Shirley Strawberry- I Got a Story to Tell
As Told to Hasan James
Photography by Logan Alexander
Shirley Strawberry is one fourth of one of the most popular radio shows of all time- the Steve Harvey Morning Show. She is soft spoken, yet confident and her laugh and personality are infectious. Before Tommy and Carla came along for the ride, there was Steve, Shirley and the Strawberry Letter. Over the past ten years, the Strawberry Letter has been one of the most popular segments of the show, with Steve and Shirley giving their very different opinions on any particular situation, from deceitful wives to husbands who don’t want to work, it’s never a dull moment. Ten years and thousands of letters later, Shirley thought it was high time she turned these letters into a book. The Strawberry Letter (Random House, 2011, $22.00) is Shirley’s first book and she takes “real talk, real advice” to another level, even opening up about her failed marriage. You already know Shirley, co-host of the Steve Harvey Morning Show; now meet Shirley the daughter, mother, friend and author.
Root: Do you realize the power that you and Steve have when you give advice during the Strawberry Letter segment?
Shirley Strawberry: I realize the power of radio and I also realize that the Strawberry Letter segment is one of our most popular segments on the show. So with a combination of those two, I guess in some way we do have a sense of influence. That’s why with the letters we try to give some serious advice. However, at the end of the day these are just our opinions. We understand that there is a significant amount of impact when we share the letters, that’s why we really try to give some good advice. Even with Steve’s kidding around and all of that, we try to give good classical advice.
Root: I agree. I think you do a really good job at that. It’s like a balance between the two opinions, which are kind of straightforward, well actually Steve’s are really straightforward and yours is the more practical advice. I think it’s a good balance. I’m curious, how did the Strawberry Letter come about?
Shirley Strawberry: It came about in the most unlikely way. My last name is Strawberry (that is my real last name by the way). A song by the Brothers Johnson, I’m sure you’ve heard of it, called the Strawberry Letter 23. So we wanted to do something different when we first started the show back in L.A. in 2000. We wanted to do something that would set us apart from all other morning shows… something that would give our show some pop. So we came up with the Strawberry Letter and put my last name together with the Brothers Johnson song and then we had the audience write us advice letters. That’s just how it started, as simple as that. Who knew it would grow into the phenomenon that it is today.
Root: That’s great, especially now with your new book that I have in front of me right now. Sometimes when I interview people regarding their books, I only read excerpts just to familiarize myself, but I must say this book had me intrigued. I read about 100 pages straight and I didn’t plan on doing that. Quite honestly, I thought it was a book solely for the ladies but it’s not. I think it’s a book that everyone could relate to so Kudos to you on that.
Shirley Strawberry: Well thank you for saying that. I get that more and more from the men who have read it. I am a woman, so for the most part I speak from a woman’s perspective, but it warms my heart when I hear that men read it too. The book can actually give you great insight into the psyche of a woman. Thank you for saying that and thank you for reading it too.
Root: You’re quite welcome. I like the mix of how you start it with the letters and then you put your spin on it. It’s a good read. In the book you are very clear about the type of man or husband that you want. It wasn’t as unrealistic as Chilli’s list (From VH1’s What Chili Wants). So I look at beautiful women like yourself and my mom, who has been married twice and is now single. What do you think the problem is? The bible says, “He that findeth a wife, findeth a good thing”, so why do so many men not “find” beautiful, eligible women such as yourself?
Shirley Strawberry: Well I really didn’t even realize it was a problem as it were but I think it is. It is my belief that everyone wants love and everyone wants to be in love. So, I will say this Hasan, One thing I even addressed in the book is that I don’t get out and meet people enough, I definitely need to get out more. I know people in the industry, I know people in my work environment, but I work a lot. I work and I go home so I really don’t go out. I’m not a club goer. I think I’m way too old to be up in somebody’s club, quite honestly. There’s no one set place to meet people like it used to be. Many of my friends are already married so the bottom line is that I need to get out more. That’s an issue with me because I love being at home.
Root: At least you know what the problem is.
Shirley Strawberry: I want to say one more thing to cap this off and I really appreciate you asking me that question. I realize now that I have not made getting a man a priority in my life. I have so many friends that say, “Girl, I’m going to get me a man” or” Girl, I’m going to find me a man”. That’s never been a priority for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love men, but while I was working and doing other things like working and raising my child, it wasn’t a top priority for me. I always had the attitude of if it happens it happens. But you also have to be in the mix in order for that to happen.
Root: I got it! So would you say that you’re content in your singleness?
Shirley Strawberry: I won’t say content but I’m happy. I’m not desperate or depressed but I am a happy person. I do have a full life so that’s why I would be a perfect candidate for a man who is looking for a wife or a mate because I am already happy and whole. I don’t have to be fixed or anything like that, other than my regular idiosyncrasies and things of that nature. Yeah, I’m a little crazy. But aren’t we all?
Root: So many people in the church world think that sexy and saved don’t mix. What are your thoughts on that?
Shirley Strawberry: Well you are right but I don’t know how people can really say that. When you look in the mirror you want to feel good about yourself. We go to the gym, we work on our bodies and we want to be healthy. We also want to look good. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially as women we love getting compliments and we love when men tell us we are beautiful. “I like what you’re wearing today”. I love that sort of thing. It’s ok if someone of the opposite sex looks at you and thinks you are attractive and sexy. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the words “Sexy” and “Christian” don’t go together, however sex is another thing. We who are Christians know what the Bible says about sex and marriage and we should adhere to that. However, with regards to Sexy and Christians, I think you can be sexy and be a Christian. I think we would be less than honest if were to say as Christians we don’t find another person sexy. Let’s just keep it real.
Root: Steve Harvey calls you the best voice in radio. I think that’s an accurate statement as you do have “the voice” and a great personality as well. How did you get your start in radio?
Shirley Strawberry: Thank you for those compliments. Well, I started when I was in school. I just started filling in doing news. It was always something I wanted to do since I was a little kid. I was actually fascinated by the radio when I was a little kid. When my mom would go to work I would always be blasting the radio…listening to the radio when I was getting ready to go to school and I just became so fascinated with the personalities on the radio. Growing up in Chicago
I listened to Herb Kent on WDON back in the day. Oh my goodness, he was like the Denzel Washington of radio.
Root: You are on the radio five times a week, four hours a day and eight million listeners; you have such a broad reach. What do you love most about your job?
Shirley Strawberry: What I love most about my job is that first I have one. It’s a blessing in these times to even have a job and it’s a double blessing if you a job that you like. The thing I love most about it is that you can come to work and laugh every day. It’s an adventure! You never know what’s going to happen. You are talking to eight million people and you have an outlet to help people get through their day. You’re informing and entertaining people while they are on their way to work. That’s all it is…it’s just a fun job. I get to sit next to Steve Harvey and he’s just the craziest man on earth. Nephew Tommy is just as crazy. Laughter is so good for the soul and to be able to go to work and laugh everyday and still do some good while you’re laughing and helping people is just a great combination. I’m very very blessed. It’s just an adventure. It’s like a grown up amusement park!
Root: I listen almost every day and for about three of four years I honestly thought that Eugene was a real person.
Shirley Strawberry: To him he is a real person; he’s just resides in Tommy’s body. (Laughter)
Root: I didn’t know that was Tommy!
Shirley Strawberry: I know we kept that a secret for a very long time. It’s just now starting to come out. Tommy is just brilliant that way. It’s just a blessing every one of us brings something different to the table and the combination of that chemistry just explodes into what is known as the Steve Harvey Morning Show.
Root: How do you juggle your very demanding career with motherhood and everything else you have going on?
Shirley Strawberry: Well, with a lot of prayer and patience. You know, Hasan, we do what we have to do. We just do it; we don’t think about it, we just do it. If this is what’s on our plates we have to do what’s on our plates. Like our mom told us when we were kids, “You have to eat everything on your plate”. That’s just what I try to do. I’m very blessed in the sense that my mom has helped me with my daughter since she was born. So I have that going for me, ever since my marriage broke up and I became a single parent. So I do have help. If you can possibly have help in your life it’s a great thing to be able to have someone help you raise your children because it is hard. I won’t sit here and tell you that single parenting is not hard… parenting period is the hardest job in the world if you ask me. Single parenting, whether you are a single mom or father, it’s hard, however, if you have help and you know how to organize and prioritize you can get it done.
Root: What made you want to write a book? When Steve came out with “At Like A Lady, Think Like A Man” did you say to yourself, maybe I can do that?
Shirley Strawberry: Well can I tell you a secret? I never wanted to write a book. Even though I had the honor and privilege to work with Steve on both of his best sellers but I never thought of writing my own book. Now that I look back, when I was helping him it was preparing me to write my own book, although I didn’t know that at the time. So many of our listeners kept asking me, “When is your book coming out Shirley?” So after you hear this so many times I thought maybe this is God speaking to me through other people. God does work through people and I said I would be obedient if this is what you want, I’ll write it Lord, and I did.
Root: Wow! You never know how God is going to direct your path.
Shirley Strawberry: Exactly! I was perfectly content with doing the Strawberry Letter every day via the radio. I was perfectly content to be of any help or service that I could be to Steve as he wrote his books. So I was perfectly content with that. Never in a billion years did I think that I would ever write a book. But I am so happy I did and that it’s being so well received. I truly appreciate that.
Root: Yes, it reached number 10 on the Washington Post’s best seller list?
Shirley Strawberry: Yes, the Washington Post Best Sellers list for non-fiction.
Root: That’s good for your first book.
Shirley Strawberry: Yes who knew? I am looking at the New York Times Best Sellers list, I have it, and it’s on my radar.
Root: As you should. What’s next for you Shirley?
Shirley Strawberry: I don’t know but I will say this I have started compiling Strawberry Letters for possibly a second book. I think I have more stories to tell. I would love for a studio, director or producer to pick up my book and read it and possibly see a movie in it. That would make me happy. Other than that, hopefully love and just continuing to raise my daughter, and of course continue on the Steve Harvey Morning Show.
Root: Are you bicoastal are you in New York and LA? I know the show moves around.
Shirley Strawberry: Yeah, our hub of course is New York City but we have studios in Atlanta too.
Root: Now you are doing the Steve Harvey Project, which is also great.
Shirley Strawberry: Thank you. The Steve Harvey Project is another blessing that came our way via BET and Centric TV. That’s very exciting. We just completed our first year and we have a few more weeks of filming before we break for summer and hopefully come back in the Fall.
Root: That’s great. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me. I am a big fan of yours.
Shirley Strawberry: It was really nice talking to you. Tell everyone they can follow me on twitter @mygirlshirley and my website is www.shirleystrawberry.com