Crosstown Arts presents Kafe Kirk: The Gospel According to Jazz Edition featuring Kirk Whalum, Kevin Whalum, and Keia Johnson.
Sunday, July 16, 2023
Box office opens at 5 pm | Doors open at 5:30 pm
Show begins at 6 pm
Tickets: SOLD OUT
Join Grammy-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum for Kafé Kirk, an ongoing jazz series in Crosstown Theater featuring musical and spiritual collaborations with special guest artists. This iteration’s performance will feature Keia Johnson and Kevin Whalum.
With over a decade of experience in the entertainment field; Keia has made a name for herself as the multifaceted artist that attacks each opportunity with gusto and her signature smile. Keia was born in San Antonio, Texas but grew up all over the world in a military family. She listened to a wide range of artists growing up, but it was the move to Memphis that helped her establish her sound and performance style. She has performed on some of the most iconic stages in Memphis (The Orpheum, Cannon Center, and festivals) and with some of the best talent Memphis has to offer, like Justin Timberlake, Wendy Moten, The Bar-Kays, and David Porter of Stax Records. Years later, It was American Idol that served as the true catalyst for Keia to recognize who she was as an artist; the talent competition led her to Hollywood where “Miss Congeniality” wowed the judges for two seasons. Her audition performance of Celine Dion’s vocally rigorous “My Heart Will Go On” prompted guest judge and musical role model Mary J. Blige to simply declare: “She can sing!” In 2016, the world seemed to open up for Keia as she travelled for three years with the BB King Allstar band on Holland America Cruise lines singing blues, rock-and-roll, jazz, classic R&B, and soul. She officially launched KJ Management, an Entertainment Agency in 2021, under which she had developed exclusive Memphis soul and jazz shows for riverboats. She gives private Vocal lessons to Artists & Students as well as artist development. She is currently writing/producing shows and musicals for regional theaters and stages. Make sure to keep up with her at XperiencEntertainment.com.
Kevin Whalum is best known for his stellar work with Kirk on his brother’s gospel series entitled, Kirk Whalum, The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapters 1-4.
Chapter One was released in 1998 to critical acclaim, and it put Kevin on everyone’s radar with his medley take on the Negro spirituals, Wade In The Water/Motherless Child. It broke new ground in gospel. No one had tried anything that daring vocally in the genre previously. When he and Kirk performed the song later that year on the Stellar Awards broadcast, the audience gave them a standing ovation. That was a pivotal moment. “Yeah, that was special. I knew I was in front of some gospel purists who believe gospel should be one thing and one thing only, but I reject the notion that praise for the Almighty has anything to do with a certain group of chords,
or a certain rhythmic pattern. Gospel is defined as the good news, and as long as that is what fills my heart as I perform, that is what will exude from me as I stand before God’s children anywhere in the world; in churches or nightclubs. They will feel me if they allow themselves to, and aren’t too busy judging me because I sound a little different than what they consider gospel. If you love Jesus as I do, you will feel me.”If Chapter 1 was Kevin’s introduction to gospel music fans, then, Chapter 2 was the
solidification of his presence. That release spawned the remake of an old Johnny “Guitar” Watson classic called, I Wanna TaTa Ya, Baby from the 1970s. Kirk has always left Kevin alone to choose the songs he wanted to record on each volume. “Kirk trusts me to provide him with solid ideas for covers, so I said we should take that song and rename it I Wanna TaTa Ya, Jesus. Our ‘thing’ is to take established hits from artists who didn’t necessarily write them for a gospel audience, and flip them on their heads, so I rewrote the lyric to change TaTa, Ya to mean Thank Ya, and boom…people loved it. That song was released in 2003, and yet it is still requested everywhere from Dallas to Tokyo, and from Stockholm to Cape Town.”Chapter 3 is responsible for bringing in the R&B fans among the Whalum brothers’ audience. For this live recording, Kevin chose a song by the late Luther Vandross called, Make Me A Believer. He would be joined on it by the now three-time Grammy winner, Lalah Hathaway. The song was a runaway hit, and was nominated for a Stellar Award for best video in 2008. Again, Kevin rewrote the original lyric to suit its new purpose, and found massive critical and commercial success. “Lalah and I are good friends, and we had an absolute blast singing together. She’s such a singular talent. I knew it would do well, although I had no idea it would do
what it eventually did.”Chapter 4 is the latest installment in the series, and it promises to be as noteworthy as the previous three. Kevin now has three solo albums under his belt: the self-produced solo debut, Timetable (2002); the George Duke-produced, One Life To Love (2008); and the new self-produced, I Live For You (2016). Although Kevin eschews any effort to force him into a category or genre’, he freely admits to defining himself as “primarily a jazz vocalist who just happens to be a Christian.” He exhorts, “I hope I never agree to be just one thing. A true artist never wants that. I have been—and will remain—free to explore the musical universe. There’s too much out here to stay locked into one soundscape forever. Music is big, but Jesus is infinitely bigger. I want to touch his face with everything he puts in my heart to do. I hope people find my new record, I Live For You, refreshing, and dare I say it, groundbreaking.”
Soulful, passionate, stirring…these are the words most often used to describe Kirk’s music. Forged from his Memphis (Tennessee) gospel roots and his 1980‘s initiation into the thriving Houston, Texas nightclub scene, Kirk’s big, rich tenor sound is unmistakably his. The ’80s were highlighted by Kirk’s stepping out of his blossoming sideman role and forming his own band. It was there that Kirk ultimately developed both his “voice” and songwriting in the crucible of the local club scene––especially at a rooftop club called Cody’s. It was also in Houston where jazz pianist Bob James “discovered” him and brought him on tour, which led to five successful albums with Columbia Records, including Cache, Kirk’s first #1 album. As well, Kirk and Bob received a Grammy nomination for their collaboration album, Joined at the Hip. After moving to Los Angeles, Kirk became an in demand session player for top artists like, Barbara Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Larry Carlton, Quincy Jones and most notably, Whitney Houston, amongst many others. It’s his sax heard on the mega-hit, “I Will Always Love You.” Kirk soon followed that career high point with his phenomenal hit album released on Warner Bros. Records, For You, perhaps the most successful of over 25 solo recordings to date; others include his eclectic, and much lauded, Gospel According to Jazz series, (Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4). In addition to his many solo projects, Kirk was also a member of the popular soul/jazz group, BWB, which features Kirk as the “W” of the group with Rick Braun (trumpet) and Norman Brown (guitar).Kirk is the recipient of numerous awards and acknowledgements for his musical excellence including three Dove Award nominations, an NAACP Image Award nomination and has won two Stellar Awards- Gospel music’s highest honor. A twelve time Grammy nominee, Kirk won his first Grammy award (2011) for Best Gospel Song (“It’s What I Do”––featuring Lalah Hathaway) alongside life-long friend and gifted songwriter, Jerry Peters.