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She’s All That: Jazz, Gospel & Black History—She’s Tecora Rogers! PDF Print E-mail
By, Serene Bridgett Hollingsworth

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The name Tecora Rogers may not be familiar to you, but it should be. This multi-talented woman of Black history, jazz and gospel is worth getting to know up close and personal, and that is just what I did. As a native of Chicago, she is intelligent, radiant, and commands your full attention on stage! It would be impossible do anything else but listen to her smooth melodic voice and be enchanted. This international songstress sings both gospel and jazz with equaled grace and style. Her voice will have you reminiscing about Ella Fitzgerald; if your eyes are closed, you may just believe Ella has momentarily entered the room. However, know this Tecora Rogers has her own unique style, which is versatile and unique to only her. If I had to sum up her style, I would call it a fusion of jazz meets gospel on the Damascus road!

You can hear snippets of Tecora’s sultry and mesmerizing music via Bahiyah’s “Listening Room” where you can taste both her musical depth and breath. Tecora is also a feature writer here at BWM. She is preparing a series about “Black Female Artists Abroad,” of which she happens to be one of the artists. Tecora is currently performing at Harry’s in Singapore through October 29, 2005 and has traveled the globe sharing her music.

I said she is multi-talented, right? Well, not only does this jazz and gospel DIVA have a love and passion for music, but she is also a Black historian who has produced a documentary on African American History. Her Chicago Access Cable show, Tecora Rogers, is devoted to sharing our history with power and truth. Learn more about this award- winning performer in her candid interview.

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BWM:
When did you begin singing? I know you had another career before you chose to travel the world sharing your voice.

TR: I have been singing since I was 6 years old. I started singing in church and got my first paid gig when I was twelve. I became pregnant when I was 16 during a time when girls were not allowed to attend public high schools while pregnant or if you had children. As a result, I was forced to complete my education outside of the public school system and support my child.

Married and divorced with a second child by age 27, I could not focus on a singing career. I was the sole support for my children and me so I had to maintain steady and predictable employment.

About 13 years ago, the sister of a good friend called me and asked if I would be interested in going on a gospel singing tour in Europe and I jumped at the chance. Every year since that time, I have used my vacation time to tour Europe with the Shirley Wahls Singers.

Just more than a year ago, my corporate position took me to Singapore. I had the occasion to sing while there; it was a fluke, a surprise and a start to a new full-time career. After being heard, I was offered a 3-month contract to perform jazz at the Regent Hotel in Singapore. I took a leave of absence from my job to accept the gig and while there, I received another offer to perform at Harry’s Jazz Club located in Singapore. Well, then I decided to resign from my 6-figure income position to do something that I have wanted to do all of my life--perform full-time. I owe this revelation to Mandy Gaines another jazz singer who saw my talent and did all she could to help me secure gigs in Asia. I feel strongly about passing this good will forward and have I assisted several other singers with securing work in Asia and Europe.

BWM:
How many albums have you released? Is there a favorite?

TR: I have released four CDs: one gospel and three jazz. The gospel CD can be purchased on Amazon.com. They all can be purchased via my website, as well. Do I have a favorite? I have lived with gospel all of my life and with jazz for most of my life. They both have enabled me to travel the world and meet many people I would have not otherwise met. I get a different satisfaction from performing jazz and from performing gospel. I believe I have a spiritual connection with the Lord and He has commissioned me to sing gospel and made a way for me to share His word in a song with millions all over the world.

As for jazz, well, I have been a lover of this genre for all of my life but only began performing it professionally a few years ago. Performing jazz gives me an incredible sense of satisfaction; it is almost euphoric. I have often wondered why I waited so long to branch out into this genre but as a friend tells me, “This is when the Lord wanted you to make this move; this is your time.” So today, I spent 9-10 months of the year traveling the world performing jazz and gospel. It is wonderful and I thank God for the continued blessings.

BWM: You sing gospel and jazz; do you have an allegiance for one or the other?

TR: I really do enjoy them both. Before each performance, I say a prayer and ask the Lord to sing through me so that the song I sing reaches the hearts of those listening. I say this prayer whether I am preparing to sing gospel or jazz. When I perform gospel, I am told from those in attendance that they “feel” my song and I believe that is God’s gift each time I sing His praises. I recall a young woman coming to me after a gospel concert in Europe and she said to me “…I have never attended church and I have never been religious but after hearing you, I think I might go to church now.” This was such a blessing.

The genre of jazz is amazing to me. My blessings come through the response I receive from the audience. Many have compared me to Ella Fitzgerald. It is certainly a humbling experience. Another musician attending a jazz performance recently told me that when he listens to me sing he could feel what I feel because “you are singing from down deep.”

BWM: You travel the world performing. Have you found a greater appreciation for your music abroad?

TR: Jazz evolved from spirituals, blues, and the music of Africans in America. Jazz is most certainly a true African American art form. I believe there is an appreciation of both genres in Europe and Asia that I do not find in the United States. Americans seem to have become complacent. I have found that people in Asia and Europe prefer to hear this art form performed by African Americans. This is not the case in the United States. In fact, there seems to be an influx of white artists re-releasing jazz standards and doing quiet well. Yet many African American artists are forced to go outside the country to get steady “better paying” work. For example, I received an email from a promoter indicating he has inquiries from several hotels in Europe who were looking for African American singers only to perform jazz. The same promoter sent me a note regarding a gospel tour insisting that all members of the group must be African American. When these conversations take place in the US (and believe me they still do), I am willing to bet they are not all in favor of the African American artists.

BWM: Many early Black musicians and writers found traveling abroad a safe haven.

TR: African American musicians continue to find a safe haven traveling abroad. It was true during the height of Jim Crow and it is true today. Most African American musicians bring an authentic sound of jazz and gospel to the enthusiasts of these genres outside the United States. I think however, it is important for African Americans to remain vigilant about guarding and documenting our history. History when written is a fact to those reading it and if we do not document our role and accomplishments, they are lost. I will never forget a comment my husband made, “The reason the Indians always lost the battles is because the cowboys were always telling the story.”

BWM:
You are also a historian. Where does this work fit in?

TR: Several years ago, I was asked a question about African American History and it was embarrassing when I could not answer the question.

I was embarrassed but believed I was not the only person in my community who was not well versed in my history. I decided to utilize my weekly local access television series to produce an African American History Documentary and share it with all of Chicago.

When I decided to produce this documentary, many African Americans objected to my "dredging" up what is for many, painful moments in our history. My position was and still is if we do not learn our history and encourage everyone's understanding of it, we are bound to repeat it. I agree that many parts of African American History are disturbing but there are lessons in history we must remember. We must take advantage of the struggles and the opportunities resulting from those struggles and continue to build upon these opportunities.

For the last several years, I have conducted African American Workshops throughout the United States and Asia.

BWM: Where will you be traveling in the coming months?

TR: I performed at the Sirocco Restaurant in Bangkok Thailand from March through August 2005; I performed for the Independence Day celebration for the American Embassy in Bangkok in July 2005; and in September through October 2005 I am now performing in Singapore at Harry’s Jazz Club. In addition, I conducted an African American History workshop and jazz recital at the American Ambassador’s Residence of Thailand on 24 February 2005. I will be touring Italy in December 2005 with the Chicago Spirituals.

BWM: How do you feel about the representation of music, which is available today? It seems that in the states we are so limited to hearing only the top 40 that they will allow on the radio.

TR: Independent artists have a difficult time showcasing their talent. It is rare that you find people who are in a position to help--to actually help. I was able to get an appointment with a major radio personality in Chicago for my gospel CD but could not get it played. Yet, I was able to sell hundreds of them during a recent European tour.

BWM: How can we hear real music today?

TR:
Chicago is a city known for its jazz and there are several wonderful locations where you can find live jazz.

BWM: Where can we go?

TR: Lee’s Unleaded Blues club on the south side of Chicago features both jazz and blues. Andy’s is another jazz club in Chicago; but there are many other great venues in Chicago that can be found on the Internet by doing a Google search for “jazz in Chicago.”

BWM: There are many artists performing overseas. You shared with me on the telephone that these artists give up a lot. How can we change things in the states for these artist or is that possible?

TR: There are a number of issues that play into artists going overseas. First, there are many singers residing in the US who are looking for work. As a result, the market is flooded and club owners and hotels will not pay top dollar because they can get singers cheap, thereby making is difficult for singers to make a living at their craft. Remember not every singer is necessarily a good singer and although rating a performer is a subjective process; inadequate performers will often validate the pay being offered. More often than not, mediocre performers are weeded out when it comes to traveling outside the United States. I don’t want to leave your readers with the assumption that it is easy to get work outside the US and every performer getting work are good performers but when you do get work, it generally pays well and positions you to get other gigs; but it is hard work.

I suppose the way to change things at home is a renewed appreciation for live entertainment. Quite often, when you go out to clubs today you find DJ’s spinning records or CD’s and you don’t find live music. The reason for this is because the consumer (the people going to the clubs), accept this form of entertainment and pays to enter a club to hear what they can hear at home. The appreciation for live music in the US has diminished over the last few decades and it is a real shame.

BWM:
What are you working on now?

TR:
I am currently developing African American History Workshops based upon the documentary my husband and I produced. In addition, I am on the 2005-2007 Illinois Arts Tour Roster. I hope that this statewide exposure will help me remain stateside in 2006 with more work at home.

BWM: Who are some of your favorite recording artists/musicians today?

TR: Well although deceased, Ella Fitzgerald will always be at the top of my list. Her talent, stage presence and love for jazz comes through still today. Cece Winans is up there with Ella on the Gospel side. Diane Reeves is one of my many favorites among artists you will see today.

BWM:
Who have you worked with professionally?

TR: I have worked with many awesome musicians all over the world and have opened for a few notables early on in my career but one whom I would mention today is Eldee Young. Eldee was one of the original members of the Ramsey Lewis Trio and I was fortunate to have him accompany me on a gig at the American Ambassador’s Residence in Bangkok Thailand. Eldee is a wonderful bassist and has a very rich history in jazz.

BWM: Chicago is your home. How is the music landscape in Chicago?

TR: Chicago will always be a haven for all music. I have spent much of my career however, performing outside the country. I do plan to spend more time at home beginning in 2006 but for now (2005) I am booked through the end of the year in Thailand, Singapore, and Italy.

BWM: Have you won any awards for your work?

TR: I am the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant, I am on the 2005-2007 Illinois Arts Tour Roster, I won two national level Hometown Video Awards for my documentary and a Distinctive Service Award from the Chicago Chapter of MAD DADS.

BWM: What is your website address and how can our readers keep up with your tour dates/schedule?

TR: My website address is http://www.tecorarogers.com/ and I generally try to keep my website up to date with my schedule.

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