About Afro Blue
Afro Blue, was founded in the spring of 2002 by Connaitre Miller, Jazz Voice Coordinator at Howard University. Singing music similar to the styles of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, The Manhattan Transfer, and Take 6, while adding their own unique sound, this dynamic “vocal big band” has performed to wide critical acclaim. Afro Blue has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered ; reached the top four on The Sing-Off, NBC-TV’s a cappella group competition; and joined the legendary Bobby McFerrin in selections from his Grammy – nominated VOCAbuLarieS album during the 2011 D.C. Jazz Festival in what the City Paper penned “the finest concert in D.C. Jazz Festival history.” In December 2013, Afro Blue appeared at a Christmas party given for employees at The White House and was honored to perform for President and Mrs. Obama. Following that performance, the group was honored to record an hour long Christmas special for NPR, titled An Afro Blue Christmas, hosted by Michele Norris, which aired nationally during the 2014 & 2015 holiday seasons. Afro Blue has established a continuing relationship with The John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts having opened for The Manhattan Transfer and Jon Hendricks; performed with The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Pops under the direction of Marvin Hamlisch; and shared the stage with former Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz, Dr. Billy Taylor. In May 2015, Afro Blue performed with the current Artistic Director, Jason Moran, in the “Harlem Nights/U Street Lights” concert series, which celebrated the jazz connection between Harlem, NY and Washington, DC. The concert was performed at both the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NY and the Kennedy Center. The past June, an Afro Blue alumni ensemble was featured in the all-star concert “A Night at the Kennedy Center: The DC JazzFest Salutes Howard University Jazz!!!”
Highlights of Afro Blue’s history have been their collaborations with world-class jazz pianist and Howard university alumna, Geri Allen, who is the current Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. The ensemble has been honored to have joined Ms. Allen in the premier of her commissioned suite For the Healing of the Nations: A Sacred Jazz Suite for the Victims and Survivors of 9/11; for a performance of Mary Lou’s Mass for the 15th anniversary of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at The Kennedy Center; at the “Celebrate Brooklyn!” concert series in Prospect Park, NY; Celebrating the Great Jazz Women of the Apollo, at the Apollo Theatre, and for the world premier of her composition Stone and Streams, which was commissioned by The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, for which Afro Blue received a proclamation from the New Jersey State Government. In 2014, Afro Blue joined Ms. Allen at the 44th Annual Jazz Seminar and Concert at the University of Pittsburgh.
Since its existence, Afro Blue has received numerous Student Music Awards (SMA) by the premier international publication of jazz and contemporary music, DownBeat Magazine, and members of the ensemble have been recognized for their stellar solo work. Afro Blue director, Connaitre Miller, was awarded by DownBeat, the prestigious “Jazz Education Achievement Award” and Jazz Times Magazine traced the history of Afro Blue in the feature article “How Afro Blue Happened.” Locally, In 2011 Afro Blue was named Jazz Artist of the Year by the Washington City Paper and also received the Spotlight Award from the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) for bringing national attention to the Washington, D.C. music scene. Afro Blue has been voted Best A Cappella Group for the past five years by WAMA. Their CD The Best Is Yet To Come was named Best Choral Album, as well as, Album of the Year for 2013, and their CD’s Jubilee and An Afro Blue Christmas were named Best A Cappella recording for 2014 and 2015 respectively. Afro Blue has released two additional CD’s: Freedom in Song (2008) and It’s a Matter of Pride (2010). Afro Blue was also featured on the John Blake Jr. recording of jazz spirituals titled Motherless Child (2010). All recordings are available on CDbaby.com.
The ensemble evolves as student members graduate from Howard University and new members are auditioned and trained. The current Afro Blue roster consists of vocalists Ricky Brown III, Myesha Henderson, Taylor Nevels, Ekep Nkwelle, Indigo Passariello, Peter Roberts, Matthew Robinson, Jasmyn Thomas, Jillian Willis, and Taylor Young.
Afro Blue’s performances of “Swing Low, Swing Chariot,” “Motherless Child” and “Ain’-a-That good News!” in modern, sophisticated arrangements were dazzling, and the comparison of thematic impulses and resonances was illuminating.
More text was assigned to Afro Blue, a splendid 13-member jazz choir from Howard University.
New York Times – Steve Smith
The Orchestra and Afro Blue took the stage for a stirring performance of “Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World,’ by Antonin Dvorak. The chorus sang three moving traditional Amercian spirituals. The audience raucously cheered for Afro Blue’s solo bow.
The New Jersey Examiner – Richard Carter
Afro Blue is a smaller group and uses handheld mikes to create a smooth, polished, stage-ready sound – with beatboxing as well as straight vocalism giving the effect, at times, of a full instrumental accompaniment.
Washington Post – Anne Midgette
“Other artists have been able ambassadors of D.C. jazz over the years, but the unique televisual atmosphere of 2011 – with its endless network sing-offs – allows Afro Blue to capture an especially large number of hearts and minds. “
Washington City Paper – Michael J. West
Afro Blue named “ 2011 Artist of the Year. “Between their crowd-pleasing Kennedy Center appearances, their triumphant work with Bobby McFerrin at the D.C. Jazz Festival and their elimination-cum-valedticion on NBC’s The Sing-Off, Afro Blue ran away with this title. The Howard University a cappella ensemble gave literal voice to jazz, Howard, and Washington on a national level. and did so beautifully.
Washington City Paper – Michael West
Re: The Sing-Off Finale – “as if to prove that getting booted last week was the best thing that ever happened to them, Afro Blue returned to the stage to perform “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” with the song’s author, Smokey robinson himself, on lead vocals. I mean, really, who needs to win a silly competition when Smokey Robinson elects to sing with you on live national television?”
Rolling Stone – Elaine Chase
“…Afro Blue, Sing-Off season 3 champions in a nearby alternate universe.
“I do love that they got their own feature with a guest artsit, because I’m pretty sure they made the top 3 on an Earth-Two where the judges don’t have to cave in to the producers’ fear of a second jazz-R&B group being forced on Sony. That’s right, I went there.
The Contemporary A Cappella Society (CASA) – Warren Bloom
“The show’s (The Sing-Off) producers need to recruit or seek talent that can now challenge the level set by Afro Blue.”
“Afro Blue is, in this writer’s opinion, the most gifted and musically imposing group to grace the Sing Off stage to date since the show’s inception. Across three seasons … their musicianship was second to nione.
When Steel Talks – Pentatonic wins NBC’s Sing Off – Blog
“the choir (Afro Blue) deserved all the applause it received for navigating intricately devised vocal arrangements and contrapuntal passages and for full charging the evening’s most inspirational song, “Messages.”
Washington Post – Mike Joyce
“Early on, he [Bobby McFerrin] was so moved by Afro Blue’s rich and stirring harmonies that the sounds stopped him in his tracks – literally. The next thing you inew, he was channeling a street-corner serenader form the doo-wop era, lavishing praise on the choir in a Frankie Lymon-like croon.”
“…if Afro Blue’s billing was second, it was surely a very close second.
“This evening was as close to perfection as any I’ve ever seen on stage, in any medium.”
Washington City Paper – Mike West
Afro Blue’s impeccable jazz sensibility brought refreshing new life to Corinne Bailey’s Rae’s worn-out hit “Put Your Records ON.”
This performance of “Put Your Records On was “absolutely stellar.” The arrangement was stunning inventive and vibrant. Afro Blue has a terrace blend, a warm, unique vibe and I just love them.
Harmony Avenue – Brandon R.
Afro Blue did an impressive job, reharmonizing with dense but effortless jazz chords. [They present a] less conventional approach to a cappella.”
Washington City Paper – Mike West[Afro Blue’s arrangement is] inventive, accomplished, beautifully executed and judged by people who adore music and adore it when music is done well. My hat is off to you Afro Blue’ this is great.”
NPR – Linda Holmes
Afro Blue sounded damn-near perfect, their arrangement had three movements in less than two minutes, and they exhibited some fancy footwork in the first Soul Train line I’ve seen on prime time in a long time.
The judges said Afro Blue’s performance was gorgeous; they looked like they were having fun and made singing look effortless.”
Reality TV Magazine