One day a shy girl from Philadelphia, PA, was sweeping her front stoop and sweetly singing “Summertime” when a guitarist/writer from Philadelphia International Records walked by and heard her singing. He was so impressed by what he heard that he auditioned her, hired her and the rest is history. That was the beginning of a singing career that would WOW people in Brazil, France, Africa, Japan, Turkey, and other places around the world.
Denise King was born and raised in West Philadelphia and is a graduate of West Philly High School. Denise is not only one of the best voices on the Jazz scene today, she strongly believes in giving back to the community. Through programs such as Be-Bop and Books (A literacy program for children) and A Performing Arts Program (which will cover Dance, Theater, Music, Painting and Quilting) and the Cedar Park Jazz Series which takes place on Friday evenings on 50th & Baltimore Aves in West Philly. The grand aim of all of these programs is to bridge the gap between our younger generation, our more established citizens and the variety of cultures which make up our neighborhood. Denise says “West Philly is rich in history and culture and a wide variety of people make up this wonderful community, Jazz is a great medium for communication!”
With no formal vocal instruction, it’s apparent that she was born to sing. She was introduced to Jazz at age twelve by an uncle who had an extensive collection of Jazz LP’s. Her “studies” involved hours of listening to the Jazz greats, both vocalists and instrumentalists. Denise borrowed phrasing styles from Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra. She gained an appreciation for lyrics from Lil Jimmy Scott, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McCrae and Nina Simone. The early gigs were difficult in that she was painfully stage shy. But with the help of Sam Reed, sax man and leader of the legendary Uptown Theater Orchestra she overcame her stage fright. Her early experiences involved sharing the stage with many legends, Butch Ballard, Arthur Harper, Sam Dougherty, Cecil Payne, Jymie Merritt, Bootsie Barnes, Lex Humphries and many, many more. They taught her the importance of having something to say every time she stepped up to the microphone. Their instruction paid off. While performing at Zanzibar Blue in Philly, Denise met Dexter Wansel, writer, producer, which opened the door to many recording experiences at Philly International Records. Denise King is a very passionate singer who has a way of pulling her audiences into her performances.
Listening to her warm tone, impeccable phrasing, and the absolute control she has of her voice is mesmerizing. Whether she’s singing a Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan standard, or a Gladys Knight or Aretha Franklin cover, she puts her heart and soul into every note. Denise has mastered the art of making a song her own no matter what the genre. Over the years, she has shared the stage with such greats as Roy Hargrove, The Brecker Brothers, Phil Wright, Cecil McBee, Christian McBride, Orrin Evans, Lonnie Plaxico, Uri Caine, Sid Simmons, Dr. Guy Ramsey, J.D. Walter, Barbara Morrison, Derrick Hodge, Chris Beck, Billy Paul, Jean Carne, Celine Dion, Bunny Sigler and the list goes on and on. When performing with her band whether trio, quartet or quintet they are the driving force behind her and support her every note. They instinctively know what she’s going to do next and meet her there with perfect timing. With a voice described as velvet smooth she captivates you and holds you with every note. When she’s in concert, it’s not unusual to see her break out into a dance on stage or with someone from the audience. Her shows are always energetic, fun and spontaneous. Her love of people, performance style, and energy are sure to always make Denise King a favorite at any venue.
Denise sings pop and jazz standards with touches of the blues, soul and even gospel in a voice steeped in a sophisticated, swinging, sometimes soulful, satin style much like one of her idols, Sarah Vaughan.
Her group includes: Aaron Graves, piano; Lee Smith, bass; Lucky Thompson, drums; Sam Reed, tenor-alto sax and Napoleon Black, percussion; a winning hand in any jazz club.
A singer, who cares about the song, Ms King said: “I am a sucker for the lyrics and not interested in vocal gymnastics. I want to hear the story the writer has to tell.” And for this, those who share King”s love of Gershwin and Porter, can only be thankful. Some of her favorites: The Nearness of You, Poor Butterfly, Fever, Stolen Moments and Crazy. Her own favorite singers include: Sarah, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, King Cole, Nancy Wilson, Sinatra and, yes, even Patsy Cline.
Ms King has sung at almost all the top clubs in Philadelphia and several in New York, Paris and Japan during the past 15 years. She started in her thirties and has expanded beyond singing into Denise King Enterprises producing concerts, records and dates for herself and others. Among her childhood influences were an uncle’s jazz and blues record collection and Sid Mark’s weekly radio marathon of Sinatra stylings. She says now, simply, “I loved gospel, blues, jazz, pop, Sinatra and R&B stars such as Ruth Brown and Ko Ko Taylor.” She sums it all up saying, “I think I am a universal spirit.”