Black Voices in Cabaret was initiated by Black performers who have met through SongShop and Cabaret Connexion. We seek to bring the great variety of African American music and performers to the cabaret stage. Our goal is to use the power and intimacy of cabaret to advance the place of Black voices in our society.
An actor-director-musician before she was out of grade school, Arlene “wrote the scripts, built the set, auditioned all the acts. Ever since I played the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg in a school production of Jack and the Beanstalk, the stage was mine.” She sang in the church choir and local gospel groups, and listened to blues and jazz with her family. Her solo shows with Bobby Schiff include Just a Girl and a Piano, Jazz Bird and To Carmen, with Love (a tribute to Carmen McRae). She has appeared in Life is…Snapshots in Song and Thank You for the Music with Ruth Fuerst and Carol Weston. As member of Chicago Cabaret Professionals, she has performed in CCP and Midwest Cabaret Conference showcases, and in several SongShop Live concerts. Dedicated to Duke: the Music of Ellington is her upcoming, post-Covid, show.
A native of Queens, NY, Viv graduated from Hunter College with an RN/BS, and later transitioned from nursing to teaching elementary school in New York City public schools for 35 years. She began her formal music training in 1999 at Singers Forum, then Mannes and the New School of Music, performing opera scenes from Handel’s Orlando, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and La Clemenza Di Tito, Menotti’s The Old Woman and the Thief. She sings in church choirs and choral groups, performing Handel’s Messiah, Brahms’ German Requiem and solos in Vivaldi’s Gloria. Spirituals are very much a part of her repertoire. Vivian has sung with the University of Chicago chorus and has enjoyed several years of singing and performing with SongShop.
Contralto Gwendolyn Brown’s 25-year career includes performances in opera, symphonic, contemporary and avant-garde music, classical art song and spirituals. She is acclaimed for performances in large opera houses (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera, New Orleans Opera, to name a few), and symphony homes (Boston Symphony, LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and Tanglewood) in the United States, Her international career has taken her to Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Amsterdam and Australia. She has created roles with Anne LeBaron for the Contemporary Opera Company The Industry, and with George Lewis for new music festivals in the UK, and the Ojai Music Festival in California. Gwendolyn has also premiered and commissioned art songs and spirituals of up-and-coming young composers. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Gwendolyn obtained her BA in Music at Fisk University (Nashville, TN), pursued the master’s degree in Vocal Performance at the University of Memphis (Memphis, TN) and completed her master’s at the American Music Conservatory (Hammond, IN). She trained at The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and The Des Moines Metro Opera Young Artist Program. Ms. Brown lives in Nashville where she is the Assistant Professor of Music in Voice and Opera Workshop at Fisk University. She has conducted master classes in vocal technique, performance practice of spirituals and Black/African-American Art Song, as well as career counseling in the classical music field. Working In Concert is proud to present her in On Call, a new opera given its virtual premiere next spring.
E. Faye Butler’s career of over forty years includes performing and directing musicals and plays across the country and internationally. Named a Chicagoan of the Year in 2020 by the Chicago Tribune, E. Faye travels the country with her cabaret shows and concert series including, American standards, jazz, blues, R&B, gospel and musical theater. She plays cabarets, clubs and private events, with her own 10-piece band, The EFO Orchestra. Recipient of nine Joseph Jefferson Awards, two Helen Hayes Awards, four Black Theater Alliance Awards, Ovation Award, Sarah Siddons Leading Lady Award, Excellence in the Arts, R.A.M.I. Award, two Black Excellence Awards, the Kathryn V. Lampkey (Actors Equity) Award, Rosetta LeNoire Award, John Barrymore Award, After Dark Award, The Guy Adkins Award, E.Faye is a Ten Chimneys Lunt-Fontanne Fellow and was inducted into the Women in the Arts Museum in Washington D.C. in 2008. In 2020, she released “Going Down to the Rhythm” in Milan Italy. Visit: www.e-fayebutler.com Facebook: E. Faye Butler/ Instagram: efayebutler.
Cynthia Clarey joined the cabaret world in Chicago after 35 years as an international opera singer. She can be seen on film in L’incoronazione di Poppea with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and in the award-nominated Porgy and Bess directed by Trevor Nunn. Since coming to Chicago, she has been teaching at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. She is a member of Chicago Cabaret Professionals and has performed at several venues in Chicago and beyond. Two years ago, she made her theater debut in Porchlight Music Theater’s Scottsboro Boys and was seen last year in their revisit of 1776. She also has two one-woman shows, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted and Bridge Over Muddied Waters that she presented at Davenport’s, Roosevelt, at the Schorr Family Firehouse Theater in Johnson City, NY. A show at the 8th Floor Club Room at Symphony Center In Chicago launched the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new programming for the African-American Network.
Coco Sho-nell was born in a small town outside of Gary, Indiana . . . and that town called CHICAGO! Now you can find Coco in her own drag/cabaret variety show Coco Sho-Nell Presents . . . on twitch.tv/cocoshonell and every first and third Thursday of the month with Ben D. Mann’s boylesque on twitch.tv/bendmann. To learn more, visit Coco on twitter @CocoShoNell, IG @cocoshonell
Lynn Colbert-Jones is a songwriter from the Chicago area, who began writing lyrics at the age of 17. She has written over 150 songs, spanning almost every genre from jazz to country. She is sought out by many musicians to collaborate in writing lyrics and melodies. Lynn is the creator of the weekly Friday night program, The Good Hearts Club Music Zoom. She is also co-creator of the monthly show Composer’s Café. A younger cousin of the legendary band leader Lil Hardin Armstrong, Lynn help launch BVIC by participating in the first Black Voices in History panel discussion.
Evelyn is a vocalist/actor/wardrobe mistress/teacher and costumer at the Goodman by day, professional performer by night. She has been with Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater for more than 25 years; singing, dancing, acting and most recently as “Miraculous Wardrobe Mistress.” With more than twenty musical productions to her credit, Evelyn has portrayed the legendary jazz great Ella Fitzgerald in four different productions. She serves in the music ministry of her home church, Covenant Faith Church of God.
Dr. Ollie Watts Davis is the Suzanne and William Allen Distinguished Professor of Music, Professor of Voice, and Conductor of the award-winning Black Chorus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A University Scholar and recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Leadership Award, Dr. Davis holds the Bronze Medallion of Honor and is recognized as a woman who “through example and service has used her talents to enrich the lives of others.”
Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a bubbling stream of a voice, remarkably smooth down into a resonant, rich low register” soprano Ollie Watts Davis earns superlatives for her vocal artistry, extraordinary versatility, and radiant stage presence. Since her New York debut at Carnegie Hall, she has appeared with leading orchestras; in opera; at art museums; and internationally in Central and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Heard on National Public Radio and featured on four CD recordings, her passion for work of historic significance is further realized as author (Talks My Mother Never Had with Me); minister (Christian Education at Grace Fellowship Church in Champaign (Illinois); and founding director of the Black Sacred Music Symposium at Illinois.
A native West Virginian, Ollie holds the Bachelor of Science magna cum laude from West Virginia Institute of Technology, where she was named Alumna of the Year; Master of Arts from West Virginia University; and Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts phi beta kappa from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Patrick Davis loves to croon and belt, whether jazz, cabaret, rock, pop or R&B. A former church choir singer, his admiration for singing was reawakened in 2003 thanks to vocal instructor and mentor Elsa Harris and support from his family. He performed in Harris House of Music’s Xmas, gospel & jazz recitals in the 2000s. The late musician and teacher, Gwen Pippin, inspired Patrick to sing out his “crazy” by performing in many of her We-Haven’t-Quit-Our-Day-Jobs-Yet recitals. He has formed a new musical partnership with musician Sami Scot to participate in her Still Crazy After All These Years in 2015 and many of her Three Minutes in the Spotlight shows. He regularly sings at Davenport’s Piano Bar open mic and similar venues.
Twelve-time Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs Winner, Natalie Douglas, has been called “a true force of nature,” by Clive Davis of The Times (UK). She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Cafe Carlyle, The Town Hall, Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Pheasantry in London, and at her NYC home club, Birdland Jazz Club, where her award-winning Tributes monthly residency (Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Elvis, Dolly Parton, Nat “King” Cole, Dame Shirley Bassey, Ella Fitzgerald, Roberta Flack, Joni Mitchell, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Barbra Streisand and more) is now in its fourth year. Natalie has released three albums, including the MAC Award-winning Human Heart. Natalie has also made her mark as an educator and actor—she is a Master Teacher for the Mabel Mercer Foundation, the St. Louis Cabaret Conference and the Eugene O’Neill Cabaret & Performance Conference. Natalie holds a Bachelor’s Degree from USC in Psychology, Theater and Women’s Studies and a Master’s Degree from UCLA in Psychology and Theater. For more info, visit www.nataliedouglas.com.
A Chicago native, Carmeanna has been singing since age six. In middle school, she took to the stage and never wanted to leave. She took her love of expression through song to college where she received her BA in Communications with a minor in theater. She has since performed in several stage productions, sang in the professional band The McNary Experience and has been featured on several holiday albums. In recent years Carmeanna has developed a love for cabaret and the way it allows artists to connect with the audience on a deeper level. She has been featured in a few cabarets around Chicago but is most proud of her own project, Charis Cabaret, a showcase she produces and directs since its 2018 debut at the Uptown Underground.
LaShera Moore Ellis received her Bachelor of Arts in Voice from Columbia College. She performed both live and in the video recording for “I Wanna be the Change”, a Grammy-considered song, along with Jeannie Tanner and Sophie Grimm. She has been part of SoundTracks of a Generation for three years, singing with SoulBliss, a tribute to Joe Cocker and Aretha Franklin. She is currently a vocalist for the Forte band with guitarist and friend Chris Forte and performs at Holy Trinity in downtown Chicago under the musical leadership of Jonathan Gilley. She also often performs at United Supper Club as LaShera Moore & Company.
An extraordinary singer with a rich and varied voice and repertoire, Sean has a firm commitment to conveying his songs to each member of the audience. Singing from lyric baritone to lyric tenor and countertenor, Sean has been deeply influenced by the likes of Mario Lanza for opera and Neapolitans, Johnny Mathis for pop, and his favorite jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. With a repertoire that includes rhythm & blues, jazz, French cabaret and Italian Neapolitans, opera and oratorio, art songs and Broadway, Sean was mentored by pianist/band leader Joe Vito who said: “His is an unbelievable voice; you have to hear him live to fathom Sean’s smooth transitions between musical styles.” Sean has been featured with the Dave Green Trio, at the Green Mill Jazz Club with Kimberly Gordon, was a regular at the Drake Hotel Coq d’Or, has performed at the Civic Opera House, Auditorium Theater, the Chicago Cultural Center and others. In demand from churches to senior centers, he performs often with pianist Geo Cooper and violinist Edgar Gabriel. Chicago “born and bred,” Sean graduated from James H. Bowen High School and the University of Illinois at Chicago (music performance). He is featured singing in French and English on the two-CD set of the Jazz Fauré Project (jazzfaure.com). He offers private voice lessons and can be reached by phone at 773-744-6537.
Hermene Hartman, serves as President and CEO of the Chicago-based Hartman Publishing Group, Inc.
Ms. Hartman is Founder/ President of N’DIGO Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, which began in 1995. Its sole purpose is to raise funds for educational purposes. Ms. Hartman served as President of the Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ABLE), a business group, dedicated to entrepreneurial pursuits. She is the first woman to head the organization and the first president to serve two terms. In 2008, Ms. Hartman began Views From The Heart, daily commentaries on radio station V-103. Views includes unique perspectives on politics, lifestyles, family, business, life, culture and the community.
Prior to publishing, Hermene was a college administrator and Behavioral Science professor at City Colleges of Chicago. She received a MBA from the University of Illinois, MA degree in sociology and MPH with Honors and BFA from Roosevelt University. She is the author of A Lasting Impression, a collection of photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She is the author of N’DIGO LEGACY: BlackLuxe 110 and a collection of poetry, How Would You Like Your World Today? In 2019, she started a TV Program, N’DIGO STUDIO, airing on NBC-TV. The program discusses race, lifestyle and political issues.
A Chicago native, Charles “Rick” Heath IV is a versatile and renowned musician, educator, and producer. Currently, he serves as the drummer for piano jazz legend Ramsey Lewis and is the producer and founder of the Ken Chaney Scholarship Fund, designed to assist young jazz musicians attend jazz camps throughout the country, help with their college tuition, and maintain a free monthly mentorship jam session for young musicians and the community. Mr. Heath taught music in Chicago Public Schools from 1999-2007. He then served as principle drummer for Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones’ national touring production of the Broadway hit musical The Color Purple featuring Fantasia and Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child. Charles is now an adjunct professor of jazz drum set at Columbia College and UIC. He is continuously breaking barriers in his career as a musician, mentor, educator, producer and humanitarian, leading with a cutting edge approach with a passionate heart and professional class. He is dedicated to playing the drums in all genres from gospel to blues and jazz to Latin music. He has performed and recorded with Ramsey Lewis, Phillip Bailey of Earth Wind and Fire, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ken Chaney, Donald Byrd, Robert Irving III, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and many others.
Noted for her considerable versatility, Paula is a winning performer on stage in her trained field of opera, musical theater, cabaret; on camera for commercials, film and television. She coaches young artists via her collegiate master class tours. She has sung extensively in Europe. Directed by Simon Callow, her London West End début was in the title role of Carmen Jones to rave reviews. Paula made her New York City cabaret début at Feinstein’s/54 Below in her original show, Dark Legacy: Bright Lights of Black Broadway with Alex Rybeck, Musical Director, of which Broadway World wrote: “Dark Legacy is the perfect embodiment of the sentiment that music transcends cultures and bridges gaps.” Other notable appearances include Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Chicago Cabaret Convention in 2017 and its New York Cabaret Convention in 2018 (Jazz at Lincoln Center). Volume 2 of her recording Art. Legacy. Celebration. A Salute to African-American Composers of Art Songs and Spirituals will be released in 2021. Paula has a Bachelor of Music degree in Voice/Opera Performance from the University of Missouri and a Master of Music in Voice/Opera Performance from Indiana University. She is a member of the Chicago Cabaret Professionals and the Manhattan Association of Cabaret Professionals.
Tenor Cornelius Johnson has performed throughout Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States. Mr. Johnson’s repertoire includes classical, musical theater, opera and sacred music, with a voice described as “expressive and soaring.” (The Post Standard, NY) Operatic performances have included roles in Carmen, Djamileh, Don Pasquale, La Bohème, Porgy and Bess, and The Magic Flute, with Chautauqua Opera, Houston Grand Opera, La Scala in Milan, Los Angeles Opera, Opera Bastille in Paris, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Opera in The Neighborhoods”, Opera Theater of St. Louis, San Diego Opera, San Francisco Opera, South Shore Opera of Chicago, and Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain. A proponent of new works and works by African-American composers, Cornelius has been seen in Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, by Nkeiru Okoye, The Poet by Steven Allen and Troubled Island by William Grant Still. He performed in Chicago Opera Theater’s world premier of Freedom Ride by Dan Shore and in another world premier, A Sovereign Pout: Le Tumulte Noir of Josephine Baker by composer Renee Baker, with the African-American Network of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Festival appearances include Ravinia (IL), Yachats (OR), and Chicago’s Gospel Fest, and the opening weekend of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park in Chicago; concerts at Atlanta’s Symphony Center, Chicago’s Symphony Center, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (NYC), and the Smithsonian Institution (DC); with the Sydney, Racine, and Waukegan symphonies and with members of the Tokyo Philharmonic. A native of Chicago, Mr. Johnson is an alumnus of Morehouse College and Northwestern University. He is an Assistant Professor of Music at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago.
Randolph Johnson, a native Chicagoan, has received excellent reviews for his portrayal of Horse in Kokandy’s Full Monty, and Blood in ETA’s production of Every Night When The Sun Goes Down and received BTAA nomination for the role of Cousin Acey in The Clara Ward Story. Other performances include playing Amonasro, Aida’s father, in Bailiwick’s Aida and Mitch Mahoney in The Noble Fools Theater’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; Philmore in Pegasus Players’ production of Jitney (BTAA’s award for Best Ensemble). Other Chicago credits include: Booker T. Washington in Ragtime (Jeff Award for “Best Production”) with Porchlight Music Theater & Big Noise Theater; Bailiwick’s Kiss of the Spiderwoman a Newt Lee in Parade which both received Jeff Citations. He was a featured vocalist for Max Roach Trio and U of I Black Chorus, and Chicago Chamber Opera. He has a BS and MS in Music Education (vocal/instrumental) from the University of Illinois (Urbana).
In a city (Chicago) brimming with classic blues and jazz divas, Lynne Jordan stands apart. Not only do her soaring vocals dip into blues, jazz, funk, rock, and even country but her bawdy personality has won over crowds. The late Chicago film critic Roger Ebert declared her his “favorite diva.” Backed by her sizzling band The Shivers, Jordan developed into a Chicago institution, playing jazz and blues clubs, The Chicago Bluesfest, swanky lounges and even the charity circuit throughout the country. She brought her special brand of storytelling, raw humor, and performance to Chicago, New York, and Atlanta with her sold-out show, A Musical Tribute to Nina Simone.
Raised in a family of church-going singers in Dayton, Ohio, Lynne came to Northwestern University to study journalism only to change majors to theater and has been performing nonstop ever since. She has represented Chicago as an Arts Ambassador to Moscow and Kyiv, has graced stages throughout Europe and South America, and was featured in the Jazz Opera, Don’t Worry, Be HaRpy by French composer Isabelle Olivier. The show returned to Paris for a third tour in June 2016. Lynne is currently featured live with the great Corky Siegel Chamber Blues—“an exhilarating experience!” In addition to her two CDs, Lynne is featured on recordings by Tom Waits, Urge Overkill, Toronzo Cannon and several compilations, most notably a tribute to Janis Joplin: Blues Down Deep: Songs of Janis Joplin which also featured Etta James, Otis Clay, Taj Mahal & Koko Taylor.
Singing in any genre or language, Lynne says, “It’s the song and the story that matters.” Stories inspire Lynne and she has gained a solid reputation in the Live Lit (Storytelling) community by performing monologues from her upcoming one-woman show: A GREAT BIG DIVA.
Born and raised in Kirkwood, Missouri, and now based in Atlanta, the oldest of Carla and John Hundley’s four children, Dom received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater from Southeast Missouri State University. Dom has spent the past fourteen years performing in choirs and bands, musical theater productions, films, radio shows, commercials, and dance concerts, from St. Louis to Chicago to Los Angeles. His first album Sweet Dreams was recorded in 2015. His second album New Art is currently in development. “Velvet-voiced Dom knows how to hold an audience in the palm of his hand. It’s a great place to be.” Carla Gordon, Cabaret Scenes Magazine. For social media and more information on Dom, visit www.domlamour.com
Ava is an award-winning singer-actress from Washington, D.C., now living in the Chicago area. Dr. Logan is a veterinarian by day and a jazz singer at night. The classically-trained jazz recording artist has performed jazz, pop, rhythm and blues, nationally and internationally, in jazz clubs, festivals, hotels with duos to 18-piece big bands! She has portrayed her idols Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson in professional theater performances in Chicago. Her first major CD, So Many Stars, produced by internationally acclaimed guitarist Henry Johnson, was met with critical acclaim. You can find Ava at www.avalogan.com.
Mike Logan has been playing piano professionally for over 40 years. He started his career in 1978 with the Staple Singers. Influenced by Oscar Peterson, George Duke and Herbie Hancock, Mike’s foundation with the Staple Singers, Gene Chandler and The Emotions led to co-writing a hit single for Gerald Albright in the mid-80s. He also penned, produced and performed the soundtracks for three motion pictures by Fred Williamson. His resume also includes working for ten years with Ramsey Lewis, and as musical director for Phil Perry. In recent years, Mike has recorded with Nick Colionne, and performed with Kirk Whalum, Steve Cole, Will Downing, Gerald Albright, Patti Austin, Jonathan Butler, Rick Braun, Peter White, Chieli Minucci, Everette Harp, Jeff Lorber and Jeff Golub, Tyler Perry, Boz Scaggs and toured with Michael McDonald.
Kim spends her days supporting infants and toddlers who become involved in the child welfare system. Several years ago, a desire to achieve better work/life balance led her to explore voice classes through the Beverly Arts Center, and she now studies with Greta Pope. Kim has been involved in choirs since her days as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois in Urbana. She joined SongShop in 2015. Four performances later, there’s no looking back. Kim serves as Director-at-large on the Working In Concert Board of Directors.
A veteran of the Chicago scene, Holly brings her own unique interpretation to jazz, pop, and blues. In the 70s, Holly was the opening act for comedians and the famous Minsky’s Burlesque at the Chicago Playboy Club. In the 80s she began playing a distinct style of Chicago-inspired music and appeared at outdoor festivals, dinner cruises on Lake Michigan, corporate events, weddings, and Andy’s Jazz Club appearing on the same bill with Roberta Flack and Dave Koz. Holly joined the Steve Sandner Quartet and toured many Midwestern resorts and clubs, and together they recorded and released a CD, Catch 38, covering contemporary jazz standards. The title music and lyrics are by Holly. Holly was a part of the Ken Arlen Orchestra and Jeff Stitely Orchestra, and wowed an audience of over 300,000 at Poland’s Woodstock Music Festival. Now singing with Chicago Bar Association Choir, she soloed at St. James Cathedral, Harold Washington Library, Lincoln Academy of Illinois Ceremony, with performances at Fourth Presbyterian Jazz service and Unity Chicago with a Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase.
Powerhouse singer, songwriter and recording artist from Chicago, Illinois, Meagan McNeal is known for her diverse range and soulful voice in jazz, soul and R& B. McNeal attracted attention on the local circuit and received international acclaim with the release of her debut album Mindset in 2014, graced the stage of NBC’s The Voice in 2017, and soon after, joined the team of Grammy Award winning artist Jennifer Hudson. McNeal uses her signature style to transcend boundaries and spread messages of love, peace, righteousness and truth.
Madeline Morgan got her music education the old fashioned way—from a family who believed in performance and were performers themselves. Her style is laid-back and her musical preference is jazz. She has sung in church choirs, community choirs and the Sounds Good seniors choir. She has performed at Davenport’s Cabaret several times, produced and directed projects Ella and Sarah with Judy Narcisse, at Infinity and her Luncheon Jazz series. She is a member of Chicago Cabaret Professionals.
Margaret Murphy-Webb received her Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from Chicago State University. Active for over thirty years, this award-winning entertainer credits her unique vocal style and showmanship to the tutelage of world-legendary Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freeman. Margaret has been featured at the Taste of Chicago, Winona Indiana Jazz Festival, Mississippi Valley Blues Festival; Chicago Blues, Jazz and Gospel festivals, Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Andy’s, The Green Mill, Jazz Showcase, Pete Millers, Winters Jazz Club among other Chicago festivals and jazz venues. She had the honor of performing for both Presidents Obama and Clinton, as well as ambassadors from Russia and Poland. In 2018, Margaret was chosen by Jazz Journalists of America as Chicago’s Jazz Hero for her work in keeping the legacy of jazz alive on the south side of Chicago. Margaret is executive director of the nonprofit South Side Jazz Coalition which presents free live jazz, offers mentoring programs and advocates for Chicago musicians. A twenty-two year veteran of the Chicago Police Department and a breast cancer survivor, Margaret has quite a few stories to tell and she loves to do it with song. Margaret is a co-chair of The Year of Chicago Music 2020/21 and a member of the Chicago Cultural Council.
As an artist, humanitarian and global citizen Che (Rhymefest) Kweku has shattered negative stereotypes in hip-hop. Che won a Grammy Award for co-writing Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” as well as a Soul Train award, Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar for co-writing Common and John Legend’s “Glory.”
The subject of a Showtime and Break Thru Film’s documentary, In My Father’s House, Che purchased the childhood home of his estranged father only to find that his father had been homeless for most of Che’s life; he then embarked on a journey to reconnect and redeem their relationship. He co-starred in the motion film The Public alongside Gabriel Union, Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater, written and directed by Emilio Estavez.
Co-founder of the Chicago nonprofit organization, “Art of Culture.” Che mentors, teaches writing classes and exposes youth to various career options in music and business. Che has been named co-chair of The Year of Chicago Music, an initiative by the city to highlight Chicago’s vibrant music scene. His newest project Love Lessons Parts 1 and 2 is a memoir and album that details the last two years of Rhymefest’s personal and professional life..
In 2020 Mark Ruffin celebrated his 40th year in broadcasting and journalism. Since 2007, the double Emmy winner and Grammy nominee has been the program director of the Real Jazz channel on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. Before that he spent over 25 years in jazz broadcasting and journalism in Chicago, including winning two Emmy Awards for his efforts in bringing stories about jazz to television on WTTW-TV/Chicago.
Mark worked for over 25 years as Jazz Editor for Chicago Magazine and has written hundreds of articles on jazz, broadcasting and African-American culture. His articles have appeared in a variety of local and national publications, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Down Beat, Jazziz, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Playboy, N’digo, Ebony and dozens of other publications.
He has produced radio for Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King, Ramsey Lewis, Marcus Miller, Steppenwolf Theater, Christian McBride and many more. He has produced albums by Rene Marie, Charenee Wade, Giacomo Gates, Lauren Henderson, George Freeman and others. He is winner of both the Jazz Journalists Association Career Excellence in Broadcasting Award and the Duke Dubois Humanitarian Award from Jazzweek.com. In 2019 Mark was honored by Jazzmobile with their NYC Jazz Readers Award. In 2020, he added “author” to his resume with the release of Bebop Fairy Tales: A Historical Fiction Trilogy on Jazz, Intolerance and Baseball. The book won two Feathered Quill Book Awards and is a 2021 Jazz Journalists Association Book of the Year nominee.
Biography to come . . .
Devon Sandridge is a Chicago-based vocalist. His musical journey began in the church choir. Discovering legendary baritone, Johnny Hartman, awakened Devon’s passion for singing.
Upon returning to the U.S. from overseas military duty, he studied voice with Chicago jazz legend, Henry Johnson. He amassed an extensive jazz repertoire and developed what Chicago Jazz Magazine describes as “a remarkable bass-baritone voice.”
Along with his unique range, he has many other musical influences, from Joe Williams and Billie Holiday to Etta James and Stevie Wonder. Devon has performed at many venues including Andy’s Jazz Club, City Winery and Oil Lamp Theater and has become a mainstay on the Chicago music scene.
Ava Saunders attended the Chicago Academy for the Arts with a concentration in musical theater. She also is an alumna of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program. While there she performed as Judge in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Roberta in Danny in the Blue Deep Sea, and Henry in Henry V which was being performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. She has also performed in spaces such as The Harris Theater, Ten Thousand Things, and The Guthrie Theater. Other performances include Sarah Brown Eyes in Ragtime, Luisa Contenti in Nine and Rosalind in As You Like It. She has participated in Global Girls, an organization in Chicago for Black women with an interest in the performing arts. She was selected to lead a theater workshop with students at Katta Kuthu Nadagam Theatre in Chennai, India.
David Stephens was first introduced to the world of magic at age nine when he discovered magic books in the school library. By age twelve, he was performing professionally for shows and parties around New Jersey. At age 25, he attended “clown school” and became one of the region’s best-known professional African-American clowns, performing at private shows and corporate grand openings for Verizon Wireless, KFC, and Pathmark supermarkets. He moved to Chicago in 2014. With the support of his spouse Dan Johnson, he has become an avid singer. A frequent participant in SongShop, his musical influences lean towards jazz, pop and R&B . . . with a touch of Broadway. He has performed at showcases and open mics around Chicago. In 2016, he debuted in both Chicago Cabaret Professional’s Strut Your Stuff showcase and their 2017 Merry Measures holiday fundraiser. He participated in the Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion in 2018. In 2019, he premiered his first solo show The Times of My Life at Davenport’s with musical director, Mark Burnell, which incorporated both music and magic. His next show, Soulful 70’s, Sounds is in development.
Randy Taylor is a music aficionado vocalist of the Great American Songbook and Cabaret. He’s a Jazz Studies graduate from UCLA’s Herb Albert School of Music & also holds a Master’s of Business Administration degree (Marketing) to manage his entertainment career. Some of Randy’s personal mentors include legendary guitarist Kenny Burrell, singer Barbara Morrison, and singer/actor Elijah Rock. He belonged to a modern day Ink Spots Quartet for five years. Such rich training, mentorship and education have shaped Randy’s current solo career singing with big bands, small jazz ensembles, and choral singing capacities. His distinctive vocal quality has enabled him to sing throughout the US, and overseas in Italy and China.
Christie Chiles Twillie is a Pianist, Music Director, Sound Designer and Composer. Her music directing credits include over 40 musicals. Straight play compositional credits include: A Raisin in the Sun (Invictus); The Niceties (Forward), The Mountain Top (American Players). Sound Design/Composition credits include: Fireflies (Northlight), We Are Continuous & VietGone (GEVA), The Way She Spoke (Milwaukee Chamber), Shapeshifters (UArts) and the Milwaukee Black Theatre Festival productions of Black Butterflies, Pretty Fire, Kill Move Paradise, Stew and Home. Christie’s film scores can be heard in The Pandemic Trilogy, The Clearing and Alone.
In 2019, she was awarded the Footlights Best Musical Direction Award – Professional Production (Five Guys Named Moe), and a Rachel Rockwell Fierce Women Behind The Table award for Music Direction by Porchlight Music Theatre. In 2018, she earned a BTAA nomination for Best Music Direction – Original Score (Yellowman). Christie was a Chicago Broadway World Finalist for Best Music Direction, (Big Fish). Regional musical credits include HAIR (Asolo), Five Guys Named Moe, Newsies, and The Gospel at Colonus (Skylight) and the Chicago premier of Minnie’s Boys (Porchlight). Christie is a member of the American Federation of Musicians; Theatre Musicians Association; MUSE (Musicians United for Social Equity), and she is a Board Member for MAESTRA.
Kat Victoria brings amazing tributes to classrooms, school assemblies, public library events and senior centers, with the gift of story-telling and song. An award-winning actress and eighteen-year Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center veteran, she does it all with an engaging down-to-earth and humorous performance that delivers a deliciously silky voice to move, groove and soothe the soul. Since 1995, she has performed at nightclub and cabaret venues including: The Apollo Theater in New York, Park West, Davenport’s Cabaret, and Piano Forte in Chicago, Skokie Theater, and on the waters with Carnival Cruises. She performed in Paris during the CPCx Conference in 2017 at Café Universal, Relais de la Huchette, and Studio Raspail.
Her song repertoire features Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, Dinah Washington, Roberta Flack, Etta James, Mary Wells and other Motown greats. Hers is a sought-after impressionist of Gladys Knight and Tina Turner for community, corporate and private events. As singer-songwriter and recording artist, Kat’s CD, Kat Victoria Hollywood Shine on Me, is available on iTunes. For booking details, contact Katrina V. Miller at 312-785-4765 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bassist, writer, producer and educator Chuck Webb has toured the world performing with such notable artists as Aretha Franklin, Grover Washington Jr., Ramsey Lewis, Joe Sample and many others. As one of Chicago’s top studio bassists Chuck has performed on hundreds of records, commercial jingles and sound tracks. Chuck is also an adjunct professor in the music department at Columbia College Chicago. As the owner of Earth Tone Enterprises production company, Chuck has produced and composed the scores for major motion picture releases, a series of educational children’s CDs and two jazz CDs, all available through his website (www.chuckwebbmusic.com)
Sean Michael Williams was raised on the south side of Chicago. While growing up, Sean became interested in acting and singing after starring as Zazu in his kindergarten’s class production of The Lion King, Jr. From there, Sean would go on to act in various stage plays and musicals. Most recent credits include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Blues for Mister Charlie, Hairspray, Footloose, Shrek the Musical, 9 to 5, Mamma Mia and A Little Princess. While growing up, Sean became interested in music and would sing for his family and rap for his friends at school. Sean performs Hip-hop and pop songs under the moniker “Seany-Doo” and (before COVID-19) he performed live at various music venues throughout Chicago and Northwest Indiana. He released his first Hip-hop studio album Other Side of Me in 2016 and a single, “Isolation”, during the early stages of the current pandemic. Be sure to look for his upcoming single “Enough Is Enough,” set to release November 30. All Seany-Doo music can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Tidal, etc. Visit www.SeanyDoo.com for more.
The 2018 recipient of the Black Excellence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Jazz, and 2015 Outstanding Jazz Educator, Bobbi Wilsyn is Professor Emerita at Columbia College, singer, actor, voice-over/jingle performer, and recording artist. Showman Milt Trenier, discovered Bobbi in her native Los Angeles. Together, they toured nightclub stages and show lounges from Las Vegas to Atlantic City. Planting her stakes in Chicago in the late 70’s and singing the jazz, blues, pop, and gospel repertoire that inspired her as a child, Wilsyn started making music with her own combo on Rush Street and hotels in the city. In addition to having the opportunity to perform with most of the prominent resident jazz musicians in Chicago, Bobbi gained recognition as the featured jazz-blues vocalist with the Chicago-based Chicago Jazz Ensemble, (under the direction of the late William Russo and Jon Faddis), Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic and Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra. She has been featured abroad with the international Italian Jazz Band and Dick Dunscomb’s Symphonic Jazz International. Her musical theater performances include Keegle Street, Beehive, It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues and Sophisticated Ladies. She retired in 2020 as the Coordinator of Voice Studies at Columbia College Chicago. Bobbi continues to educate, entertain and inspire as a private voice and life coach, workshop facilitator, singer/actor, and motivational speaker.
Black Voices in Cabaret is facilitated by Working In Concert, a not-for-profit performing arts incubator, facilitator, and connector for collaborative projects embracing musical genres—cabaret, opera and classical vocal arts, theatrical and popular song. Our goal is to reflect on stage and “in the house” the great diversity of Chicago’s population and the paths that bring us together.
- The steering committee is led David Stephens, with Dan Johnson, Evelyn Danner and Ava Logan, and Claudia Hommel.
- The program committee is Margaret Murphy-Webb, Cynthia Clarey, Arlene Armstrong, Madeline Morgan and Vivian Beckford.
- The outreach team is David Stephens, Ava Logan, Evelyn Danner, and Ruth Fuerst.
- Historical research is led by Dan Johnson with Natalie Douglas, Arlene Armstrong, Cynthia Clarey and Paula Ingram weighing in.
- Communications and media team includes Dave DeGooyer, Barb Smith, Lydia Stux, Meredith Morris and Juliana Engel.
- The Technology team includes Mike Jeffers and the videographers of Epiphany Center for the Arts, PianoForte Studios, Jason Madeja, Roxane Assaf.
Psychotherapist by day, Ruth joined SongShop in 2012 to dispense wisdom by night. She created with Carol Weston and Arlene Armstrong, Life is… and Thank You for the Music at Davenport’s and senior centers. She has appeared for Rotary International Cabarets and SongShop at the Jazz Showcase, Cyrano’s, etc. Music directed by Bob Moreen, her first solo show was Wake Up and Dream, followed by The Carousel of Time, a 50th anniversary love song. She brought You Gotta Be Kidding, an unabashedly progressively partisan show, to Davenport’s in 2017. With Dan Johnson, The Gender Blender Show was set to premiere at Davenport’s when the pandemic shut all shows in Spring 2020.
Sophie Grimm is an Equity/SAG-AFTRA actor and vocal musician whose parents created an international touring Steve Grimm and Colleen Raye Show. Sophie received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater and was a member of the Honor Society of Roosevelt University. She performed as part of the 39-city national tour of The Girl Singers of the Hit Parade while at Roosevelt University. She has also performed with the Phil Mattson Singers, a six-part jazz group. She has many theatrical credits including Desdemona in the Q Brothers & Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Othello: The Remix, as well as performances at the Paramount Theater, Marriott Lincolnshire, Drury Lane, Chicago Children’s Theater and the Musical Theater Company. She has performed in groups such as Colby Baserra’s Great Life Music, the Matt Reed Band, and the Brothers and Sisters Grimm with her siblings and mother. Sophie promotes self-expression and self-care as Trevor’s mom in Writers Theater’s musical Trevor, based on the 1994 Oscar-winning Best Short Film that inspired the Trevor Project (a national 24-hour, toll-free confidential crisis hotline for LGBTQ youth—1-866-488-7386). She also performs in jazz, cabaret and concert settings.
Born in Paris, raised in Detroit, and seasoned in New York, Claudia Claudia moved to Chicago to “do the work.” She specializes in international classical and theater songs and chanson. Projects include art-inspired Vocal Canvas concerts (with Elizabeth Doyle); the crossover Jazz Fauré Project; master classes in song interpretation; and French-based school programs. Claudia invites her fans to France with Cabaret InTourludes and the Cabaret Connexion. A member of the actors’ unions, on faculty at the DePaul School of Music Community Music Division, recording artist on the Maison Clobert label, she is proud to have founded the Chicago Cabaret Professionals, SongShop, and the Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion with so many like-minded performers. She serves as Executive Director of Working in Concert. Cabaret-paree.com
Daniel Johnson is a bi-coastal regional repertory actor relocated to Chicago where he sings with SongShop Live. Trained professionally at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, he performed on the West Coast and on tour before a stint of nearly two decades based in New York City where he also wrote and directed plays. His musical roles include Franklin in 1776, Mooney in Anything Goes, and Charles in Pippin. He toured nationally with John Davidson in The Music Man and debuted off-Broadway as the comic lead in the 1988 revival of Cole Porter’s Leave It to Me. He is known locally for his cabaret act, Wilde & Woolley: Cole Porter and his Cohorts. Currently a board member of Chicago Cabaret Professionals, he also edits the CCP newsletter, Quarter Note. He is proud to be a member of this project’s steering committee along with his husband, David Stephens.
Barbara Smith started her career as a guitar-playing folk singer and now includes jazz, blues, folk music and cabaret, at Davenport’s, Underground Wonder Bar, Rosa’s Lounge, Chief O’Neill’s to the Cliff Dwellers Club. Winner of the 2018 Skokie Idol Contest, she participated in the 2014 and 2015 Singers Jazz Workshops in Paris, the first Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion in 2017, and has been an active organizer of the Cabaret Connexion ever since. Retired from AT&T where she was responsible for Sales and Customer Service training, Barb holds a Master’s in English and has taught at Loyola University and Harper College. She serves on the board of Working In Concert as a facilitator and communicator.
Lydia’s background is primarily in musical theater. Her favorite roles include Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret, Grandma Tzeitl in Fiddler on the Roof, Mr. Twimble/Wally Womper in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and Dot, a Goose, in Honk! She was a student of the late Gwen Pippin at the Old Town School of Folk Music and enjoys singing folk music, Tin Pan Alley songs, American standards and show tunes. Lydia has participated in the Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion and now plays a major volunteer role managing design and communication tasks for Working In Concert.
Jeannie Tanner is an award-winning composer with eight Grammy-considered albums and five ASCAP composer awards. She is a vocalist and trumpeter who performs and records her original music—a mix of jazz, pop, R&B and Latin rhythms. Her most recent release, “I Wanna Be the Change,” was Grammy-considered in four categories including Best Video and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Her original music has been featured in many Hallmark movies, commercials, and television shows. She recently scored the music for a new web series called Bong Zombies. She will release several new projects in 2021. Her music can be heard on local, national and international radio—including her own Pandora Radio Station.
“Chicago does not lack for engaging jazz trumpeters, vocalists, pianists, bandleaders, songwriters and arrangers — but how many can do it all? Jeannie Tanner happens to be one.” —Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune