Rhonda Benin
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Rhonda Benin

Oakland, California, United States | SELF

Oakland, California, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Blues


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"Giving Them Their Due"

Giving Them Their Due
The second-annual "Just Like a Woman" concert highlights the underappreciated talent of Bay Area female musicians.
By Lee Hildebrand
Show Details
Rhonda Benin presents Just Like a Woman at Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St., Berkeley) on Saturday, Mar. 8. 8 p.m., $23, $25. TheFreight.org
Sitting in her hotel room two years ago, during a three-month-long, six-nights-a-week summer engagement at the JZ Jazz Club in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, Rhonda Benin pondered what she might do when she got back home to Oakland. She wanted to do something big, to make a splash.
It had been bothering her that no female musicians, not even vocalists, had been booked to play a daylong jazz festival held at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park at the foot of 7th Street in West Oakland, which she had attended before traveling abroad. "I found that to be odd," she recalled. And, as an instructor at both Jam Camp West and the Jazzschool Girls' Jazz & Blues Camp, Benin had noticed few girls playing musical instruments. "All the girls were stacked into the singing classes," she said.
The Los Angeles-born vocalist, who also teaches basic music and performance skills at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito, decided to stage a show "to celebrate the Bay Area women of music" last March 28 at Freight & Salvage. She picked March because it's Women's History Month. "Just Like a Woman," as she called the concert, featured herself and singers Kellye Gray, Paula Harris, and Terrie Odabi, all backed by Tammy Hall's trio. Long the piano accompanist of choice for many local vocalists, Hall dubbed the trio "the Lillian Hardin Tribute Band" in honor of Louis Armstrong's piano-playing second wife.
The show was such a success that Benin decided to present a second edition at the Berkeley venue on Saturday, this one featuring singer-pianist Lady Bianca, vocalists Ashling "Biscuit" Cole and Valerie Troutt, harpist Destiny Muhammad, saxophonist Kristen Strom, pianist Hall, bassist Ayla Davila, and drummer Ruthie Price, plus six teen and pre-teen girls, including the members of MZSwitched Up, an Oakland duo made up of multi-instrumentalist sisters Zandra and Millenia Kay, ages eleven and fourteen, respectively.
Benin began her singing career in the late 1970s with two friends, collectively known as Joy, by doing background vocals on demos for guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. and disco and rock sessions in Southern California for record producers including brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Stanley Clarke. "All the old Seventies B-side songs," she said of the records they sang on, none of them hits. She had hoped to land a record deal of her own, but by the time she was 35, she found doors closed because of her age and her size.
While visiting friends in Oakland in 1989, Benin saw both Lady Bianca and former Prince vocalist Rosie Gaines performing in clubs and decided to move north. "You mean my life isn't over because I'm over thirty and I'm full-figured?" she remembered asking herself.
"It was the best thing I ever did," she said recently, sitting at a table in the Montclair Women's Cultural Arts Club with Bianca and Cole. Besides performing with her own Soulful Strut band in local clubs after relocating, Benin has been a member of Linda Tillery's Cultural Heritage Choir for the past 23 years and has recorded 7 CDs with the ensemble. She made her own album of jazz, blues, and soul music in 2006, did backgrounds on albums by Maria Muldaur and Holly Near, and sang leads on recordings by Mal Sharpe's Big Money in Dixieland.
Benin, now 59, said she chose Bianca to perform at this year's show because "hands down, she's probably the best singer in the Bay Area."
"I might be the best singer, but because I won't take no shit, I'm not working," interjected Bianca, a forty-year fixture of the Bay Area blues and soul scene. She once toured as a background singer with Sly Stone, Frank Zappa, and Van Morrison but in recent years has focused on recording original songs written with her husband. She's made five albums since 1995. She keeps her age a secret. "I think it's rude and unfair to ask me my age," she said.
Soul singer Cole, who was born forty years ago in Vancouver and raised in San Francisco, landed a recording contract with Interscope Records when she was seventeen. She moved to Southern California to record an album for the label — which was completed, then shelved. Devastated, she quit singing, except in church, and instead waited tables and worked for Peet's Coffee and several paper-shredding companies. She reemerged four and a half years ago as a member of Graham Central Station (founded by onetime Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham) and is featured on the group's latest album, Raise Up. - The East Bay Express

"Women’s History Concert Packs The House"

Monday, March 3, 2014
Women’s history concert packs the house
FAIRFIELD — There was no shortage of soul Sunday as a Bay Area band brought hits from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Etta James to a packed Solano Events Center in celebration of Women’s History Month.
Hosted by the Solano County Library Foundation, the free show featured Rhonda Benin and Terrie Odabi, who took turns singing hits that included Ethel Waters’ “I got Rhythm” and Holiday’s “All of Me.”
A rendition of James’ “At Last” generated excitement from the crowd, which applauded immediately after the opening lyrics.
“Fitzgerald was out of this world,” said Fairfield resident Matilda Webb after the concert. “Awesome.”
Benin’s show, titled “Just Like a Woman: A Concert Celebrating 100 Years of Song,” included a three-piece band consisting of Fairfield’s Charles Spikes on guitar, Vallejo’s Lorenzo Hawkins on keyboard and Oakland’s Ruthie Price on drums. Benin even invited audience members to participate in a couple of songs.
Gladys Towne, of Vacaville, volunteered to be one of two Supremes. During “Stop, in the Name of Love,” Towne danced while Benin paid tribute to Diana Ross.
“I’m 63, so that’s my era,” said Towne, a Vacaville resident. “I love that music.”
Mary Spikes, wife of Charles Spikes, frequently sang along in the front row next to her daughter Cherish during the show. The longtime Fairfield resident said it was a joy for her to be at a quality concert so close to home.
“The music brought life to the room . . . ,” she said. “It was beautiful.” - The Daily Republic Review, Fairfield Suisun, CA

"Soul powerhouse Rhonda Benin spotlights Bay Area talent"

Soul powerhouse Rhonda Benin spotlights Bay Area talent
Andrew Gilbert
Rhonda Benin has never waited around for the phone to ring. One of the Bay Area's most resourceful vocalists, she's deeply versed in the entire continuum of African American music, a soul powerhouse who infuses everything she sings with a blues sensibility. Despite the fact that she's at the top of her game, a spirit-sapping dearth of good gigs in recent years has pushed Benin to take matters into her own hands.
Rather than focusing on promoting her own career, she's doubling down on the Bay Area scene, producing ambitious events such as Saturday's "Just Like a Woman" concert at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. Partially underwritten by a modest Indiegogo campaign, it's an old-school revue showcasing a stellar array of Bay Area talent backed by pianist Tammy Hall's all-female band with incantatory harpist-vocalist Destiny Muhammad.
Benin will sing a few pieces herself, but she's mostly turning the spotlight on her colleagues, including Lady Bianca, a prodigious blues singer and pianist who has recorded with Frank Zappa, Sly and the Family Stone, Taj Mahal and Van Morrison.
"Hands down, she's probably the best in the Bay Area, and to me she doesn't have the local recognition she deserves," says Benin, 59, who's probably best known as a founding member of Linda Tillery's Grammy-nominated Cultural Heritage Choir. "She's like one of those '20 Feet From Stardom' singers who catapulted people to the top because of that gospel sound that they put behind them."
Rising jazz singer
The program also features rising jazz singer-songwriter Valerie Troutt, Larry Graham and Graham Central Station vocalist Ashling Cole, and jazz chanteuse Veronica Klaus, who recently released a terrific album of songs associated with Peggy Lee, "Lee À la V," featuring the deservedly ubiquitous Hall.
Rather than merely rounding up talent, Benin is guiding the proceedings with a firm hand to ensure the material fulfills her other agenda, highlighting "the more invisible stuff, the songwriters and composers," she says. "When it comes to black women, the singer-songwriters never get discussed. We talk about Carole King but not Valerie Simpson. Even Aretha did a fair amount of writing, and that never gets talked about."
Stepping into the producer's role doesn't mean that Benin is backing away from performing (she's at the Solano County Events Center in Vallejo this afternoon with the dynamic Terrie Odabi). But she's definitely looking to pass the torch. One of the acts on Saturday's bill is MZSwitchedUp, a duo made up of sisters Millenia and Zandra Kay, ages 14 and 11, respectively, who accompany themselves on multiple instruments while singing R&B hits and originals.
Benin has taken it upon herself to mentor many young singers over the years, including Troutt, who met Benin about a decade ago after Benin sang at the Bay Area Black Expo in Oakland.
Powerfully impressed by the performance, Troutt was even more surprised when Benin, who had seen her perform with the Oakland Youth Chorus, greeted her by saying, " 'I know who you are.' That blew my mind," says Troutt, who went on to tour with group.
"Rhonda has been a mentor of mine. She's a real advocate of jazz, soul and blues, and always challenged me to listen widely and check out music from the original sources. When I go to her shows, she always puts me on the stage. She'll call my name out and have me come up and sing, introducing me to her audience."
Tight-knit family
Growing up in a tight-knit family in Los Angeles's Crenshaw district, Benin benefited greatly from living near the successful African American professionals and entertainers of the upscale Baldwin Hills neighborhood. While she excelled as a singer, winning a high-profile talent show at the Hollywood Bowl in 1972 with a vocal trio, she didn't think about music as a vocation until after college, when she took a job in the mailroom at CBS. "That's when the bug really bit me," Benin says, "because I could go in the commissary and, with four variety shows being taped, you'd see every major act.' "
Her career seemed to be on track when she landed a gig with Memphis-born R&B singer Randy Brown, who had signed to Casablanca Records. But after months of rehearsal, the tour was canceled and she and two other backup singers were suddenly left unemployed. They decided to stick together, and with the mid-1970s Los Angeles recording scene bustling, they wangled their way into dozens of sessions.
"We'd drive to different studios, park the car and watch who went in," Benin recalls. "We'd wait 20 or 30 minutes, ring the buzzer and say we were with them. We'd get in the studio, and the men weren't going to run out three girls in their 20s.
"Everybody was recording. We'd mostly get into rhythm section sessions. I'd write a hook, we'd run it down in the hallway and then go back in the studio and jump up and start singing."
Benin was teaching and gigging when a weekend job with Maria Muldaur in 1989 brought her to the Bay Area. She fell in love with Oakland, and when the summer came around, she came back to hang out and never went home. For the first decade, she supported herself working for arts organizations such as the Oakland Ensemble Theater and the Oakland Youth Chorus.
She credits Tillery and her experience singing with the Cultural Heritage Choir, which performs April 12 at the SFJazz Center, with grounding her in the African American bedrock of blues and spirituals. In many ways, "Just Like a Woman" builds on work that Tillery has been doing for decades.
"I often get ideas about how to present black musical culture in a positive way, and I think she's taken the ball and run with it," Tillery says. "Rhonda is unapologetic on her stance about black culture, and sometimes she's misunderstood. What she's really committed to is challenging people to be forthright about musical origins, giving credit where it's due, which is a good thing. Now she's rounding up some really vital voices and saying, 'Let's make our own show.' " - The San Francisco Chronicle, DATEBOOK, Pink Section


Rhonda Benin "A Matter of The Heart"

with Linda Tillery and The Cultural Heritage Choir
'Good Time, A Good Time'
'Front Porch Music'
'Shakin A Tail Feather'
'Hippity Hop'
'Say Yo Business'
Eric Bibb 'Painting Signs'
Big Money In Jazz 'Tin Roof Blues', 'Funnjazz'
Keith Terry & Crosspulse 'Serpentine'
Hans Thessink 'Lifeline', 'Crazy Moon', 'Songs From The Southland'
Kodo 'Mondo Head'
Maria Mauldar: "Meet Me Where They Play The Blues"
Oliver Schorer 'A Million Stars'
Deidre McCalla 'Playing for Keeps'
Holly Near "Show Up"



Rhonda Benin
Jazz, Blues & Soul Vocalist

Benins got a coolly hip vocal, with a bit of hush and sugar and an undercurrent of big booming power. She can bend notes with a bass, talk serenade with a piano and steam the kettle from the drums.
Ran Pacifica Tribune

San Francisco Bay Area vocalist, Rhonda Benin has earned a reputation for not just a good voice but showmanship, magnetic stage personality, humor, and of course her great dancing. Rhondas impressive resume includes performances at SF Jazz Festival, Yoshis The Healdsburg Jazz Festival, The Calistoga Jazz Festival. The summer of 2012 she was featured vocalist at the prestigious JZ Club in Hangzhou, China, spending 3 months performing before SRO crowds.

Benin is also a member of The GRAMMY nominated Linda Tillery and The Cultural Heritage. She appears on the CHCs 7 Cds and has toured 27 countries performing and recording with legendary artists Taj Mahal, Wilson Pickett, Richie Havens, Odetta. Al Green, Keb Mo, Santana, Patti Austin, Janis Ian, Jackson Brown, Hugh Masekela & Sweet Honey In The Rock.

In 2006 Rhonda produced her first solo CD, A Matter of the Heart a classic mix of jazz, blues, and soul.

Rhonda is Artists in Residence at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito teaching over 200 children a week basic music and performance skills. She is also on the teaching staff of Jam Camp West, Healdsburg Jazz Festivals, Operation Jazz Band, San Francisco Arts Project, Girl Blues and Jazz Camp, Cal Performances and conducts her own school assemblies and workshops, The Voice, The Hands The Feet Twist and Shout and Love Letters Make Me Misty Blue.

For booking information: call 510 302-5096 or email: rhondasingsasong@gmail.com
Or check the website @ www.rhondabenin.com

If you cant sing a song, let BeninSing It!

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