By James L. Stroud, Jr.
Rachelle Ferrell returned to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis in March for two performances.
Ferrell is a singer, composer, writer, arranger, and musician who has a six-octave range. Ferrell sings without effort in the “whistle register,” just like the late Minnie Riperton. She studied voice, piano and violin in her youth and has performed since age six. After attending the Berklee College of Music, Ferrell has sung backup for Lou Rawls, Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Wiliams and George Duke, just to name a few.
What is the whistle register, you ask? Let us avoid the music professor’s technical/literal definition and break it down. It’s the highest octave that one could reach, which gives Ferrell the vocal power and ability to break glass, if and when she feels like it.
Backstage after the first of two performances, MSR caught up with Ferrell (RF) to ask her a few questions.
MSR: Hello Rachelle, great show!
RF: Thank you, it felt good.
MSR: Let me ask you something while I take your picture?
MSR: (jokingly) Have you broken any glass with your voice lately?
RF: (joking) No, I’ve been too thirsty and don’t like getting water everywhere.
MSR: Thank you for coming back to Minneapolis. You seem to like Minnesota.
RF: I do because the people here are so alive, and they love jazz.
Unfortunately, it was almost time for the next show, and four or five fans rushed in during the MSR moment to request pictures with Ferrell. She gladly accommodated them, and MSR gladly made way for the fans.
The first show was more like a warm-up for Ferrell. She seemed to be pacing her energy output. It was the second show where she went into her familiar zone and gave her fans a different show than the first one. When Ferrell first walked on stage for the second performance, the crowd roared and whistled as she smiled and acknowledged the love with a hand wave.
Fans of both shows seemed amazed by Ferrell’s jaw-dropping vocal range and her versatile musical ability. Ferrell covered the gambit of musical styles in one performance. She went from jazz standards to R&B and gospel back to scatting, while often crossing the stage to play the piano.
The first part of both shows previewed songs from her long-awaited upcoming new CD. Ferrell asked about fans who recently had a birthday, then she sang and dedicated a “birthday” song to all who raised their hands.
Things began to heat up even more when she jumped into a few songs that fans recognize the most: “With Open Arms,” “Sentimental” and the crowd’s favorite of the night, “Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This.” She recorded that song with singer Will Downing in the ’90s. Even though Will Downing was not there for either show, it was no problem for Ferrell to sing his part and sound just like him.
The favorite — and not-so-favorite — part of the second show was close to the end when Ferrell turned the stage into “Dakota’s Got Talent.” Ferrell invited members of the audience to take the microphone and improvise with her and the band. Surprisingly, all seven or eight people held their own, with crowd approval.
Ginger Commodore from the Twin Cities music group Moore By Four showed those who know of her why she’s a staple on the Minnesota music scene.
Closing the “Dakota’s Got Talent” portion of the show and ending the night with a shockingly good smooth performance was KMOJ Radio’s Walter “Q-Bear” Banks. Ferrell clearly was into his leaning over the piano with a smooth and rhythmic adlib that was reminiscent of an old-school soul singer from the ’60s. Ferrell loved it so much that she grabbed the microphone and pulled herself close enough to kiss him as she repeated Q-Bear’s every “Shoop, shoop, bop,” while they shared the microphone.
The show ended with a standing ovation.
James L Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.