The beginning of Black Voices in Cabaret

In the NYC-based Bistro Awards News, Why Is Color Mostly Absent from Cabaret Stages? Lisa Jo Segolla writes “. . . cabaret is decidedly monochrome. Cabaret stages and audiences are populated predominantly by white folks. Why is this? What are the ramifications of such racial uniformity? Is anyone doing anything about it?”

Managing Director, David Stephens, gave a resounding YES to doing something about it. After a career as a magician and clown, he followed his spouse into cabaret. But he was confused and disturbed to be the only person of color in the cabaret, both in the audience or onstage. When he read Segolla’s article, he was moved to action. 

David points out that SongShop and its concert productions, SongShop Live, have been a touchstone for diversity among its performers. “This is the result of encouraging a wide-range of repertoire and welcoming all kinds of singers.”

SongShop founder Claudia Hommel’s response was like-minded and enthusiastic, and together David and she immediately pulled into the conversation other SongShop veterans like Kim Mann and Vivian Beckford as well as supporters like Margaret Murphy-Webb. They turned to SongShop’s umbrella nonprofit organization, Working In Concert, to become the home for this new initiative.

David thought “our mission should be to showcase Black performers, educate new audiences about the history of Chicago cabaret as seen through Black eyes, and uplift the repertoire beyond the standard American Songbook. With Black Voices in Cabaret, we hope to explore a wide variety of performing styles and to highlight both new and established performers. We also plan to engage both audiences and communities who have not been exposed to the art of cabaret with shows, seminars, and other events.”

Claudia noted that some of the obstacles to racial equity in our field have been its focus on the Great American Songbook, the perceived tuxedo/gown dress code, and the geographic divide between north side and south side audiences. But cabaret shines best when it is as variegated as the world we live in.