HOW WE MET / Womack and Womack

Linda Womack, daughter of the American soul singer Sam Cooke, was born in 1953. At the age of 11 she wrote her first hit, 'I Need A Woman'. She is married to Cecil Womack, youngest of the five Womack brothers who recorded gospel and rock'n'roll with Sam Cooke during the 1950s. Cecil Womack was born in 1947. With his wife he formed the musical partnership Womack and Womack. During a recent trip to Nigeria, Linda and Cecil discovered ancestral ties to the Zekkariyas tribe, and now call themselves Zeriiya and Zekkariyas respectively. They have six children.

LINDA WOMACK (ZERIIYA): My father had the deepest regard for all the Womack brothers. He had talked about how talented Zekkariyas was since I was four years old. We didn't meet physically until I was eight, by which time I felt as though I already knew him. It was when the brothers came round to our house for a recording session. I can remember my father saying, 'They're here. I want you to come down and entertain them.' They were all very chatty except for Zekkariyas. He'd just fix me with this serious stare. I found him very intriguing, so I went and sat next to him.

We talked all evening. The only thing that shocked him was when I stood up at the end of the evening. He hadn't thought about my age until he saw how short I was. I think that really freaked him out. He had been touring as a professional guitarist since two years old, so he was very grown up. I liked that. At that age the attraction wasn't physical, but it was kind of instant. I liked him immediately because he was so similar to me.

From that evening on we were very close. People around us found our relationship confusing, particularly our families, who always felt quite nervous about us. But in my mind there was nothing sexual in it. Things changed after I was 12 years old. My father had died, and, soon after, Zekkariyas proposed to me. I knew we were much too young and that I had to get my priorities straight. Here he was talking about marriage and I hadn't even kissed a boy yet. I felt Zekkariyas was really stepping in to protect me, which was a beautiful gesture, but I certainly wasn't looking for another father figure. I said no, but we decided to keep in touch while he was touring. After that we led quite separate lives. I went off to college and got involved in theatre and dance while Zekkariyas got married, to Motown singer Mary Wells, and built up his musical career.

We kept in touch, but the important meeting happened about 10 years later, soon after his marriage to Mary had finished. I was recording at the time and felt quite unhappy about my career. I wanted to get right away from the show business scene, so I decided to visit his mother, whom I'd been close to since my childhood. When she let me in, the first thing I saw was Zekkariyas, sitting in her kitchen on the table. I had no idea that he'd be there. He looked over at me and I had the warmest feeling that we were supposed to be together. No one knew how I felt - not even him.

He asked me out soon afterwards but I didn't really trust him. By that time he was pretty famous, and I thought perhaps he just wanted something casual. I had a very definite idea about relationships. I've always been a watcher rather than a doer, and looking around I knew exactly what sort of relationship I didn't want. I wasn't into living with someone. I told him that I wanted marriage. He just said, 'What do you think I've been talking about all along?' It was very cool and planned out on his part. I couldn't believe how decisive he was. He was so 'This is what we'll do, boom, boom, boom . . .'

It took me two weeks to make up my mind. When I did he said, 'OK, we'll go to Las Vegas tonight.' We went that night and got married. It was so spontaneous, and very out of character for me. When we did get it together I think a lot of my friends were kind of jealous. Girls can be possessive, and they didn't like the fact that I'd found another best friend. Our marriage ended most of my female relationships. I didn't find it sad. It had to be like that. I found that I just didn't need anybody else except for my husband.

I could never have made a move on him. Even though I'm very strong as a woman, I do believe in different roles for the male and female. Zekkariyas has always been the leader and the provider. That's the way I like it.

Our relationship works because we value being close to each other. We share the same values and goals. I'm a purist when it comes to relationships, and Zekkariyas is exactly the same way. I still can't believe that he's so like me. He could easily be my twin.

CECIL WOMACK (ZEKKARIYAS): The first thing that struck me about Zeriiya was her maturity. At eight years old she seemed like an 18- year-old. I had always felt quite adult for my age, and so when I met her I spoke to her as an equal all evening. We talked a lot about the pitfalls of working in the music industry. The conversation was very similar to the ones we have now. She seemed so smart. It only hit me how young she was when she stood up to say goodbye. She was so small.

I did a lot of recording with her father, and so we met regularly after that. In my mind it was always romantic, but I was too scared to say anything deep to her. I never dared to kiss her because I always thought she might hit me. There was one time I was determined to overcome my nerves. We were in the back of a car with my brother. When he got out, she didn't move, so I thought, 'Do it now, quickly, before he comes back.' Of course I didn't, probably because I was much too shy.

Although our group attracted a lot of fans, I was never that interested in women. The girls who hung around bands were too immature for me. I preferred my guitar. But I could always speak to Zeriiya. I'd have to tell her all the details about the guys I worked with. She was so nosy.

By the time her father died in 1964 I felt very close to her. I decided to get my nerve together and propose to her. Either way I wanted to know how she felt about me. One evening, just before I was about to go on tour, I told her, 'I know this may sound strange to you, but I really want to marry you.' She said we were both too young. She wasn't shocked by my confession, but just thought the timing was wrong. She had plans to go to college. Sometimes I wish we had got together then.

We promised to keep in touch and met up a lot in Europe and America. Our families were close, so we always had a lot to talk about. During that time I married the singer Mary Wells. It lasted for 10 years and was a success as far as I was concerned. I'm a very faithful person, but it's tough to keep a relationship going in the entertainment business. Underneath I suppose I was always thinking of Zeriiya. I always knew in my mind that it was going to happen. When I finally separated with Mary I knew something positive would come out of it.

When I met up with her at my mother's house in Los Angeles I felt a lot more confident. I knew this time there could be no excuses. It took her two weeks to say 'yes'. I think she had some reservations because she couldn't be sure I was serious after so long. When she agreed to marry me I said, 'We'll do the ceremony later, but let's get the legal stuff out of the way right now.' I just wouldn't let her waste any time.

When we married we started working together all the time. I think that upset some people. A lot of the guys I worked with were very anti-women. They knew I was all for promoting women who could do the job well. I've had good relationships with women and kind of looked after them. I got on well with my mother but always missed having a sister.

When Zeriiya was young, I felt we were like brother and sister. I still do. We relate the same way as we've always done. I wouldn't say she is tougher than me but she's certainly more outspoken. She hasn't changed a bit, which is something I tease her about all the time. I think we're successful together because we're so alike. I love travelling and so does she. She has never been into material possessions and I'm not either. So we don't have any disagreements. We prefer to sit down and talk about how we can get closer to each other.

(Photograph omitted)

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