Jazz Vocalist Eboni Fondren Answers Four Questions

Presented by Equity Bank

Jazz Vocalist Eboni Fondren. Photo by Adri Guyer

Growing up in Chicago with a father who is a musician and singer, Eboni Fondren remembers listening to what she calls the “dusties”—Golden Oldies to the rest of us—classic Motown, jazz, R&B, and Soul music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. “My early influences were doo wop groups, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, The Temptations, The Commodores, The Four Tops, Patti Labelle, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, Anita Baker, and so many more,” says Fondren. 

The family moved around the country for her father’s job, so Fondren was exposed to all types of music. She  loves to sing a wide variety, so much so that her friends call her a “human jukebox.” Says Fondren, “Songs are special because they can be time-stamped with memories, or the lyrics just touch you so personally, or the beat is so good that you can’t help but groove. “

With regular performances at the Uptown and other venues, Fondren has even more in the works. “I have written some original music that will be featured on the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s new album coming out this summer and fall. I recently produced a one-woman show entitled Jazz: The Women Who Shaped Me. I hope to begin recording on a solo project later this year as well,” she says. 

You sing jazz, pop, traditional, and Top 20 music. How did you get started and what made you focus on jazz?
I was bitten by the performance bug very early on. I was exposed to so many different types of music. College was where my love affair with jazz began. I was always aware of the genre and the great singers, but I think I thought Pop and R&B would be more of my lane until I heard a Diana Krall record late one night while out on a date. I was super shocked; she was a blonde, white woman from Canada. This was the music I needed to be singing. When I moved to Kansas City, I had one mission, and that was to sing this music. That is when I was introduced to all the great women who sang here: Ida McBeth, Lisa Henry, Angela Hagenbach, Karrin Allyson, Millie Edwards, Sharon Thompson, Myra Taylor.

What are some of the things most people don’t know about performing?
The show must go on. Opportunities come and go in this career, and you have to be ready to be “on” at all times. Also, people see the finished product on stage. They don’t see the hours of rehearsal, set-up time, or costs involved in looking the look and playing the part, and I do have a jazz “look.” I absolutely love fashion and styling. I have always been drawn to the glamour of the glory days and the way the women dressed when they were on stage. Always to the “nines.” 

I have been known to kick my shoes off on stage after an hour or two. There is sort of the inside joke amongst women performers about one-hour or two-hour shoes. 

Do you have a favorite song, jazz or otherwise, that you like to perform?
It’s always been really hard to pick favorites because my likes are so inspired by my mood, or what I may be going through at that particular time in my life. I can get fixated on an artist or a song and want to sing or listen to it over and over. I will say that I feel my most comfortable with a soulful groovy ballad like You Don’t Know What Love Is or Save Your Love for Me or The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face or I Can’t Make You Love Me or Come Away with Me. See what I mean? 

Kansas City has had a long and storied jazz heritage. What do you hope to add to it?
I love the rich history that Kansas City has. Jazz, from the instrumentalist perspective, has always been male dominated. But women were, more or less, the faces of the time. Since the 1930s, they sang this music all the while dealing with abuse, racial discrimination, and sexism. At the end of the day, I honor these women. I want to be a representation of where they came from to where we are today and show how this music lives on.  

With that being said, there is a tendency for local audiences to want to put us in the cute little “jazz box.” Just because I had a show Wednesday at this club, doesn’t mean you’re going to get the same show this Friday at that club. So, I want to encourage folks to come out and support and be open. 

One of the most awesome things I get to do is sing all styles of music. I am blessed to be a member of Lost Wax, an awesome mega mash-up party band, and we cover everything from jazz to Motown to country and everything in-between. Kansas City allows me to have the best of both worlds and marry the passion with the fun! 

I love that there is a new generation of jazz vocalists coming onto the scene. I love that styles are being infused and reworked and redesigned. What I hope people will not do is skip over us in the middle. I am not new, young, and fresh. I have been paying my dues for almost 20 years, and I am super grateful to be getting the recognition. 

In an age where a lot of reinventing of the wheel is happening in music, there are those here who are raising our hands and saying “Hey, we’re still here!” I love to put my spin on classic standards, but I also appreciate and honor the art form and will continue to perform those standards while blending all of my influences into everything that I do and hopefully foster more opportunities to just do what I love.

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