MUSIC MIX OF THE WEEK: Afro Blue
Each Week, D.C. Music Live features music by local artists.
By Nia Hightower, DC Music Live
The award-winning group is Howard University’s premier vocal jazz ensemble. And even though the members may change from year-to-year, Connaitre Miller is the group’s constant.
“Immediately after the show it was crazy. The public really responded to Afro Blue so well,” says Miller, the Howard music professor who created the vocal jazz group in 2002. “It was really gratifying to know so many people who didn’t listen to jazz were now jazz fans because of Afro Blue.”
Celebrating its 10th year, the group has amassed numerous accolades including 11 DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards and three Washington Area Music Association Awards, or Wammies. The members have also performed at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution and with the likes of jazz performers Terri Lyne Carrington, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Esperanza Spalding.
But Miller says The Sing Off, by far, catapulted the group’s members into a different category of fame.
“That was on primetime television, and that gave the group the opportunity to reach new audiences, people who ordinarily may not come to our performances or didn’t know about us,” she says.
New Afro Blue
The Afro Blue group that performed on the NBC show was mostly comprised of last year’s members who were mostly recent graduates – Eliza Berkon, Reggie Bowens, Trenton Cokley, Christie Dashiell, Integriti Reeves, Devin Robinson, John Kenniebrew, Mariah Maxwell, Brian Vickers and Danielle Withers.
Members of that group enjoyed the experience and liked the combination of singers so much that they decided to stick together after summer filming of the show ended to form a new group – the Afro Blue Vocal Band.
Kenniebrew, who returned to Howard in the fall for his junior year, remains a part of both groups. He and Rochelle Rice are now the two veterans of the current Afro Blue incarnation that performed during the jazz ensemble’s April 1 album release concert at the university’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel.
“The most enjoyable part of being associated with Afro Blue is the music,” says Rice, who will graduate with her Master of Music degree in jazz studies in May. “Getting the opportunity to sing music at such a high level is incredible.”
What Is to Come?
The Best Is Yet To Come, a compilation of songs recorded between 2010-2011, features selections written by jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, an original by Amy Bormet, solo contributions by Christie Dashiell and arrangements of jazz standards.
It follows Afro Blue’s two prior albums – Freedom In Song, a double CD compilation released in 2008, and It’s a Matter of Pride, released in 2002 and dedicated to the late jazz musician Billy Taylor.
“The bar has been set very high with the first two records,” says Rice. “It is such a testament to the goodness of God and our director’s … clear vision for the group that people still want to hear us.”
To purchase the new album, visit the Howard University Bookstore or e-mail.
The group’s next performance will be at Blues Alley with the Howard University Jazztet.