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DivaNation is Coming



DivaNation is a diverse and developing community of Philadelphia's female singers who evoke the spirit of legendary Jazz singers like Ethel Waters, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, while simultaneously keeping an eye and ear open to the sounds of the future. For six months, in monthly sessions, these women have been meeting, talking, laughing and sharing. These sessions culminate in an amazing and memorable performance series,


DivaNation Concert Series:

Friday, September 12th at 7:30pm

Saturday, September 13th at 1:00pm - Free Matinee For Teen Girls*

Saturday, September 13th at 7:30pm

For Tickets: Click Here


Mandell Theater at Drexel University,

3141 Chestnut Street,

Philadelphia, PA 19104



Friday Night Line Up:

The vocalists are....

  • Gretchen Elise
  • Ella Gahnt
  • Jaye Sanders
  • Carol Harris
  • Lotus Barron

The instrumentalists: Dena Underwood-Piano & Vocals; Nicholas Krolac-Bass; Darryl Jackson-Drums;


Saturday Night Line Up:

The vocalists are....

  •     Saudah Al-Akbar
  •     Liz Filantes
  •     Barbara Montgomery
  •     Carol Harris
  •     Bethlehem Roberson

The instrumentalists: Kendrah E. Butler-Piano; Bob Whitt-Bass; Daryl Jackson-Drums; Nasir Dickerson-Sax; Doc Gibbs-Percussion;


The Women of DivaNation are....


EastRElla Gahnt is a Philly-based Jazz vocalist who has “wowed” audiences at Delaware Valley area venues including The Kimmel Center, West Oak Lane Jazz Festival, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Clef Club, Painted Bride Art Center, Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, and The Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation's, Summer Jazz Festival in Atlantic City, NJ, She was named Jazz Ambassador by the School District of Philadelphia for her contributions in support of local Jazz. She was also a finalist in the Jazz Mobile's “Best of The Best” Jazz Vocalist Competition in NYC. Ms. Gahnt tells unique musical stories while honoring the legacies of Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, Carmen McCrae, Betty Carter and her namesake, Ella Fitzgerald. Check out her website: www.EllaGahnt.com



SaudaSaudah Al-Akbar is a Philadelphia native and has been performing Jazz forever. After being heard by Jazz legend, Max Roach, at the age of 14, she received a scholarship to attend the Jazz in July Workshop at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She was the youngest vocalist to attend the program at that time. There she had the opportunity to study with many jazz masters such as Sheila Jordan, Dr. Billy Taylor, Dr. Yusef Lateef, and Max Roach.  Saudah went on to study at the New School for Contemporary and Jazz Music in Manhattan, NY for a brief period before moving on to receive her BA from Berklee College of Music. Ms. Al-Akbar has performed in many venues including Lincoln Center and the Blue Note.




lotusMy name is Lotus Barron, and I'm 16 years old. I live in Southwest Philadelphia with my Mother. I've been singing since I could remember. I love classic Jazz vocalists like Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Ella Fitzgerald. I know that it's strange to hear from a young person, but I do love them. My ultimate dream is to be in a Broadway musical or a film. Right now I am a senior in high school! There are lots of different colleges I am considering, but my dream schools are Yale University and The Curtis Institute of Music! With a little hope and a lot of hard work, I will graduate next summer and take the next step on the road to fulfilling my dreams and finding me.




Liz FilantesLiz Filantes is a Philadelphia native with a profound love for singing.  As a member of DivaNation, Lizzy has cultivated an acute appreciation for the free form and creative nature of Jazz music, "As a genre, Jazz allows musicians to put a style and soul that's all their own into classic American songs, thus personalizing and reshaping the bedrocks of American music to express something fresh." Lizzy is a classically trained vocalist, but sings Jazz, Soul, R&B, Pop, Rock, and independent music with enough ease and beauty to convince listeners that these genres are naturally her own. Lizzy is profoundly grateful for the meaning and richness singing always brings to her life and looks forward to sharing her voice with her community!




GretchenGretchen Elise is a West Philadelphia- based singer-songwriter whose jazz-flavored, audience participation performances are unforgettable. Her musical passion started in elementary school chorus, and was channeled through work in gymnastic choreography, a World Music Orchestra in Berlin, jazz and Brazilian bands in Boston and her own eponymous band. Her two original CDs, Time & Space (2010) and Are You Ready (2004) combine an international flavor with shades of Philly jazz & soul. An arts education advocate and a mom of two, Gretchen thrives on collaboration, and is honored to be part of DivaNation. Follow her at www.gretchenelise.com.






jakeyaJaye Sanders is a Philadelphia native. As a pastor's daughter, she was raised in church, singing hymns, directing the youth 
choir and then launched out to other genres of music. She writes, arranges, and sings Gospel,
 R&B, Pop and Jazz music. Graduated in 2002 from The High School of Creative and Performing Arts of
 Philadelphia, where she studied Theater & Vocal Music. Jaye worked as an A&R in the Philadelphia area where she has worked with different artists to shape their craft and develop an image for them, as an artist. She has performed background vocals for many artists such as the actor, Idris Elba, Philadelphia native, Bilal and many more. 
Now she is working on her own solo career and sharing her great talents with the world.





barbaraBarbara Montgomery has had a multi-faceted career as a performing and recording artist, music industry executive, music producer and publisher, as well as working in production for film and television. She began performing as a jazz vocalist, but took a detour in her music career by joining the NBC/Westinghouse television station that produced the "Mike Douglas Show." This provided the gift of working with jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and many others. Montgomery has produced six CDs of her own, arranging and writing original material for four of them, in collaboration with musicians like Steve Giordano, Barry Sames and Aaron Graves. Her CDs “Little Sunflower” and “Trinity” were honored with the Blue Chip Award for Best Jazz Vocals by Dr. Herb Wong of the International Association of Jazz Educators. 




bethlehemBethlehem Roberson was raised in an active, church-going Philadelphia family, where she became steeped in the traditions of gospel music. Later, she took on the Hebrew faith, merging her gospel background with the traditions of Judaism. A singer all her life, Bethlehem participated in open mic events and spoken word presentations. She has performed at Relish, LaRose Jazz Cafe, The Rotunda, Clef Club, Irvine Auditorium, Temple Performing Arts Center, Dowling's Palace and other venues. Bethlehem draws influences from male vocalist like Sam Cooke, David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, and Prince. As a writer, her studies of the Torah and other sacred Hebrew texts, teach her that words have sacred power and must used wisely and carefully.




CHarrisCarol Harris is a Philadelphia singer. For over forty-years, she has been a part of the Philly Jazz scene. At 15, she embarked on a professional career as a Jazz singer when her sister, Margaret secretly entered her in a singing contest at the Venus Lounge on Broad Street. Belting out ‘Always’ by Irving Berlin, won her the coveted prize of a two-week paid singing gig. Her reaction to winning was an astonishing, “What are they calling me for?” The first time she sang in New York City was with the Eddie Green Trio, Tyrone Brown and Yusef Lateef. As she reflects on her career and the wonderful artists that she has worked with, she stopped short of naming names and simply said, “I have been blessed to have performed with Philly’s greatest!”




KButlerKendrah E. Butler is a pianist and violinist who has lived and breathed music ever since she could remember. She  studied jazz piano with Don Wilson, Kenny Gates, and with the late, great jazz pianist Eddie Green. Kendrah is a notable musical director having led multiple Jazz and R&B groups including but not limited to: "nVizion" an all female jazz group and is currently minister of music for Great Commission Church in Philadelphia. She has produced multiple events including the "Women in Jazz Philly Tour" featuring the group nVizion. She, along with vocalist Rhenda Fearrington co-produced the "Women in Jazz Finale Concert" which had over 300 in attendance for Women's History Month in March.





denaDena Underwood is a vocalist and self taught pianist from Philadelphia. Hailing from a family of gifted singers and instrumentalists, Dena’s passion for music began at an early age. Since graduating from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and studying Jazz Voice Performance at Temple University, Dena has performed at a number of venues, including The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Academy of Music and The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, World Café Live, Plays and Players Theatre, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and New York City’s Lincoln Center. Dena performs regularly as vocalist/pianist in the Philadelphia area.





DivaNation is a Philadelphia Jazz Project initiative, inspired by pianist, composer and master accompanist, Aaron Graves with music direction by pianist/vocalist Dena Underwood and pianist Kendrah E. Butler.

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A Diva is often defined as….” a female performer, usually an opera singer, who is extremely talented, but very imperious and temperamental. But the distinguishing factor is that her talent permits somewhat uncouth behavior.”


The above quote paints a popular image of the immensely talented, female artist all alone, agitated and isolated… a country of one. This only tells a small part of the story of the female singer and works to undermine the efforts of these brave and dedicated artists.


DivaNation is a diverse and developing community of Philadelphia's female singers who evoke the spirit of legendary Jazz singers like Ethel Waters, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, while simultaneously keeping an eye and ear open to the sounds of the future. The project’s goal is to create a community… a nation of Divas who contribute to each other’s careers and to their community.


For six months, in monthly sessions, these women have been meeting, talking, laughing and sharing. Each session provided an important space for sharing new works, performance and songwriting techniques as well as personal and professional experiences. These gatherings were intended to develop community and share best practices amongst this group of exceptionally talented women.


These sessions, this work will culminate in an amazing and memorable performance series, slated for September 12th and 13th at the Mandell Theater at Drexel University, which will include a free concert and sponsorships/partnerships w/ social service/health organization[s] serving women and girls in Philadelphia.


DivaNation is a Philadelphia Jazz Project initiative, inspired by pianist, composer and master accompanist, Aaron Graves with music direction by pianist/vocalist Dena Underwood and pianist Kendrah E. Butler.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The women of DivaNation include....

  •     Bethlehem Roberson
  •     Elizabeth Sanders
  •     Dena Underwood
  •     Ella Gahnt
  •     Barbara Montgomery
  •     Lotus Barron
  •     Gretchen Elise
  •     Jaye Sanders
  •     Saudah Al-Akbar
  •     Carol Harris
  •     Kendrah E. Butler


Stay Tuned for the

DivaNation Showcases at the Free Library

Monday, July 21st at 7:00pm
Monday, August 18th at 7:00pm


Free Library of Philadelphia

Central Branch - Montgomery Auditorium
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103


And the DivaNation Series

Friday, September 12th at 7:30pm

Saturday, September 13th at 7:30pm

with a special matinee on Saturday, September 13th at 1:00pm for girls


Mandell Theater/Drexel University

3141 Chestnut Street

Philadelphia, PA 19104



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Tags : DivaNation AaronGraves DenaUnderwood KendrahE.Butler JazzVocalists FemaleSingers BethlehemRoberson ElizabethSanders DenaUnderwood EllaGahnt BarbaraMontgomery LotusBarron GretchenElise JayeSanders SaudaAkbar CarolHarris FreeLibraryofPhiladelphia MandellTheater/DrexelUniversity



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Philly Jazz Quotes

The stuff McCoy Tyner did was earth-shattering for me. The modal thing, the way he voiced chords in fourths, the way he used the pentatonic scale -- all those things were very new.
Kenny Barron

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Philadelphia Jazz Project is a sponsored project of the Culture Trust | Greater Philadelphia, with funding provided by The Philadelphia Foundation.