WRTI's NPR Live Sessions Video of the Week: Pianist, Composer and Vocalist Kendrah E. Butler-Waters

Jul 27, 2020

The multitalented Kendrah E. Butler-Waters, a pianist, composer, and vocalist, weaves cultural honesty and spiritual sensibilities into her compositions and performances. "I try to share the history of African American folks and our development into my work," said Kendra during an interview with WRTI Jazz Host and Live Sessions Executive Producer J. Michael Harrison.

"From the Transatlantic Slave Trade, slavery, the Reconstruction Era and Jim Crow through the Civil Rights Act of '64, the Voting Rights Act of '65 and leading into the modern day, where now we have more African Americans represented in all different types of disciplines from politics, entertainment, medicine, inventing, etcetera—I think about that experience, and use that to inform my writing. We're showing how our own experience as African Americans has influenced the development of our music. For instance, the development of gospel and how that's imparted on what I call Black classical music: jazz."

Kendrah's musical identity revealed itself during her toddler years. Her formal instrumental studies began with Charles Pettaway and pianist Eddie Green at the Settlement Music School after her mother acquired a used baby grand piano. Her music education included jazz training at saxophonist Tony Williams' Mount Airy Cultural Center.

As a teen, Kendrah toured with Williams' youth group, The Best Yet Quintet, and performed with many notable jazz musicians, including Grover Washington, Jr., Mike Boone, David “Fathead” Newman, Leon Huff, Gloria Lynn, Leon Jordan Sr., and Trudy Pitts.

After her 2008 graduation from Temple University with a dual bachelor's degree in Political Science and Sociology and a minor in Spanish, she embraced her combined love of classical music and jazz to expand her repertoire of original compositions.

In her Live Session performance of "Mov. 3 of the Unsung Martyr Suite - The South Carolina 3," Kendra presents a musical tribute to Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, and Delano Middleton. The young Civil Rights activists were murdered in 1968 at the South Carolina State College (now University).

Watch pianist, composer, and vocalist Kendrah E. Butler-Waters' Live Session performance of "Mov. 3 of the Unsung Martyr Suite - The South Carolina 3" featuring bassist Drew Gaunce and drummer Sadayah Roberts.