Melissa Merli's Art Beat: Visiting vocalist puts on a great show

There's a new "girl singer" in town, and she's really good.

Kate Paradise, an instructor of jazz vocals at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., is here through the end of this semester, working on a University of Illinois doctoral of musical arts degree in jazz vocals.

After hearing her last week at The Iron Post, I might ask Chip McNeill, head of the jazz studies program, to flunk Paradise so we can enjoy her a bit longer.

Sam Reese, a UI emeritus professor of music education, heard her the same night I did and also was impressed. He is quite knowledgeable about jazz; he teaches jazz courses for the UI's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

So I asked him about Paradise. His response:

"Kate has the stage demeanor of an experienced entertainer with an easy-to-enjoy, smiling facial expression. It is apparent that she truly enjoys singing. She has an impressive command of intonation and pitch even with melodies that jump rapidly among a range of pitches. Never easy!

"More importantly, she interprets the songs in ways that emphasize the meanings of the lyrics. And she maintains a very nice balance between respecting the song and improvising on the original melody. She sings the song in ways that the songwriter would recognize without overdoing the paraphrasing yet still adds her own melodic inventiveness."

Paradise is fun to watch. She has dark hair and brows — those attributes plus her dimples reminded me of Kate Middleton. Paradise, who's 31, said she is often told she resembles the young woman who married Prince William.

As I left the Post after enjoying Paradise's vocals, one of the members of the tight UI-student trio that backed her told me he had really enjoyed performing with her as well. He called her a consummate professional.

Stay tuned! And go out and hear her!

Honey, indeed

Someone on Facebook used the word "transformational" to describe Sweet Honey in the Rock, the a cappella group that performed Feb. 9 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. I'm not sure I was transformed, but the five formidable women in Sweet Honey always uplift me.

The group, now starting its 40th year, sings a variety of songs, among them civil rights anthems — they did "Eyes on the Prize" at Krannert, as well as Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." They also did one of my favorite Sweet Honey originals, "Greed."

Sure, they're kind of preachy. Even fans admit that. But the five women are so astoundingly talented that I tend not to care.

Besides, their message is a good one.

One song they did at Krannert had lyrics calling for peace and for peace to "begin with me." During intermission I heard a little boy, maybe 5 years old, singing that refrain as he walked through the lobby. No telling what seed was planted that night.

Maya Bauer, a Facebook friend, posted the following after the concert:

"I have almost no words for the power and importance of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Their earthshaking voices remind me of my convictions for real peace and real justice and remind me, too, that the work is far from done — and move me, absolutely, to tears.

"We must make a world for our children where there is no war; where everyone has access to great food, health care (that does not cost them an arm and a leg and two fingers!), education, shelter and meaningful work; where there is no hatred, where the planet is not destroyed and is, in fact, thriving; and where we are respected and loved."

Since Sweet Honey formed in 1973 in Washington, D.C., 23 women have sung with the group, keeping it going. Soon that will be 24 women.

At the concert at Krannert, Sweet Honey announced that Ysaye Maria Barnwell will leave the group. Some people in the audience groaned at the news. Barnwell, a long-timer with Sweet Honey, provides an impressive rich, bass bottom to their music.

Ballerina

Former Champaign resident Kathryn "Kate" Hosier recently danced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in a National Ballet of Canada production of "Alice In Wonderland." She joined the Toronto-based company in 2010.

Hosier — her parents are Mike and Connie — received her early training at the Champaign Urbana Ballet Company and later graduated from the Canadian National School Of Ballet in Toronto.

Art & business

The Area Arts Round Table in Bloomington will sponsor a Business of the Arts workshop on March 2 at the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington.

The Chicago-based Lawyers for the Creative Arts will lead the workshop and cover topics such as intellectual property, copyright, contracts, transfer of ownership and heir rights and nonprofits.

The workshop will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a question-and-answer session at the end. It's open to all artists. The cost is $25 for Area Arts Round Table members and $35 for nonmembers. An optional "Lunch with the Lawyers" will be available for $10. Registrations must be received by Feb. 27. For more info, go to http://www.areaartsroundtable.org.

R.I.P.

Two musicians with ties to the UI recently died.

— Edwin W. London (1929-2013), who founded the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, chaired Cleveland State University's music department and championed unusual compositions, including his own, died on Jan. 26 near his retirement home in Seattle, according to an obituary by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"London wrote hundreds of songs, choral pieces, operas and other works. He incorporated kazoos, balloons, computers, nonsense syllables, classical phrases, Tin Pan Alley tunes and more," the Plain Dealer reported.

London was a music professor at Smith College from 1960 to '68 and at the UI the next decade. He joined Cleveland State in 1978 as music professor and chairman.

What I liked best about him, reading the Plain Dealer obit:

"London's two sons followed him as musical performers, and one also serves as a lawyer for musicians. They said their father often gave $10 or $20 to street musicians. They asked readers, besides donating to musical and medical groups, to tip the local talent in his memory."

— David Lloyd Jenkins, 92, who was a leading American tenor in his day, died Feb. 8 in New York City. He performed all over the world; his recording of the "Messiah" with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic is said to be the most popular of the oratorio. He worked in various positions at universities and in opera programs nationwide and was director of the UI Opera Workshop in the 1970s.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or mmerli@news-gazette.com. Her blog is at http://www.news-gazette.com/blogs/art-and-about.

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