Gospel music has always been a part of Liz McComb's life. Her mother was the pastor of an Ohio Pentecostal church, and before she was even old enough to attend school, she was singing for her mom's small but enthusiastic congregation. Her first public solo performance there was "Do You Know Him." As she grew up, she made music her special form of communication, since she was more comfortable with that due to a case of shyness. During her youth, she took up the violin, but was entranced by the piano after watching an older sister take lessons. Before she became a teenager, she had a desire to form a junior choir, and approached her pastor about the possibility. Once she got the go-ahead, she also began writing songs for the choir's performances that brought rave reactions from the congregation. In addition to her mother and her sister, McComb was also influenced by her brother, who was a lover of jazz. He recommended that she listen to his record collection, which included titles by such greats as Nat King Cole, Wes Montgomery, and Max Roach.
While McComb was a young woman performing in the Karamu House in Cleveland, a cousin based in Europe wanted a tape of McComb singing, in order to pass it along to an agent that she knew in Switzerland. McComb thought she was giving the agent what he wanted when she sent him a studio demo, but it failed to spark a positive reaction. Instead, he requested a tape of her more enthusiastic gospel songs, the type she sang while growing up. That did the trick, and McComb headed to Europe accompanied by the Karamu House's director, who had previously worked as a blues singer. She went on to record an album, which received an enthusiastic response in Germany and Switzerland. Among her European adventures was an appearance at the 1981 International Festival of Montreux, where she shared the stage alongside Bessie Griffin, Koko Taylor, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Taj Mahal, and Luther Johnson, Jr. McComb went on to more triumphant festival performances, which led her to work as the opener for such heavyweights as James Brown and Ray Charles. By then she was making her home in Paris, where she performed at the Champs-Elysees Theater and the Casino, as well as the Opera of Lyon. The Olympia, also in Paris, was the site of McComb's free shows for the City of Light's homeless, and some of those performances appear on the recording Olympia: 1998 Live. EMI also released a film of the concert titled Live at the Olympia. Another recording, Time Is Now, was honored with the Mahalia Jackson Prize.
McComb went home to the U.S. in 2001 for a New Year's Day show in Houston's Astrodome, which was followed by a performance at New York's Lincoln Center less than a week later. She followed up with the release of her U.S. debut recording, Fire, which was released by Crystal Rose/EMI. The album landed on Billboard's gospel Top 40, barely missing the Top 20. ~ Linda Seida