David & Tamela Mann Interview
Meet the Manns - David & Tamela on Working Faith, Family & Funny
By Shamerra T. Brown
Perhaps most widely recognized for their roles as “Mr. Brown” and “Cora Jean
Simmons” in Tyler Perry’s “Madea” stage plays, David and Tamela Mann don’t find it
difficult to keep life simple. Even with a major studio movie, Meet the Browns (they
began filming this summer with Perry) and a TV sitcom in the works, the husband-and-
wife team still struggle to see themselves as having “arrived.”
Actually, it’s no surprise that David and Tamela are regular folks. Their characters in
the Madea plays take you back to simpler times — when you could easily find the
humor in most situations. While Madea and Brown (dressed in whacky costumes) are
comically bickering, Cora always tries to save the day though her heartfelt message
In reality, David and Tamela have found their purpose. Rewind to the early 1990s and
you’ll find the Manns getting their start singing background with Grammy-winning Kirk
Franklin and the Family. They had met a few years prior while in high school. The
young couple married in 1988 and 19 years later, David boasts that he’s still in love,
while Tamela describes the funny man as her best friend.
They beam when the subject of their four children comes up. Tamela says that when
they have the chance to all be at home in the Dallas area, the clan is so tight-nit that
they literally follow each other from room to room. And Although the Manns are happily
married today, they share with us some of the early challenges in their union. (Their
biggest fight was about a tuna fish sandwich!)
When we caught up with them, they were wrapping up a tour and beginning promotion
for their projects: David’s CD, Mr. Brown’s Good Ol‘ Time Church and Tamela’s,
Tamela Mann, The Live Experience, which includes a CD and DVD of the entire live
concert (visit davidandtamelamann.com for more info). They squeezed in an interview
with MS before heading off to star in the Perry-directed play, What’s Done in the Dark.
Spending time with the Manns was all the laughter you can fathom, but the committed
couple didn’t fail to leave the impression that God is the relevant driving force in their
family, ministry and life. Check them out …
Shamerra T. Brown: Alright, first order of business … David why did you have to
remix the “Granddaddy” song? Did you figure that everybody else was remixing their
hits so Mr. Brown should do it too?
David Mann: [Laughs] Well actually, we were doing the play and I would do my
individual dates, and people would request the song. It’s not really a song, but after
having to do it so many times, I just decided to go in the studio and make it an actual
song. The guy who DJs for Kirk Franklin, we asked him to see what he could do with it.
So he put the beat on it and I was like OK, here we go ...
Shamerra: Now that that’s clear ... What were some of the challenges you faced early
in your marriage before audiences knew you as Brown and Cora Jean?
David: You see the “now,” but you don’t know the “then.” People see the success or
whatever you want to call it, but they don’t know the struggles we had to deal with, just
trying to get from point A to point B. We didn’t have a vehicle; we were just trying to
make sure that we were fed.
Tamela Mann: That was around like 1989. We just celebrated our 19th anniversary in
Shamerra: Congratulations. How have you made it work for 19 years?
David: She beats me!
Tamela: [Laughs] I would say the grace of God, and also we’re best friends. Best
friends tell each other everything and we’re able to tell each other the ups and downs.
Whether you like it or not, you just tell each other like it is.
David: You just have to be honest with each other. … The leading cause of divorce is
not communication, it’s not money, it’s that [people] are no longer in love. But we’re
still in love after 19 years.
David: [David breaks out in “another unknown tongue,” and then tries real hard to pull
us in with him … it doesn’t work — this time.] Have you watched the behind the scenes
footage on Tam’s DVD?
Shamerra: Yes, and I would like to know about the tuna fish fight ...
Tamela: You say you want to know about the tuna fish fight?! Well, we had both went
to work that day and after I got off work, it was my time to go to the grocery store. Then
I got home and was putting up the groceries and decided it was really too late to cook,
so I told him I was going to make tuna fish and he was like, cool. So I made up the
tuna fish, and I even made him a sandwich and put the little chips on it, and took the
stuff to him in the bedroom and he tasted it and was like, “What’s wrong with this, this
don’t taste like tuna fish!” … and boy —
David: It wasn’t so much about the tuna fish. It was my lack of appreciation for her
working all day, going to the grocery store —
Tamela: Right, so he didn’t see the sacrifice that I had just made. I mean I could have
just told him to go get his own —
David: Now we’re paraphrasing but there’s a lot of other drama behind the tuna fish
sandwich like with my truck —
Shamerra: OK, I understand there were other things going on, but what were you
thinking when you said that to your hard-working wife?
David: Not thinking, just being immature about the situation. I was like, “Did you put
any relish on this?” She was like, “Wait a minute, you ungrateful … you could’ve done
that yourself!” So then all that happened and I went out to get in my truck, and at the
time the starter didn’t work. So when I was ready to pull off mad … it wouldn’t start.
Shamerra: Oh of course not!
David: It just messed up my “mad.” It was really funny, but you can’t laugh at the time.
She came outside and it was just a mess! I was literally, with one foot out of the truck
trying to push it back and forth, trying to get it started —
Tamela: We have a lot of stories. One time, we went to Seven-Eleven, when the “Big
Gulp” first came out. I was pregnant at the time … he went inside and I really didn’t tell
him what I wanted and he didn’t ask. So he made himself a “suicide.” That’s when you
mix all the flavors together. So he brought me that and I was like, “What is this?” So he
just took it and threw it out the window! So, I grabbed his drink, to throw his out the
David: But there was one problem —
Tamela: My window was halfway up! It spilled all over me and he laughed.
David: It was funny, the mad was over!
Tamela: I was like oh my God, I lost all my cool points.
Shamerra: Oh you were no longer cool at that point.
Tamela: But it’s been a wonderful ride. David is a wonderful father. He’s always helpful,
even when the kids were infants. We took turns every hour, he would get up and
change or feed the babies.
David: I can’t tell you sometimes I didn’t trick her and tell her that I had already had
gotten up and that it was her turn.
Tamela: [To David] You play too much. That’s my word for him, he plays too much! ...
He’s a good friend, a good husband, and a wonderful father.
Shamerra: What kept you all during those hard times? Did you know you were
destined for this level of ministry?
Tamela: We had no idea. We knew that we loved the Lord, and we have always put
God first. God has really just ordered our steps. You know, some things we had written
down, and there were desires that we had, like I’ve always wanted to sing and travel
and God just allowed that to come to pass. We’re so grateful to God for what He has
done. With our families and our kids … putting people in our lives to help us with our
children as we traveled all these years. And I thank my kids, because I know it’s an
even greater sacrifice for them.
Shamerra: What are your kids names and ages?
David: I don’t know!
Tamela: [Laughs] My oldest daughter is Portia, she’s 20; we have Tiffany, she’s 19;
David Jr. is 18; and then we have Tia who’s 17.
Shamerra: Tam, you talked about what it’s like being married to David, so David,
what’s it like being married to Tamela?
David: You remember when Mike Tyson was going with Robin Givens?
Shamerra: I remember, but that’s not your answer!
David: I always tell her, there’s no way she could possibly love me as much as I love
her. There’s one thing I regret about getting married, and that’s that I didn’t do it sooner.
… It takes a special person to put up with me. I just love her. Through everything we’ve
had to deal with, it always goes back to us loving each other, unconditionally.
Shamerra: Excellent, now you’re talking. Would you say you all are successful at
balancing ministry, family and each other?
David: Yeah, but anything that we’re doing, there’s something that gets sacrificed.
One thing we definitely didn’t want to be sacrificed is our kids and our marriage. So a
lot of stuff, we’re like, that can wait.
Tamela: Especially when we’re home, if [we’re invited somewhere and] my kids can’t
go, then I’m not going. When I’m home, it’s home time. When we’re on the road, [the
kids] understand that and they come out with us sometimes.
David: Ultimately what we try to do is minimize the things that get sacrificed. And it
hasn’t all been perfect, like being on the road when people die. But when you’re the so-
called headliner of something, it’s hard to pull away when people have sold tickets
based on you being there. We had a close aunt that passed and we weren’t able to go
to the funeral, and so that kind of stuff is really painful.
Shamerra: I can understand that. … You think that overall your family is
understanding and supportive of what you’re called to do?
Tamela: Most of them are pretty understanding. But there are some who are really
close, like my mother-in-law helps out with the kids.
Shamerra: Tam, in your DVD you talked about how you prayed that God would give
you a mate who would understand your ministry. I’m sure you were referring to singing
at the time … did you know that would include acting as well?
Tamela: No. Singing is what I focused on, but God has really shown me that I do have
other gifts. Acting was something I said no to. I was like, I’ll sing and I’ll pray for you
but I’m not acting. So [Tyler Perry] told me before it was all over, he would have me
acting. I told him, “OK, if you say so.”
Shamerra: How did you all connect with Tyler?
Tamela: We had the same promoter as Tyler while we were with Kirk, and it went
together from there.
David: The promoter asked us to go down and meet this up-and-coming writer. So I
went down to do an audition for him and the whole thing started from there with the first
show, I Can Do Bad All By Myself. The whole Madea, Brown and Cora thing, nobody
could have ever imagined that it would have blown up like this.
Shamerra: Did Tyler just create the character of Brown and kind of let you run with it
from there? Was it a hit in one play and then —
David: What he actually will do, he’ll come in for a show and he’ll kind of give me a
skeleton of what’s supposed to happen in a scene. So I’ll just start building the
dialogue, the clothes … I’ll get a script and I’ll say this outfit would wear good with that,
and at home I’ll try some of the jokes, and my girls, they’re not a good gauge for me
’cause they laugh at everything I do.
Shamerra: Well now, Brown is quite a peculiar, outrageous character. I mean …
David: Well I just say “boo” at home and they start cracking up.
Shamerra: When you run with this character Brown, are you drawing on inspiration
from people in your family, people you knew in church …
David: Some of it was from, I won’t say any names in my family —
Tamela: His grandfather!
David: Yeah you see little stuff that they do, and it’s like, that’s funny. You know how
older people can say things that are just funny, so you just take it and run.
Shamerra: Yeah and everybody can relate.
David: You know some of the funniest stuff happens in church.
Shamerra: Well, yeah. Do you get tired of being referred to as Brown?
David: Hey, praise the Lord!
Shamerra: Cha-ching and amen!
David: Because of Brown, we’re launching our own TV show, and we’re doing our own
movie this summer. So, no.
Shamerra: What’s it like to work together every night?
David: I love it. I have to keep her on her toes on stage. She knows she has to listen to
me and pay attention because she never knows what’s going to happen. Like last night
I got her, and she just couldn’t handle it.
Shamerra: You lost it Tam?
Tamela: Man, sometimes he tries extra hard to do things ’cause he knows I will break
character and laugh. And I’ll just look at him like, “Oooh you make me sick!” [Laughs]
But it’s great being on stage with him though, there’s never a dull moment.
Shamerra: But when we’re watching and we see you about to break, it makes the
moment even funnier to know that you’re laughing.
Tamela: Yeah, I can hear people saying, “Look at Cora ... ”
David: When she try to hold it, I’m just like, “Uh-uh no, you not gon’ hold it.”
Tamela: He’ll look over at me and say, “You alright, Cora?” I’m like, “Naw I ain’t alright
and you know I ain’t alright!”
Shamerra: Now for that, he’s not right. During which play did you come to understand
that you all were involved in something almost extraordinary? I mean, you’re doing
multiple spin-offs of plays. When did it click?
Tamela: I think [the play] Madea’s Family Reunion. I Can Do Bad All By Myself
was the first one, and then once they recorded Diary of a Mad Black Woman, you
could see it kind of picking up. Once we got to Family Reunion and we recorded
again, it was like, that was it. Tyler kept hitting home with a lot of us. People are going
through different things with their marriages, sexual abuse in the family ... So it just
makes you feel better that you’re not the only one going through these things. In the
end, that’s why he does a lot of forgiveness. It actually releases you, then God can
really open doors for you.
Shamerra: Preach, woman of God!
David: Aaay, shabah!
Shamerra: Not today, Mr. Brown! … So I imagine you see the plays as a ministry,
based on what you just said.
Tamela: Yes definitely. Every night we pray before the show.
David: Right before we get ready to go out, we say, “To God be the glory.”
Tamela: You know, when I get ready to sing my songs, even with the ad lib, because I
don’t say the exact same thing every night, I ask the Lord to give me what to say
because there are different needs each night.
David: There are a lot of things going on the world, people walking in schools and
shooting, our gas prices are $20 a gallon. You just need some relief.
Tamela: I’m really in awe of what God is doing. I ask each night that He help us to not
take this for granted and remind us that this is not just about getting a check.
David: Sometimes we’re going to be the only church that people will go to. People will
come to the show because it has crossed racial lines, age barriers … There’s people
from ages 5 to 95 coming to the show. We have secular people … I do this little skit in
the show about obstacles. You know we can get over a lot of this stuff …
Mmmm yeah …
Shamerra: [Laughs] Amen. Tamela, the anointing, your message about the love of
God, and the passion for God that you have … always come through when you sing
during a play. Is it difficult to pull that off when you’re on stage for a somewhat scripted
play? Or can you easily switch back into Cora?
Tamela: It’s hard. That happened last night, as a matter of fact. I was going through
some things and then the song that I was singing really started speaking to me. It was
about just trusting God. The song is called “Step Aside.”
David: We have to tell her, “Look Tam, you have another show today.” She will go out
there and sing the song like it’s her last time. She always lets the Holy Ghost use her.
Tamela: I just really want to be able to open myself and not even care who likes it,
who doesn’t, if this is what God wants me to do at this time, this is what’s going to
happen. Tyler said to me when we first started this play, “If God moves on you, just go
Shamerra: That’s great. David I thought it was awesome when I read how you used to
help Tamela rehearse …
David: When we first decided we were going to do this acting thing, I said I’m going to
give her a little boot camp. So I had gotten on her nerves because I was really drilling
her about how to use inflection, etc. So when she finally got it like I wanted it, right in
the middle of her doing the line, I just started talking about something else. She’d say,
“Why would you do that, I’m trying to concentrate!” I told her, “Trust me, when you get
on that stage, people are going to talk back to you and say stuff that you’re going to
have to learn to just keep talking right over it.” And I’ll be doggone if we didn’t get to
Detroit [someone in the audience said] “Girl slap her … !” So I was trying to prepare
her. She didn’t understand it at the time, but later saw what I was doing.
Tamela: One time I was getting ready to sing in New York, we were doing Meet the
Browns, and this man was so loud and just yelling. I said, “Sir, excuse me, would you
please be quiet? You are very distracting to us.” The audience was hollering and
clapping. He was so loud and obnoxious, that people around him were like, “Thank you
for shutting him up.” Then we have people popping gum, taking pictures, coming in late.
Tyler really would call you out for coming in late ...
Shamerra: Tamela, let’s talk about your new CD, which is packaged with a full-length
DVD. Why did you decide to release a live version of your songs?
David: I made her!
Tamela: [Laughs] My executive over here. At first I didn’t want to, but I’m glad I did.
David: I’ll tell you why, because a lot of stuff, she’s not going to tell you about the DVD
… We didn’t have any live footage, and to experience Tam live is to really experience
her. You can take her to the studio and she can do some really cute stuff and it would
turn out nice, but to experience her live and to feel the anointing coming through …
Shamerra: It comes across. I like the vocal stretch you did with “I Need You Now.” Do
you find it easy to follow the presence and flow of God, even with your voice?
Tamela: Well, yeah.
David: I told you, she’s not going to say much about it.
Tamela: Because I never want to get caught up in myself.
Shamerra: I understand that, but you’re going to have to talk about it. Not just with
me, others will ask.
Tamela: OK, once I sat down and watched it, I couldn’t believe it was happening … I’ll
say it that way.
David: Even the look on Kirk Franklin’s face, he’s looking like, “You gon’ make that
Tamela: [By the end] God was just with us and it was just a great night for me.
David: Not me, I was totally opposite. I was executive producer, trying to keep it all
together backstage … I wanted to basically pistol whip somebody. You know how it
goes. But once she started singing, there was a peace and calm. I couldn’t do nothing
but sit and raise my hands and just cry.
Shamerra: How was it teaming up with Myron Butler? Was he singing with Kirk at the
same time that you were?
Tamela: We did the Nu Nation Tour with them.
David: Myron is so creative. I can give him a skeleton and tell him to put some meat
on it. His background vocals …
Shamerra: What was it like to have Kirk come out to support you at the concert?
David: We didn’t even know he was coming. To look out and see him, it meant a lot.
Shamerra: It’s a beautiful project, congratulations on it. David —
David: Who meeeeee? [Laughs]
Shamerra: [Laughs] Yes, you! ...
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