“Debbie is a master messenger deserving wider recognition.” –Leigh Kamman, The Jazz Image
Walker West Music Academy continues its popular Eight O’Clock Jump concert series on Friday, February 12 (8 pm), with one of the most beloved jazz artists in the Twin Cities, vocalist Debbie Duncan. Winner of multiple Minnesota Music Awards (Best Female Jazz Vocalist, Best Jazz Vocalist, Best Female Performer, Best Jazz Group, Best Jazz CD) and the Minnesota Black Music Award (Best Female Jazz Vocalist), Debbie is known not only for her voice, but for her on-stage personality that makes her one of the most in-demand entertainers in the region. She will be backed by her exceptional cohorts — pianist Adi Yehshaya, bassist Jay Young and drummer Mac Santiago, the same band that peformed two weeks ago at the Winter Jazz Festival. Be advised– tickets are selling fast and most concerts in this series do sell out, so reserve today!
Born in Memphis, Debbie Duncan grew up in Detroit, where her parents surrounded her with their favorite jazz, gospel, folk, and classical recordings. From her earliest years, Debbie was steeped in Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Gloria Lynne, Dakota Staton, Mel Torme, Ray Charles, and Chris Connors. She was also exposed to heavy gospel during summers with her grandparents in Memphis and St. Louis. Although she always intended to sing, Debbie studied flute in high school, not auditioning for the school choir until her senior year. Still concentrating on flute as her major at Wayne State University, Debbie continued to study voice, ultimately joining the Wayne State Women’s Chorale. Her vocal talent now at the forefront, soon she had a regular club gig and recorded back-up vocals for Mitch Ryder and Bob Segar. Moving to Los Angeles in 1976, Debbie had a seven-year stint at the Hungry Tiger and sang throughout the area club circuit. Eventually she worked with drummer Pete Johnson (formerly of Manhattan Transfer), and when he moved to Minneapolis, he convinced Debbie to join him for what was to be a six-week job at Rupert’s Night Club in 1984. The short gig lasted seven years. Forming a quartet with Don Stille, Gary Raynor and Phil Hey, Debbie soon became known as the “Working-est Singer” in the Twin Cities, winning many Minnesota Music Awards as well as the MMA’s first award as “Perpetually Outstanding Performer.”
Debbie’s performance resume includes opening for Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Stephane Grapelli, and appearing with Bobby Watson (Horizon), Mark Murphy, Von Freeman, Marlena Shaw, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Joe Henderson, Jimmy McGriff, John Hendricks and Kenny Werner. She’s released five recordings, was a founding member of The Girls, appeared in an acclaimed role in the Ordway’s production of Blues in the Night, had a weekly gig at Camp Bar with Mary Louise Knutson, and has appeared in several solo productions at the Capri Theater. One of the most frequent and popular solo performers at both the Dakota and old Artists Quarter, she’s also performed locally with Dennis Spears, Ginger Commodore, Anthony Cox, the Tuesday Night Band and more. In spring 2015, she was on stage as a special guest with Delfeayo and Ellis Marsalis at the Dakota, and in June performed at Arnellia’s and on the 6th Street Stage during the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.
The rightful heir to the legacy of Ella, Sassy, and the generation that defined the jazz diva, Debbie Duncan doesn’t just stand up there and sing. Above all, she is a storyteller who always engages her audience. If she didn’t sing, her shows would still be pure entertainment. But of course she sings like no one else.
Remaining concerts on the spring 2016 Eight O’Clock Jump season:
- March 11, Stokely Williams
- April 15, Atlantis Quartet
- May 13, Nathan Hanson/Brian Roessler Duo
- June 17, David Binney
The Walker West Eight O-Clock Jump series is funded in part by a Knights Challenge grant; for series tickets, more information about this series and about Walker West Music Academy, visit their website.