Letha Allen & the Benders are a seasoned acoustic trio featuring upright bass, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and even an occasional banjo. The trio consists of Letha Allen, Jim Cote, and Mark Donajkowski, and formed after meeting at a jam session. Letha asked Jim and Mark to enter a songwriting contest at the Riverfolks Festival in Manchester Mich in 2009, and after receiving first place in the contest, they continued to play together and blended their years of musical experience into a style and sound of music that is truly unique. They each have years of previous experience in other bands, and one other thing in common, the love of music and performing it.
Letha has been writing for over 40 years, and the Benders deliver a combination of Bluegrass, blues, country, rock sound infused with a little gospel.
Letha's first stage appearance was at age 12. She is an ASCAP writer, and her first song was also written at age 12. She has played in a bluegrass gospel band with her family, a country band called Shotgun for 2 years, and finally, a classic rock band called Crossroads which performed for 12 years, and was the house band for the Wolverine Bar in Chelsea for many of those. She was also the director and MC of a bluegrass festival for the "Day in the Village" in Stockbridge Michigan for 9 years. She has previously recorded in Nashville and with Old Homestead Records, and has had radio ariplay with some of her originals. Her writing and vocals are real and heartfelt. Her life experiences and the mixture of the many Genres she has loved and performed are plainly evident in her writing and deliverance.
Jim and Mark have played for over 12 years in the Ann Arbor based band, the Hillrays. Jim delivers vocals and harmony with passion and conviction, and is an accomplished upright bass, guitar and banjo player. Mark delivers vocals, and harmony, fiddle, mandolin and guitar. He is a classically trained violinist, and with his musical experience he sometimes sets the stage on fire with his hard driving fiddle instrumental renditions.
Letha Allen & the Benders are currently finishing their first CD at Peg Leg Studio in Howell, Mi, which consists of all originals. It is expected to be released independently in July.
A list of some of their accomplishments follows:
Letha Allen-performed at the Nashville Songwriter fest in 2008, recieving the honor of "Top 24" for her original CD, Cowboys and Trains.
1st place at Riverfolks Festival 2009, Manchester MI
1st place at "Bluegrass in the Park" 2009 Songwriting contest.
1st place at "Hamburg Family Funfest Talent Contest, 2010"
Influences: Patty Loveless, Rhonda Vincent, Bonnie Rait, Susan Tedeshi, Ralph Stanley, Aretha Franklin.
The Benders Band
Jim C. Guitar/Banjo/Vocals
Mark D. Fiddle/Mando/Vocals
Chuck A. Doghouse Bass
Are You Ready For Christmas
Christmas is Love
Sounds on The Square
Letha Allen & the Benders
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A lot of little girls have big dreams, and some of them have big voices. But one little girl with bo...A lot of little girls have big dreams, and some of them have big voices. But one little girl with both the dreams and the voice overcame a few hard knocks in life and is beginning to see her dreams come true at 52.
Letha Allen and her band Letha Allen & The Benders are playing several venues this summer, and if you make the effort to go out and hear them, you will not be sorry.
Allen’s family roots are in Kentucky, and you can hear it in her music. She plays guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, fiddle, and piano. Her paternal grandfather came to Michigan in the early 1940’s to find work. He and some of his brothers got jobs at Federal Screw Works in Chelsea, and when her dad was old enough, he did too. Her maternal grandfather was a schoolteacher in Kentucky, but when he came to Michigan he got a job as a foreman on the Baldwin Farms onion fields near Stockbridge. Allen still has relatives on Craft Creek in Magoffin County, Kentucky.
She wrote her first song at the age of 12, "Horses and Butterflies", after which her mother, Marge Allen, entered her in a contest. She learned to play two chords on the guitar from her mom, as well as how to sing harmony. Her Uncle Alfred Fletcher taught her more as they played at hootenanny gatherings of folk musicians. With her mother and sister, they formed a family band called Hope and Harmony, and recorded bluegrass, gospel and originals with Old Homestead Records in Brighton. She has also recorded with K-Ark Records at Gene Breeden Studio in Nashville.
Allen played with the country band Shotgun for two years and a classic rock band called The Crossroads Band for 12 years, with a number of those years being the house band at the Wolverine Bar & Grill in Chelsea. Cub Coda, of "Smokin’ in the Boys Room" fame, sat in with the Crossroads band one night.
One night two years ago, she was asked to sit in with The Hillrays, who were playing at Katie’s in Dexter. There she met James Hillray Cote of Pinckney, an accomplished musician in his own right, who plays upright bass, banjo, and guitar. Cote had been with the Hillrays for about 10 years. He met another member of the band, Mark Donjakowski, at open mike night at Oz’s Music, and turned him onto bluegrass. Previously Donjakowski, a classically trained violinist who won 3rd place playing a violin concerto at University of Michigan at age 14, was playing rockabilly, rock and roll, and polka.
With the Hillrays, (including other members of the band Chuck Anderson, Mike Tucker, Dave Keeney and honorary member Jack Spack) Cote and Donjakowski enjoyed a following in the Ann Arbor area, even playing at The Ark.
After jamming together a few times, the trio formed the band Letha Allen & The Benders ("from all that string bendin’", says Cote) and music lovers are the richer for it.
Allen’s influences include Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, and Van Morrison; her favorite genres are gospel and bluegrass. Her 1930’s Gibson is her constant companion. Cote says he loves everything from classical to jazz to bluegrass to folk, and cites Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young as some of his musical heroes. Now 54, he’s been playing since he was 15 years old. Donjakowski, 48, began playing violin at age 7 and now listens to "everything from Bach and Mozart to Chuck Berry and Pink Floyd." His first electric guitar was a red Gibson ES. He plays the mandolin, fiddle, and guitar. All three do vocals and switch off on instrumentation.
2009 was a good year for the band. They won 1st place in the songwriting contest at Manchester’s Riverfolk Festival, as well as 1st place for songwriting and band scramble at Bluegrass in the Park in Atlanta, Michigan. This year looks good, too, as they won 1st place at the Hamburg Family FunFest’s Talent Contest in June with Allen’s original, "Cool Cool Water" as the winning song. Allen previously performed at the Nashville Songwriters Festival and finished in the top 24 mentioned for a song she was pitching for a soundtrack, "Down in Kentucky", played on a cigar box guitar built by a man named Roimeister.
In addition to upcoming gigs, the group expects to release a CD tentatively titled "Cowboys, Trains, and Angels" – three of Allen’s admitted passions – sometime this summer. Her songwriting skills are showcased on original titles like "Nobody Else But You" (Allen’s favorite), "Running Out of Time", "Cowboys and Trains" (my personal favorite), "Roll On", and "Born to Believe". The band recorded at Peg Leg Studio in Howell. Owner Rondy Burgett was a member of Frijid Pink, who had a gold record in 1969 with their version of "House of the Rising Sun" (and in my opinion, they blew The Animals away.)
Letha Allen & The Benders will be appearing in Atlanta, Michigan at Bluegrass in the Park on August 7th and at Chelsea at Sounds & Sights on Thursday, August 12 at 6p.m. They will play The Kentuckian on October 1st from 8-11 p.m.
"Music has been the love of my life", says Allen. "I feel as if it was a gift given to me by my mother before I was even born, and I will continue to hold that love dear to my heart throughout my lifetime."
For booking information, call 517-507-6844.
Turning Pages-Songwriter Turns Author
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Mid Michigan resident Letha Allen has been a writer of songs since the day her mother lovingly put... Mid Michigan resident Letha Allen has been a writer of songs since the day her mother lovingly put her 1956 Gibson LG1 in her hands and showed her how to hold a chord. She has written about many subjects in her songs, from heartache to happiness, and every shade in between. She is passionate about songwriting, but she has always had the desire to write other than music. She finally decided to try her hand at writing a fictional book, and turn another new page in her life.
Letha started writing “Down in Kentucky” a few years ago, and although she had finished the book, she never made it available, until now. “Down in Kentucky” is the fictional tale of a teenaged girl who lives in the backwoods of Kentucky with a less than desirable father who is raising her alone. The book leads you on an unforgettable journey, filled with the excitement of hounds on the hunt, robbery, murder and music. Of course it would include music, which is still her first love.While writing the book it inspired her to write a complete soundtrack entitled the same.
The southern setting of the book and Letha’s heritage made it only natural that the soundtrack to the book be Americana music. Many of the songs on the “Down In Kentucky” CD were performed on “Cigar Box” guitars. Letha got interested in this type of instrument some years back, when a friend of hers introduced her to Richard Johnson on You Tube, and decided to try building a Cigar Box Guitar for her. It was exciting to learn about the history of the home made guitars, and they seemed to fit perfectly with the genre of music she envisioned for the soundtrack for the book.
The origins of the instrument go back to when cigars first began coming in the small boxes we know today. The cigar-box guitar became increasingly popular in the 1920s, and musicians as famous as Carl Perkin, Jimi Hendrix, and even Kid Rock have shown off their Cigar Box guitar skills. In a world of mass-produced and imported instruments, the Cigar Box guitar is as authentic as it gets.
Each Cigar Box instrument is unique, with some of them being not much more than "a stick in a box with strings on it." Letha says that as soon as she strums one, she can feel the soul of blues and bluegrass performers from the past. The songs that they inspire her to write reflect a simpler time when building your own instrument was the only way for some folks to express the stories of their hearts and lives through music. Both the book and the CD, “Down in Kentucky”, highlight her Appalachian heritage.
Letha will debut her book “Down in Kentucky” and be performing Saturday, June 2nd at the White Steeple Stage in Pinckney MI, along with a number of other musical acts. The show will be 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. She will be doing a few of her songs on Cigar box guitar, as a preview to her “Down in Kentucky” CD. All of the songs on the CD were written by Letha, except for the old gospel standard “I’ll
Fly Away” and “Banks of the River”, which was written by her mom, Marge Allen. Letha says this song will always hold a special place in her heart, so she continues to perform it in honor of her mother, who was the inspiration for much of the music that Letha still writes and performs today.
We hope that you will come join her for a truly unique musical night and book debut. She will have some available for purchase at the show while supplies last, along with her Bluegrass originals recorded by the Ann Arbor based trio, Letha Allen & the Benders. Copies can also be purchased on line at:
https://www.createspace.com/3538994 Down in Kentucky book
https://www.createspace.com/1842574 Down in Kentucky CD
https://tsw.createspace.com/title/2045983 Cowboys & Trains
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZblcUNqpGQ Video of “Down in Kentucky”
She is also working on setting it up so that she can offer the book downloaded to a Kindle in the future.
10 to 12 songs per set.
By the Mark
Sam Bush Training-Fiddle
Good Ol' Mt Dew
Going Down this Road Feelin Bad
There are no upcoming dates at this time.