Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson & More: Richard "The Rev" Hartley on Working With Music's Biggest Names

The longtime musician and choir director shares fascinating stories about meeting Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and more ahead of The Rev premiere.

By Brett Malec Jan 21, 2021 5:10 PMTags
Watch: Mariah Carey's 1st E! Sit Down Interview: E! News Rewind

Name one of the biggest divas in music history and he's worked with her!

Meet Richard "The Rev" Hartley: the longtime musician turned Queens, NY pastor and choir director who is starring in USA's new hilarious docu-series The Rev. Long before Hartley and his family were entertaining fans on reality TV, Hartley was working with some of the most famous singers in the world on their albums, live performances and more.

We're talking Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Céline Dion. Oh, and the King of Pop himself Michael Jackson. We'll let Hartley tell you the fascinating stories in his own words.

"I think one of my best experiences was Diana Ross," Hartley told E! News exclusively. "So we're on the set of Double Platinum the movie. It was a movie she used to do for ABC and they contracted me to put the choir together. So I put the choir together and we had to sing this live."

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"First of all she hugged me and kissed me and she smells out of this world," he continued. "I've never smelled something so good in my life. I mean she just smells like love in a gown. Then she says, ‘Richard, I don't have my note. Could you give me my note.' And that's when I fell on the floor, rolled around, stop production. And I said, ‘She knows me! She really knows me!'"

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images/James Dimmock/USA Network/Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

"The Aretha Franklin story was quite the opposite," Hartley added. "Aretha was supposed to sing live on Phil Donahue. She decided at the last minute she wants to play the piano and let him sing. So I had to sing on five minutes notice and it's a song that she made famous. So I had to sing it while she's playing the piano…She's looking at me until I sing well enough to get her approval, then she started singing the diva that she is.

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Hartley said Carey was "so humble" when he worked on several of her performances.

"Now Mariah was a sweetheart," he shared. "I helped put choirs together for Mariah. They say she's a diva but she seemed humble. So she says to me, 'I need choreography, I need some movement. Could you give the choir some movement?' And she was just so sweet about it. Nothing demanding, nothing nasty. That was my fondest memory of working with Mariah Carey."

As for the King of Pop, they shared a special and hilarious moment thanks to some classic comfort food.

"Michael Jackson is recording something off the HIStory album in New York City at the Hit Factory," Hartley dished. "So they have the green room the whole Hollywood thing. So Richard Hartley being Richard Hartley goes…I went in the green room, it's all this Hollywood food. You know crudité, pasta. I go out loud, ‘Well where's the fried chicken? I want some chicken.' Little do I know that Michael Jackson is filming everything. Moments later 10 men come in with bags of chicken from Popeyes. I run into Michael Jackson doing his session, he says, 'So you're the one who wanted the fried chicken.' I didn't know what to do. He laughed, he said, 'So did you get enough?' That's what he said, ‘Did you get enough?' It was fantastic."

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Starting tonight on USA, fans can get to know Hartley and his over-the-top personality on The Rev. "Long story short, I've been told that I'm very eccentric and over-the-top and out of this world. Now I don't see it, but other people do," he told E!.

While he hasn't spent years watching other famous families on reality TV, he is a huge fan of one other familiar face on the USA network.

"I did watch Chrisley Knows Best, not for Todd Chrisley but I'm in love with Nanny Faye," he revealed. "She can get it. When I meet her it's going to be on. It's going to be The Rev and Nanny Faye. I just think she's a character...I'm crushing on her."

The Rev airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on USA.

(E! and USA are both part of the NBCUniversal family)

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