Without the lead vocalist, a band is, well, a band. But with the vocalist — a strong female vocalist — magic can happen.
And that’s one reason Rhonda Benin and Terrie Odabi perform “Just Like a Woman — A Concert Celebrating 100 Years of Song” on March 13 at the Solano County Events Center.
“Many times, when it comes to music, women are just thrown in as ‘the singers.’ It’s ‘she’s the singer.’ The truth is, without the singer, it’s not as compelling,” Benin said. “Most of the time, you need a singer to pull this thing off, and I think in the scheme of things, women get ignored for their accomplishments.”
So Benin sifted through the list of the 100 top female singers of all time, narrowing it down to a dozen or so for the performance, sponsored by the Solano County Library Foundation’s Women’s History Luncheon.
“I strategically looked (at the list) and wanted it to be diverse,” Benin said. “I thought about balance and the different genres so the show is interesting.”
It’s more than just a quick song about a particular artist. Benin distributes a two-page handout with the performer’s picture and a “quick synopsis” of their career.
This year’s honored vocalists include Betsy Smith, Coco Taylor, Karen Carpenter, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Natalie Cole, Nina Simone and Big Mama Thorton, among others.
“I can’t give away the whole show,” laughed Odabi, interviewed by phone separately from Benin.
The concert is about cohesive collaboration and not competition, Odabi said.
“I think we really work well together. There’s a mutual admiration,” she said. “I really love Rhonda’s approach to her songs. And we’re also very different from each other. I think we’re able to enhance each other when we do sing together.”
Song selection is important, Odabi said.
“If I don’t have a passion for it, then other people won’t enjoy it when I’m singing it,” she said. “I sing music I truly love.”
There’s no arm-wrestling battle for any one song, Odabi said.
“Some songs Rhonda does, I wouldn’t touch,” Odabi said. “And she’ll say, ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I don’t want to do that one.’ We’re very different. And that’s a great thing.”
“Terrie and I have two distinct voices,” added Benin. “I have a tendency to be a bit quieter. It’s a contrast.”
It’s the third year of the duo taking on “100 Years of Song,” and, though they have hit several Solano County libraries every March before, the March 13 performance is the only scheduled one for Odabi and Benin.
It’s been a roller coaster year for the Richmond resident, returning to teaching after 30 years of touring that “disappeared.”
“It’s good that I had a second career to fall back on,” Benin said, sighing, “the music industry changed tremendously.”
Full-time teaching or not, Benin will never give up singing or researching the greats, which motivated her to create the “100 Years of Song.”
“The research is part of the fun,” Benin said. “I do it all the time.”
There’s nothing like picking up a nugget she didn’t know about an artist.
Take Doris Day. “I didn’t know what her part of jazz was. To me she was a movie or TV star,” Benin said. “And I didn’t know Ethel Waters was a juvenile delinquent. By the time I saw her, she was a bible-toting little old Christian lady. I didn’t know she was a mess as a kid.”
Oddly, Benin said all of her musical idols when she was younger were all men: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green. Wonder and Gaye especially “because of their song-writing ability.”
But it’s all women, of course, at the 100 Years of Song show. And when the final song is performed, “I feel exhilarated,” said Benin.
“The afterglow is the best part,” Odabi offered. “And people smiling, sharing their experience, letting you know how they enjoyed the show.”
Odabi hopes the audience walks out “feeling or understanding how great these women were in the whole tapestry of American music.
Both Oakland’s Odabi and Benin of Richmond have other projects. Benin does her “Just Like a Woman” solo show Saturday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. And Odabi unveils her new CD April 12 at Yoshi’s.
Rhonda Benin and Terrie Odabi salute the greats in “Just Like a Woman - A Concert Celebrating 100 Years of Song, Sunday, March 13, 3 p.m., at the Solano County Events Center, 601 Texas St., Fairfield. Free tickets available at any Solano County Library branch (limit to four per person). For information, visit solanolibrary.com or call 1-866-572-7587.
Sisterhood Is Soulful: Rhonda Benin’s ‘Just Like A Woman’
Rhonda Benin hosts "Just Like a Woman" this weekend in Berkeley. (Photo: James Knox)
Mar. 7, 2015
With her command of an impressive array of African-American musical idioms, Rhonda Benin could front a soul revue all by herself. But when she throws a party, the veteran East Bay vocalist is determined to share the spotlight. Her third annual “Just Like a Woman” concert celebrating Women’s History Month returns to Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage on Saturday, March 7, with an embarrassment of musical riches (the embarrassment belonging to all those venues and festivals that draw a blank when it comes to booking female instrumentalists).
A founding member of Linda Tillery’s invaluable Cultural Heritage Choir, Benin is a tremendously assured singer who inhabits the celebratory zone where jazz, soul and blues fraternize freely. Looking to showcase an array of Bay Area artists from rising acts to veteran performers, she’s shoehorned into a single evening more than enough talent to power a week-long festival. The personnel ranges from alluring Latin jazz vocalist Alexa Weber Morales, who earned a Grammy in 2013 as a member of the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, to blues guitarist and vocalist Pat Wilder, who’s been gaining attention in recent years with her exciting shows.
The exuberantly stylish Lavay Smith has been proudly swinging the jump-blues banner for more than two decades, while Tiffany Austin is a rising star who decided to concentrate on her music career after graduating from Boalt Hall School of Law. For instrumental prowess, it’s hard to beat the String Divas, a violin trio featuring Tarika Lewis, Sandy Poindexter and India Cooke (a bold improviser whose credits includes performances with Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, and Pauline Oliveros). Benin herself teams up with Wanda Diamond and Darlene Coleman to pay tribute to great female soul singers, both famous and lesser-known.
It takes a supremely well-versed combo to handle all of these genres and grooves with authority, which is why Benin always calls upon the impeccable services of pianist Tammy Hall. A consummate accompanist sought after by many of the Bay Area’s finest jazz and blues vocalists, Hall leads the Lillian Armstrong Tribute Band, featuring Elvin Bishop bassist Ruth Davies, drummer Ruth Price and saxophonist Kristen Strom. The backing ensemble itself is well worth the price of admission.