The Olga Watkins Band
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The Olga Watkins Band

Band Blues Adult Contemporary


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The Olga Watkins Band @ Greendance Winery

Mt. Pleasant, PA, Pennsylvania, USA

Mt. Pleasant, PA, Pennsylvania, USA

The Olga Watkins Band @ Molly Brannigans

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

The Olga Watkins Band @ Moon Dogs

Blawnox, Pennsylvania, USA

Blawnox, Pennsylvania, USA

This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



The Olga Watkins Band won second place in the Pittsburgh City Paper's Reader's Poll for Best Blues Band 2009. - Pittsburgh City Paper - Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership - Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership -

It's always a pleasure for me to bring to light innovative and creative entrepreneurs. They provide great ideas many of us can use for business development and they serve to spark our own creativity.
Olga Watkins is one creative and innovative woman. Olga has two money-making talents to choose from: music or cooking.

From an early age her parents, both ministers, made certain that she had formal training in piano, violin and singing. Stage shyness was no problem for her because she started singing solos in church at age 2. Olga loved singing and made extra money throughout her life singing everything and in every place from solos in religious ceremonies, to singing telegrams as a part-time job, to grabbing parts in stage plays.

Her other great love is cooking. Through their church's missionary work her parents sponsored refugee families from all over the world. This exposure gave Olga a peek into the culinary delights of many cultures. And she learned to love cooking and eating various ethnic meals.

Job searches for Olga often led her to apply for work in restaurants. This gave her a double-edge opportunity. If there was nothing available in the kitchen, she would often sell the restaurant on hiring her to entertain customers with her singing.

She managed to get into kitchens of a number of top restaurants and became an apprentice to several great chefs. This experience, along with a trip through a culinary institute, gave Olga just the thing that she needed to call herself a first class chef.

Several years ago she started a catering service that kept her busy, but she wanted to be something more than just another catering company. Olga told me she noticed that when she sang while cooking and preparing for her clients she would find herself in what athletes call "the zone."

With a little bit of thinking and a whole lot of creative energy Olga launched the business of her dreams that pulled together both vocations she loved — singing and cooking. Thus was born the idea of a Singing Chef.

Olga found that to be successful she had to find the market that would appreciate and benefit from her culinary skills as well as her professionally trained voice.

Her answer to her marketing needs came one Saturday as she was strolling through a commercial district with specialty food stores and noticed that a specialty cookware store had a chef doing a cooking demonstration in the window. Olga stopped into the store and discovered that it often invited guest chefs to come on Saturdays to do cooking demos to help generate traffic. Olga quickly offered her services to be a guest chef for the next Saturday. Olga took the opportunity to suggest that she believed that their business would increase if they allowed her to bring a keyboardist to play while she sang and cooked. On the day of Olga's Singing Chef presentation the specialty show not only sold plenty of cookware but the adjoining food store's sales went up.

That event launched the Singing Chef in a big way. Olga started to get bookings from other specialty food stores as a guest chef and attention getter to increase their business. She has been asked also to do a television commercial for a specialty food store starring as their Singing Chef and doing a singing/cooking demonstration to increase their sales.

I met Olga at a women's conference that I addressed and I can tell you that she sings extremely well and her cooking is outstanding. Look out, Barbara Streisand and move over Chef Emeril, the Singing Chef has arrived.

Don't take my word for this creative woman's talents; see for yourself at her Web site: You will be able to see Olga in action doing a cooking demo and singing her heart out.

How many times do you have an idea for your business but hedge because it is too far out of sync with the rest of the society's idea of business? Or, you haven't seen anyone else doing it, and think that you will be laughed at or ridiculed? So you throw the idea out fearing that it won't be taken seriously. It takes courage and confidence to follow through on internal directives or hunches especially when they are different.

Olga has that necessary courage and confidence. And she is a reminder to all of us to leap with confidence and courage — You can safely land on your feet.

Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. Click here for an index of her columns. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds, 52, is founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, a six-step guide to success published by Viking. You can visit her Web site at - USA Today

Kitchen Serenade

Olga Watkins lives her passion with food and song

Personal chef, menu-developer, caterer, culinary teacher and singer Olga Watkins started cooking for crowds when she was very young. "My parents were ministers," she says. "We lived on a farm in West Virginia, so it wasn't unusual to feed 22 people staying in the parsonage." She says it was typical to have everyone from locals to Vietnamese families gathered in the kitchen. It was during that time that her love of singing bubbled to the surface as well.

Watkins says by age 3 she was serving up both stew and Sunday hymns to admiring crowds. She went on to study music at Chatham College and to work for a time with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Today, at 35, she is a rare breed: a free spirit earning a living indulging two passions. She is the lead singer of Soul Kitchen, a popu lar band performing jazz, blues and funk in venues such as Crawford Grill on the Square and the Monterey Pub. While her primary cooking gig is overseeing her com pany, Elite Catering-a successful corporate-catering business-she has her fingers in lots of other pies.

"My influences are so diverse," says Watkins, referring to the many styles of cooking she's picked up over the years. "I can cook anything-my thing is to just throw a great party." She teaches others how to do so at Whole Foods and CCAC Community Outreach. Lending her planning tal ents to local food distributor Paragon Monteverde Food Service, Watkins oversees menus and food shows. Ever looking for a challenge, she will accept personal catering-if it's interesting. She's currently plan ning a 1920s menu for a fall wed-ding-so far, the meal includes her signature baked brie in puffed pastry with bourbon, brown sugar, butter and figs.

But when she can both cook and sing, well than that's just deli cious. This month, she'll not only cater the VIP tent for the Airport Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Wine and Dine in Robin Hill Park, she'll also shed her apron for diva duds to sing with her band, the featured entertainment. Now that's mixing it up. For information, visit

- Jennifer Papale Rignani - Pittsburgh Magazine

By Suzanne Martinson, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Thursday September 2, 2004

The singer's name entices -- Olga. Her venue isn't commonplace, either -- a cooking-store window in the Strip. And while some might spurn the title, she dotes on diva.

John Beale, Post-Gazette
Olga Watkins sings as she prepares shrimp at Wholey Balcony Cookware in the Strip District.
Click photo for larger image.

"Cooking With Olga," featuring Olga Watkins, will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Wholey Balcony Cookware, Strip District. Details: or call 412-716-5119.

But, baby, oh, baby, this bluesy singer can cook.

In one more example that food is sexy and that sex sells, 34-year-old Olga Watkins stokes up the kitchen heat and her powerful voice from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on alternate Saturdays in the window of Wholey Balcony Cookware. In a more traditional venue, she appears next Thursday with pianist Craig Davis and drummer Subha Das at the New Crawford Grill, Station Square.

This Saturday at Balcony Cookware, in honor of the Labor Day weekend, Watkins will demonstrate how to prepare chicken wings and some vegetarian dishes that would be good for the holiday weekend, singing along all the while with songs made famous by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. She loves Etta James songs.

Even if cooking makes you happy, how often have you burst into song?

Watkins, the owner of Elite Catering, recalls the first time she combined cooking with singing. She was doing a contract dinner for a country club's Valentine's Day party, which had a sit-down seven-course dinner with a choice of three entrees. There were three other people in the kitchen, including the dish washer.

"We cooked 180 covers [restaurant talk for number of guests]," she recalls. "I was delirious by the time I came out of the kitchen. I had booked the band I worked with, and I sang the last two sets with the band."

Still, as a caterer who does corporate and private events, she's used to juggling tasks and having it all come out without burning the brulee or straining her sultry singing voice.

One of Watkins' most memorable two-fers was catering the VIP Tent for the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce's "Wine and Dine in the Park" at Robin Hill Park. The menu included elaborate chocolate desserts, cheeses and fruits, and puff pastry.

"There's always a catch in a catered event," she says. "Someone was late, the time got set back, and the hour I had allotted to run home" to Coraopolis evaporated.

"I changed [for the performance] in 10 minutes in my car. I was sticky. I had chocolate and powdered sugar all over me."

In an increasingly competitive market, with the opening of the Waterfront in Homestead and the eventual completion of the SouthSide Works, longtime business people are inspired to try new ventures such as food-as-entertainment. Balcony Cookware moved from the second floor of Wholey & Co. to the street level in 2001 and doubled in size last year, according to manager Carol Moorhead.

Seeing people such as Olga Watkins entertain "brings excitement to the Strip on Saturdays," says Robert Wholey of Robert Wholey & Co.

Watkins, who has been entertaining there since June, grew up in West Virginia and moved to the Pittsburgh area 10 years ago. After culinary school at West Virginia Northern Community College in Wheeling, she says, jobs were scarce and she took a position managing a McDonald's. People may pooh-pooh that experience, she says, but "I was in my early 20s, and I learned a lot about training and labor costs. I also found out how food cost works and about inventory controls."

Strict standards of cleanliness are something she puts into place in her own home as well. "We wear gloves at home, too. I tell my staff if we haven't used a whole box of gloves during an eight-hour shift, we're not changing them often enough. To prevent transfer of bacteria, we use tons and tons of gloves and lots of bleach."

One event that has not required cooking is her gig singing the national anthem before the games of the Pittsburgh Passion, the women's football team that plays in Ambridge. "As a woman, it's just fun to participate in that," she says.

This Saturday Watkins will cook on Cuisinart nonstick cookware. On the day we visited, Watkins was backed up by jazz pianist Craig Davis, and we saw her lose her concentration only momentarily -- when her mother brought daughter Ella, 2 1/2, to see her mother cook and sing.

"I call her Diva-in-Training," Watkins jokes. - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

By Bob Karlovits Tribune-Review Wednesday August 11, 2004

Coraopolis chef and jazz vocalist combines her passions

By Bob Karlovits
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Olga Watkins is getting ready for what she calls "the best workday I can imagine."

That's because Saturday's daytime gig at Balcony Cookware in the Strip District is a look at her two professional sides, both of which are vitally important to her. Besides cooking and demonstrating items at the cookware shop -- her culinary side -- Watkins also will perform vocally, backed up by pianist Craig Davis.

So, Olga Watkins, what are you really? A jazz singer or a chef?

"Depends on what day of the week it is," says Watkins, 34, of Coraopolis, who performs at local jazz clubs, is the kitchen boss at a local airbase and combines both sides with her Elite Catering business, where she provides food and entertainment.

Jasmine Gehris/Tribune-Review

Olga Watkins cooks

Sidney L. Davis/Tribune-Review

That's why Carolyn Moorhead, manager of Balcony Cookware store, invited Watkins to the shop.

"I think she will really add to the excitement here on a Saturday," Moorhead says of one of the Strip's most jumping days. "Olga has a lot of personality and showmanship. And she's a good chef. That is why we want her here."

Moorhead says the shows at Balcony combine sides much in the way Watkins will be combining talents. The purpose is to show off the cookware the store sells, but the demonstrations also generate business for the fish market of Robert Wholey & Co. Inc., of which the shop is a division.
The date will display talents Watkins has been honing for a long time. She has been performing and cooking since she was in her early years in Wheeling, W.Va.

"I could cook before I could read," she says, crediting her mother with helping her develop the skills. Her mother, Liz, now a psychotherapist, grew up as a Mennonite and was deeply in touch with domestic necessities.

At the same time, Watkins was singing at the church of her father, the retired Rev. Curtis Watkins, and getting in touch with musical interests.

She studied music at Chatham College in Shadyside, but Watkins was unhappy with the direction of her studies. In 1988, after one year at school, she took off for Chicago, where she began singing at the Fairmont Hotel.

She was singing mostly show tunes at that time, she says, focusing on classical-operatic vocal skills. "And I found out there are an awful lot of opera singers out there, but not a lot of jobs," she says.

Watkins decided to come back to Pittsburgh and see what would develop -- but not in music. From 1990 until 2002, she says, her voice was still while she worked as a waitress and a bartender, but she tried to spend a great deal of time with chefs to learn about food preparation and event planning.

About five years ago, she began working for Service Care of America Inc., a Georgia-based company that provides kitchen help mostly for military bases and schools. She handles kitchen management at the 911th Air Reserve Station in Coraopolis and a la carte service and special events for the nearby 171st Air National Guard and 99th Regional Support Command Army Reserve Base.

Two years ago, Watkins founded Elite Catering to arrange parties for individual clients, corporations and civic clubs.

Sally Haas, president of the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce, says Watkins has done excellent jobs catering some chamber events by "creating foods that were the taste behind the temptation."

"People 'ooh' and 'ahh' when they see what she has made, and then it tastes just as good," Haas says.

It was about the same time that Watkins had started singing again, and her musical work became part of her profession.

"If I can get accolades for both sides at the end of the day, it's great," she says. "We just combine music, food for the whole event."

That strong combination seems to exist in her life, too. She has a hard time dealing with the question of whether she likes singing or cooking better. Eventually, she leans toward music, saying performing is "important on a different level because it is built by the soul."

Watkins doesn't always perform while cooking, but sometimes will start singing "because it's just a zone I get into."
Besides club jobs and the catering performances, Watkins also sings the national anthem at the games of the Pittsburgh Passion women's football team.

There are some powerful musical genes in Watkins' family. Her brother, Reggie, is a trombonist with Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band. He will be releasing a solo album in September.

Her musical tastes seem to lean toward her brother's. She says she likes Etta James "not for technique so much as her spirituality," but is even more enthusiastic about Aretha Franklin and -- no surprise -- Ella Fitzgerald.

In the gastronomic world, Watkins says, she is less specialized. Her airbase food tends to be breakfasts and lunches, but she enjoys putting together all sorts of dinners for her catering clients.

The two sides of her professional personality come into play in her private business.

"My specialty is throwing parties," she says. "People ask what my specialty is, and that is it:

"I put together great food and a great party."

Bob Karlovits can be reached at or (412) 320 7852. - Pittsburgh Tribune Review - Pittsburgher Downtowner Magazine


Olga Watkins Live at the Legendary Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh, PA
Original tracks include Got Your Sugar, It's a Lie, Run Around Blues and Shady Katie, all written by Olga Watkins
Olga's music has been played on 96.9 BOB FM and Q92.9FM in Pittsburgh and is available on itunes, Song sprouts, Napster, and Emusic as well as directly from her website



The Olga Watkins Band was just voted #2 Best Blues Band in Pittsburgh for 2009 in the Pittsburgh City Paper's reader's Poll.
Olga Watkins is a classically trained vocalist and chef who started singing again in 2002 after a ten year break from music. Olga occasionally performs the Nation Anthem for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Penguins. Her influences include Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin and Ertha Kitt. She has often been compared to several of her influences, most commonly Etta James and Aretha Franklin. Olga feels fortunate to have met and begun performing with Subha Das, a Masters level educated, award winning, drummer and percussionist, at that point in her musical journey. The band came together from there. Subha was in the Micah Burgess trio. Micah was one of only a few musicians willing to take time to rehearse the old standards with Olga and she became his vocalist. The distance traveled from those first gigs to today’s band has been funny, frustrating, incredibly enlightening, crazy, tiresome and exhilarating. When Micah moved to NYC, Subha and Olga regrouped as another trio with pianist Craig Davis. Olga will tell you that she has learned more than she could have imagined about making music from all of the boys in the band, beginning with Craig. Craig Davis is an extraordinarily talented pianist, composer, arranger with whom Olga recorded a duo CD entitled “Simplicity”. Craig challenged Olga to write lyrics for Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” and she did. You’ll hear the evolution of that tune on the new Olga Watkins Band CD. After Craig was no longer a part of the trio, Olga and Subha went through a lot of gigs with other groups and too many one time gigs with too many keyboardists, bassists and guitarists looking for the right chemistry. Olga was referred to a young pianist/keyboardist/arranger/composer/overachiever/boy scout named Mason Embry, currently finishing his Masters in music at Middle Tennessee State, who was then the new kid in town. Olga hired him for a gig, went to rehearse with him and knew right away that she was the luckiest chick singer alive. By Miss Olga’s standards, Mason Embry is as impressive a person as he is a supremely talented musician. In the meantime, Mason and Subha had seen Jason Hollar, Temple graduate and owner operator of Cadillac Jazz, perform and insisted that Olga call him to play bass for their next gig. That’s when the real Olga Watkins Band was born. These four have enjoyed performing with each other AND just hanging out together. They have a great chemistry musically and have generally had a really good time. When Mason moved to Nashville the band added Jay Weaver, Duquesne Music School graduate and owner-operator of Sound Color Productions, a teaching and recording studio in Mt. Lebanon, PA. Jay clicked with everyone in the band and brought a fresh new component as well as more original music to the mix. He is far more talented than he realizes and his humility and modesty make his monster guitar playing all the more enjoyable. Jason Hollar, who is recently taking a little personal time away from the band, has been replaced by bassist, composer, vocalist and soon to be father of twins, Brian Sanders who joined the band in the early spring of 2009.
Brian Sanders began studying bass guitar at age eleven. He first performed in church and soon after in a high school band. Brian has worked extensively in the gospel music field as a composer, singer and choir director as and with gospel artists such as Douglas Miller, Darrel Coley, Vicky Winans, Edwin Hawkins and Yolanda Adams in addition to touring Germany with the Golden Gospel Singers. He has completed several European tours with the Poogie Bell Band and performs in the Pittsburgh Market with Poogie Bell, the Dwayne Dolphin Band, the Olga Watkins Band and numerous others. Brian naturally catches the attention of audiences everywhere. He is highly regarded among his fellow musicians for his talent as a rock solid “in the pocket” bass guitarist as well as for his professionalism and easy going nature.
The OWB has not had a lot of the trials and tribulations of many bands, due in part to the fact that they are all professionals who love music AND appreciate the business of making music. Since everyone in the band is a thirty-something with students, families, businesses and/or homes to manage, they don’t know where their cooperative efforts will lead them. But they will definitely make the most of this journey and follow at least one path together as far as it will take them.
The blend of fresh, original blues, soul, jazz, funk and R&B is a comfortable group effort that leaves listeners only wanting more.
More about the Olga Watkins Band can be found at and at
The band also has pages here: