NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
Rhenda Fearrington is is considered a New York soul in the heart of Philly Jazz. Rhenda was singing in local bands throughout Queens when a bandleader named Reginald “Budd” Ellison, who a year later would become Patti Labelle’s Musical Director, asked if she’d sing in his band. An opportunity came to tour with Award-Winning Composer/Producer & Percussionist, James Heath, Jr. aka MTUME, doubling as an opening act for Lionel Ritchie and the Commodores. Later, her years as a backup singer with Multi Grammy Award Winning Roberta Flack took her all over the United States and the world. She later became involved with the Philadelphia jazz scene and has been busy performing throughout the city after releasing her first CD in 2012, “This Moment’s Sweetness.”
-Pamela Hetherington, curator
PH: You are a native New Yorker. How did you end up in Philadelphia?
RF: The short story is that love brought me to Philadelphia. I met a jazz musician from West Philadelphia. We became smitten while touring with MTUME, got married while I was touring with Roberta Flack, and then I started having babies! One son is a New Yorker, one is a Philadelphian, so I always say I have dual-citizenship! Of course, the cost of living and a growing family kept me in Philadelphia, which required that I embrace change.
I’ve known you for about three years, but even for those people who don’t know you, it doesn’t take long to see that you are an extremely optimistic and positive person who takes quite a bit of time to celebrate so many people in the Philly artist community. How do you stay encouraged as an artist, producer and presenter, and what are your favorite ways to encourage others?
I love seeing the glass as half-full and I’ve spent many years encouraging others that the glass was just as full for them as it appeared for everyone else. What keeps my spirits buoyed are the little triumphs, that really aren’t that small—like completing a long-awaited CD while holding down a full-time job, maintaining a mortgage, and being a vigilant advocate for my younger son (who is diagnosed with Schizophrenia), while maintaining my advocacy for Philadelphia Jazz! What keeps me encouraged in my artistic pursuits is trusting that I have time to discover and travel down every avenue that excites me, believing that I’m in a race with no one other than myself, thereby living for the approval of no one else but mine and God’s.
I love it. But let’s be real for a minute. Philadelphia has its issues, and I know you’re not afraid to address them. What is one of your main frustrations with the Philly music scene?
I suppose one of my pet peeves with Philadelphia’s music scene is that musicians and vocalists seem reticent to spread the word about other performers, right here in their town. If you have a voice or an audience of people who follow you, then you could let others know where the venues are. I know it isn’t fair to speak in extremes, so while it’s not every musician, there’re so many who have never shared a post or event advertising other musicians. I think it would be revolutionary if people just used that little ‘ol SHARE button a tad more often! Social media is powerful when it’s utilized for all the good things. Besides, what’s better than sharing good stuff about Philadelphia Jazz?
You do so much good and consistent sharing of others’ work on social media that it is absolutely infectious. I think it’s easy to get siloed as an artist; we work alone so often on our own projects that it is challenging to have an awareness of where we exist in a larger community. And speaking of a large musical community, do you miss the New York scene at all, and if so, in what way?
I don’t miss the New York scene, as I suspect it’s changed dramatically since I left it in 1985. As a native, I was blessed to have made prudent choices in working with great artists, from whom I learned. I was always paid, but I made more money for gigs than many people I know make now for the same kind of gigs. I doubt that’s a New York thing or a Philly thing.
Maybe it’s a timing thing. The flip side of social media: when you can hear any musician or album for free or close to free on Youtube or Spotify, it’s challenging for any musician to capture the true dollar amount for their music in performance. What does Philly jazz need right now to become more visible?
If I were a psychic, I could tell you what Philly Jazz needed to become visible, but I’m not! Many fine non-profits are investing greatly in building an audience for Philly Jazz, which is a slow process. I am told that the jazz audience is dying, an audience to which I belong. I show up. What I would love to see is the city taking on a campaign to market Jazz nationally, and not just through social media. Television is still viewed. The same demographic that’s on Facebook also watches “Scandal” or “How To Get Away With Murder.”
I totally agree. I’m really interested in how you stay focused as an artist. How do you choose the projects that you want to do? What really excites you to do something new?
What gets me excited about any new project is performing new material and the potential of connecting with a new audience! Creating a theme for a show, or switching up and performing for children. My other consideration always turns to not just the band I assemble, but am I being contracted for an equitable/liveable wage?
So, what is your dream project and could you do it in Philadelphia?
I have several “Dream” projects that I can’t begin to explain, but my current project involves reaching out to children! I have been cultivating relationships with schools in Delaware County for over 20 years, so this project necessitates being in Pennsylvania.