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Molly Johnson explains that when people say to her, as they often have, that “You are so much like Billie Holiday,” her answer has been, “No I am because of Billie.” The distinction is important, and follows from Johnson’s approach to jazz singing.

Molly Johnso

Like Holiday, Molly Johnson thinks of herself as a musician, as if she is one of the band, not the conventional canary fronting it. “Billie was more one of the band. One of the musicians,” she says, adding that during her own performances, “I listen to the band, not to me.”

Holiday was arguably the first jazz vocalist to use the microphone as an instrument. She understood that she didn’t have to shout above the band in the manner of earlier blues singers to be heard, and her phrasing was more like that of a musician than a singer. The Juno-Award winning Molly Johnson has the same ability to elevate a song into something more. Both of them can turn a silly love song like “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” into a jazz masterpiece.

Certainly one can hear elements of other singers in Johnson’s wonderfully expressive voice beside Lady Day – Eartha Kitt’s sultry purr, Blossom Dearie’s subtle insouciance, among others – but Johnson’s distinctive vocal approach is perhaps indebted to Lady Day more than anyone else.

Johnson had already recorded an homage to Holiday on her self-titled solo debut CD from 2000 with a respectful version of one the earlier singer’s classic compositions, “Don’t Explain.” Because of Billie, Johnson’s fifth solo album, contains 14 tunes associated with Holiday, including such classics as “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.” Johnson and the band recorded the CD in four joyous days.

One might say that she understands Billie Holiday, body and soul.

— Barry Keith Grant

Molly Johnson

The Billie Holiday Project with The Khea Emmanuel Quartet Partridge Hall MEMBERS: $44.20 REGULAR: $52

7:30PM Wed 16 Dec

Appropriately, it was released in 2014, the year that marks the centenary of the legendary vocalist’s birth.

Yet Johnson’s admiration for Holiday runs even deeper than her great music. “There are lots of singers doing tributes to Billie’s music,” she says. “For me, it’s more of an homage to her.” Growing up in Toronto, Johnson knows she has led a much different life than the troubled Holiday, so she seeks to interpret rather than emulate her music. She sees Holiday as a life model, “courageous, not a victim at all,” because she succeeded despite a terrible childhood, having grown up without a father and becoming a prostitute at a young age.

Johnson is as passionate about her philanthropic involvement with a number of charities as she is about singing jazz. The Boys and Girls Clubs of North America receive a portion of the sales from Because of Billie and help children have a better life than young Billie Holiday did. In this way, Johnson has responded to Holiday’s life as well as her art.

...with special guest ...

#niagara The Khea Emmanuel Quartet

Niagara’s own Khea Emmanuel has R&B music in her soul.

It’s not easy being the daughter of Motown musician and LMT Connection band leader Leroy Emmanuel. But with this kind of self-taught talent, Khea makes it effortless. Khea’s love affair with jazz is self-evident during her performances on the stages she graces.

Her musical education to date includes various artistic interpretations synonymous with blues, R&B and the classics by definition.

Emmanuel will be joined by Doug Mundy (piano), Clark Johnson (bass) and Ken Balbar (drums).


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