Rhonda Benin
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Rhonda Benin

San Francisco, California, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1995 | SELF

San Francisco, California, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 1995
Band Jazz Blues


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"Giving Them Their Due"

March 05, 2014 Music
Giving Them Their Due
The second-annual "Just Like a Woman" concert highlights the underappreciated talent of Bay Area female musicians.
By Lee Hildebrand
Rhonda Benin said she's disappointed that few girls play instruments in the jazz classes she teaches.

Show Details
Rhonda Benin presents Just Like a Woman at Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St., Berkeley) on Saturday, Mar. 8. 8 p.m., $23, $25. TheFreight.org

Sitting in her hotel room two years ago, during a three-month-long, six-nights-a-week summer engagement at the JZ Jazz Club in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, Rhonda Benin pondered what she might do when she got back home to Oakland. She wanted to do something big, to make a splash.

It had been bothering her that no female musicians, not even vocalists, had been booked to play a daylong jazz festival held at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park at the foot of 7th Street in West Oakland, which she had attended before traveling abroad. "I found that to be odd," she recalled. And, as an instructor at both Jam Camp West and the Jazzschool Girls' Jazz & Blues Camp, Benin had noticed few girls playing musical instruments. "All the girls were stacked into the singing classes," she said.

The Los Angeles-born vocalist, who also teaches basic music and performance skills at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito, decided to stage a show "to celebrate the Bay Area women of music" last March 28 at Freight & Salvage. She picked March because it's Women's History Month. "Just Like a Woman," as she called the concert, featured herself and singers Kellye Gray, Paula Harris, and Terrie Odabi, all backed by Tammy Hall's trio. Long the piano accompanist of choice for many local vocalists, Hall dubbed the trio "the Lillian Hardin Tribute Band" in honor of Louis Armstrong's piano-playing second wife.

The show was such a success that Benin decided to present a second edition at the Berkeley venue on Saturday, this one featuring singer-pianist Lady Bianca, vocalists Ashling "Biscuit" Cole and Valerie Troutt, harpist Destiny Muhammad, saxophonist Kristen Strom, pianist Hall, bassist Ayla Davila, and drummer Ruthie Price, plus six teen and pre-teen girls, including the members of MZSwitched Up, an Oakland duo made up of multi-instrumentalist sisters Zandra and Millenia Kay, ages eleven and fourteen, respectively.

Benin began her singing career in the late 1970s with two friends, collectively known as Joy, by doing background vocals on demos for guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. and disco and rock sessions in Southern California for record producers including brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Stanley Clarke. "All the old Seventies B-side songs," she said of the records they sang on, none of them hits. She had hoped to land a record deal of her own, but by the time she was 35, she found doors closed because of her age and her size.

While visiting friends in Oakland in 1989, Benin saw both Lady Bianca and former Prince vocalist Rosie Gaines performing in clubs and decided to move north. "You mean my life isn't over because I'm over thirty and I'm full-figured?" she remembered asking herself.

"It was the best thing I ever did," she said recently, sitting at a table in the Montclair Women's Cultural Arts Club with Bianca and Cole. Besides performing with her own Soulful Strut band in local clubs after relocating, Benin has been a member of Linda Tillery's Cultural Heritage Choir for the past 23 years and has recorded 7 CDs with the ensemble. She made her own album of jazz, blues, and soul music in 2006, did backgrounds on albums by Maria Muldaur and Holly Near, and sang leads on recordings by Mal Sharpe's Big Money in Dixieland.

Benin, now 59, said she chose Bianca to perform at this year's show because "hands down, she's probably the best singer in the Bay Area."

"I might be the best singer, but because I won't take no shit, I'm not working," interjected Bianca, a forty-year fixture of the Bay Area blues and soul scene. She once toured as a background singer with Sly Stone, Frank Zappa, and Van Morrison but in recent years has focused on recording original songs written with her husband. She's made five albums since 1995. She keeps her age a secret. "I think it's rude and unfair to ask me my age," she said.

Soul singer Cole, who was born forty years ago in Vancouver and raised in San Francisco, landed a recording contract with Interscope Records when she was seventeen. She moved to Southern California to record an album for the label — which was completed, then shelved. Devastated, she quit singing, except in church, and instead waited tables and worked for Peet's Coffee and several paper-shredding companies. She reemerged four and a half years ago as a member of Graham Central Station (founded by onetime Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham) and is featured on the group's latest album, Raise Up.

Unlike Benin and Bianca, Cole is not African American. "I find her not to be contrived," Benin said of her friend. "She's not a little white girl who decided she was going to go learn soul so that she could go and get all the work. She's not pretending." - The East Bay Express

"Sisterhood Is Soulful"

Public Media for Northern California
The Do List
Sisterhood Is Soulful: Rhonda Benin’s ‘Just Like A Woman’

Rhonda Benin hosts "Just Like a Woman" this weekend in Berkeley. (Photo: James Knox)
By Andrew Gilbert Mar 4, 2015
Event Information
Rhonda Benin
Powerhouse vocalist brings handful of guests.
Mar. 7, 2015
Frieght & Salvage

Details and tickets

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.
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"Just Like A Woman Salutes Women's History Month"

Solano News
US / World
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Friday, May 8, 2015
‘Just Like a Woman’ celebrates a musical Women’s History Month

Terrie Odabi, left, and Rhonda Benin sing during the Just Like a Woman concert held at the Solano County Events Center in Fairfield, in 2014. The two singers sang jazz and soul songs from Billie Holiday to Aretha Franklin. The concert was put on by the Solano County Library Foundation. (Adam Smith/Daily Republic)
By Tony Wade
From page B1 | March 13, 2015 |

FAIRFIELD — Apparently, the Solano County Library Foundation’s well-received 2014 “Just Like a Woman“ concert series wasn’t broken, so this year, they didn’t try to fix it.

The same two performers, blues/R&B/jazz/soul singers Rhonda Benin and Terrie Odabi, who packed rooms last year from Vallejo to Rio Vista in free concerts celebrating Women’s History Month, will do so again in 2015.

The show in Fairfield kicks off 3 p.m. Sunday at the Solano County Events Center.

“Just Like a Woman” celebrates and highlights some of the contributions women have made in music. The Solano County shows are actually smaller versions of a popular show that Benin dreamed up upon returning to the states after living abroad. The larger show features numerous other female Bay Area performers in a variety show format.

“I had to come up with something that would draw attention to me and I just thought it up and then it took on a life of its own,” Benin said. “I was able to hire some of the most popular women from the Bay Area and you can come there one night and see so much incredible stuff – it’s so eclectic.”

Benin was contacted by the Solano County Library Foundation to do the smaller show last year, and while the titles of the show are the same, there are differences.

“It’s actually a completely different show with a completely different person. The small show is just me and Terrie Odabi and a three-piece band. It is a performance/Q & A and I developed a workbook that people can take with them,” Benin said. “We highlight about 20 singers and Terrie and I alternate singing songs by artists like Gladys Knight, Carole King, Billie Holliday, Dinah Washington, Rosemary Clooney and more.”

Benin was born and raised in Los Angeles and moved to the Bay Area in 1989. She did not come from a musical family, but her talent led her in that direction.

“I used music as a hobby and by the time I became an adult, I started doing some session studio work. Once I moved to the Bay Area, I got an administrative job in the arts and ended up cutting commercials. Then I met Linda Tillery and have been a part of the Linda Tillery Cultural Heritage Choir for 26 years.”

According to its website, The Linda Tillery Cultural Heritage Choir is a Grammy-nominated, percussion driven, vocal ensemble with a mission to help preserve and share the rich musical traditions of African-American roots music.

That mission strikes a chord with Benin as she fears many parts of the African-American musical spectrum are underrepresented on radio airwaves these days.

“Growing up, on the radio we got everything from O.C Smith to Ray Charles to James Brown to Roberta Flack – you know, everything on the same station,” Benin said. “Urban radio now only plays a small portion of what black artists have to offer.”

While the theme of the “Just Like a Woman” series is to spotlight women in music, ironically, Benin’s biggest influence is a man: legendary singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder.

“That’s where it all started for me,” Benin said. “Vocally, lyrically, in songwriting – every groan and grunt, every overdub. Stevie’s music was where I really stopped listening just to be listening and started to try to unweave this thing and understand how it all worked.”

The response at last year’s series surprised Benin and she is eager to perform in Solano County again.

“Last year, Vallejo was good. It built in Fairfield and by the time we hit Vacaville, it was crazy. In Fairfield, people started lining up for the show two hours beforehand,” Benin said. “Terrie Odabi won the regional finals of the International Blues Challenge two years in a row and went to Memphis to represent the Bay Area. She is at the top of her game and I am at the top of mine. It is a really good show.”

Tickets are free, but seating is limited at each venue. For more information, call 1-866-572-7587 or go to solanolibrary.com.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at toekneeweighed@gmail.com

Solano County Library Foundation presents “Just Like a Woman”
Featuring Rhonda Benin and Terrie Odabi
3 p.m. March 15, Solano County Events Center, 601 Texas St., Fairfield
3 p.m. March 22, Veterans Memorial Building, 610 St. Francis Way, Rio Vista
3 p.m. March 28, John F. Kennedy Library, 505 Santa Clara St., Vallejo
3 p.m. March 29, McBride Center, 91 Town Square Place, Vacaville
1-866-572-7587, solanolibrary.com - The Daily Republic - Fairfield, CA

"Rhonda Benin in HCA Benefit"

Rhonda Benin in HCA Benefit

January 4, 2012
rhonda beninHealdsburg Center for the Arts and the Healdsburg Jazz Festival present
a benefit concert for the Healdsburg Center for the Arts

When: Saturday, January 21, 2012
Time: 8 pm
Where: Healdsburg Center for the Arts, 130 Plaza Street, (707) 431-1970
Ticket Cost: $25.00

Rhonda Benin is no stranger to Healdsburg jazz audiences, having performed at the One Voice concert in last year’s Festival. She is a talented singer with a wide range of musical voices, moving easily from jazz standards to R&B to Latin rhythms and to the blues, putting her unique signature on every song.

Poster - Rhonda Benin V4 WebHer sweet voice, creative interpretations of old standards is refreshing. But Rhonda is more than a great vocalist. Her show is full of energy, dance, wit and her special joie de vivre. She will be joined by Glen Pearson (piano), Alcide Marshall (drums) and Gregory Simmons (bass). Don’t miss the opportunity to see this exciting group.

Benin’s remarkable career began in the late 80s with a weekend gig with folk-blues maven Maria Muldaur. Soon after, she teamed up with Linda Tillery and The Cultural Heritage Choir (CHC). At home in the Bay Area, Rhonda began making a name for herself as a solo artist, but it was her 9-year stint with Mal Sharpe’s Big Money In Jazz Band that gave her visibility on the nightclub and festival circuits, and led her to form her band Soulful Strut.

Soulful Strut has become a permanent fixture on the San Francisco music scene. “My band has been described as a jazz band drenched in soul with a solid helping of the blues”.

There will be two complete sets at the single 8 p.m. show. The second set will include music to dance to, promising another memorable show at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts gallery, just half a block from the Plaza.

Rhonda BeninThis marks the fifth time the Healdsburg Center for the Arts and the Healdsburg Jazz Festival have cooperated on a “Jazz in the Gallery” concert to benefit the HCA’s Youth Art Education program. - Healdsburg Jazz Festival Newsletter


"A Matter Of The Heart" Lucindy's Music 2009 produced by Rhonda Benin

As member of Linda Tillery & The Cultural Heritage Choir
"Good Time, A Good Time
"Front Porch Music"
"Shakin A Tail Feather"
"Say Yo Business"
"Still We Sing, Still We Rise"



Rhonda Benin
Jazz, Blues & Soul Vocalist

“Benin’s got a coolly hip vocal, with a bit of hush and sugar and an undercurrent of big booming power. She can bend notes with a bass, talk serenade with a piano and steam the kettle from the drums”.
Ran Pacifica Tribune

San Francisco Bay Area vocalist, Rhonda Benin has earned a reputation for not just a good voice but showmanship, magnetic stage personality, humor, and of course her great dancing. Rhonda’s impressive resume includes performances at SF Jazz, Yoshi’s, MOAD, The Healdsburg, Sonoma, Burlingame, Sausalito, Filmore, and Calistoga Jazz Festivals. In the summer of 2012 Rhonda traveled to Hangzhou, China for a 3 month engagement at the JZ Jazz Club and was 2014 USA headliner for The Kigali Up Music Festival in Kigali, Rwanda. In addition to singing, Rhonda is producer and founder of the Women’s History Month’s show “Just Like A Woman” a tribute to Bay Area Women In Music and “Jazz Ain’t Nothing But The Blues”.

Benin is a 22 year member of The GRAMMY nominated vocal ensemble Linda Tillery and The Cultural Heritage. She appears on the CHC’s 7 Cd’s and has toured 30 countries performing and recording with legendary artists such as Taj Mahal, Wilson Pickett, Richie Havens, Odetta. Al Green, Keb Mo, Santana, Patti Austin, Janis Ian, Jackson Brown, Hugh Masekela & Sweet Honey In The Rock.

In 2006 Rhonda produced her first solo CD, A Matter of the Heart a classic mix of jazz, blues, and soul and is currently working on her 2nd CD.

Rhonda is on the teaching staff of Healdsburg Jazz ‘s Operation Jazz Band, San Francisco Arts Project, LEAP, Cal Performances, Youth In Arts and conducts her own school assemblies and workshops, “The Voice, The Hands The Feet” “Twist and Shout” and “Love Letters Make Me Misty Blue”. In addition Rhonda is the founder and producer of the annual show, “Just Like A Woman, a celebration of Bay Area Women In Music”.

For booking information: call 510 302-5096 or email: rhondasingsasong@gmail.com
Or check the website @ www.rhondabenin.com

“If you can’t sing a song, let BeninSing It!”

Band Members