shares her frustration and release. "I'm tired of all the games and lies! Tired! I'm tired of phony alibis! ... I'm tired of being wronged and doing right!"
Price also said she still makes time for performing -- at one-off gigs like Saturday's headlining slot in the R&B Summer Splash at the Dena'ina Center and in the place where her singing career began.
"I do literally sing every week, even if it is in church on Sundays," she said. "I'm minister of music at my church and we have two or three rehearsals every week."
Price's talent is rooted in the church, where she began singing at a young age with family and was given the nickname Little Mahalia, as in gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. By her late teens, Price was crafting her own persona. When Mariah Carey overheard Price, the pop diva added her as a backup singer and introduced her to music heavyweights.
Price said Carey also opened her eyes to the power of music. Price was singing backup for Carey in a packed Tokyo Dome where a crowd of more than 50,000 sang along to every song.
"They did not speak English, but they sang every word in perfect English," Price recalled. "Awesome -- that was my first lesson, 20 years ago ... (that) music transcends time, faith, social standing, financial standing, language, religion, sexual orientation. ... (Music is) the one thing to me that has the power to cross every barrier in life."
Price is used to crossing barriers of her own. Her songs tackle love, faith, optimism and pain, and the list of stars she's written for and performed with read like a wing of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Elton John, George Michael, Eric Clapton, James Brown, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly and dozens more.
To many fans, Price is the most influential star of them all. Her relatable lyrics and heartfelt voice are beloved, her energy and strength make her a role model, and when there's a positive cause to support, Price is there with her time, money and voice. She backs youth and children initiatives, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, women's issues. Her newest endeavor is the TV show "Too Fat for Fame," which will share the stories and talents of plus-size performers and models who have fought perceptions against their weight, much like Price has.
But no matter where she is -- on TV, volunteering, behind the camera, even walking through her home -- music is there, too.
"I'm always kind of singing," said Price. "It's always in my head."
By JOSH NIVA
Daily News correspondent