It doesn’t take long to figure out how premier jazz vocalist Charmin Michelle remains cat-like svelte. She moves around so much—here a gig, there a gig, everywhere a gig—that fat gets tired of trying to catch her standing still long enough and simply gives up.
In January alone she sang to over a dozen audiences at places like Bella Sera, Kozy’s, Midtown Global Market, and the Cinema Ballroom. She isn’t doing badly this month either (we’ll get back to that), and March also looks good, including her regular Monday and Wednesday night stint at Fireside Pizza in Richfield. This in a climate where, between the economy and the competition, singers are lucky to dig up any work at all. When she’s not seducing houses here and elsewhere around the country, the lady of song is making magic overseas: she’s toured Germany, Egypt, Israel, Sicily, Greece, and Spain, to which she’ll return this summer. None of this amazing success terribly surprises those who’ve heard the gifted chanteuse. Her forte is classic fare from the canons of such greats as Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Cole Porter, with velvet renditions of memorable songs like “Night and Day,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” and “Mood Indigo.” Hear for yourself on her albums Your Eyes, Pure Imagination (with guitarist Joel Shapira), Hot (with Doug Haining and the Twin Cities Seven), and Destination Moon. You can also listen in over the Intenet at charmsongs.com and myspace.com/charminmichelle.
Next up, Charmin Michelle performs as the special guest at a rather ritzy downtown affair: “The Black & White Ball: A Tribute to Film Noir” at W Minneapolis on the 28th. It’s a benefit for the Minnesota Film and TV Board. The organization approached Michelle while she was singing last October at Cue at the Guthrie Theater. “Since I do music from the ‘Great American Songbook,’” explains Michelle, “mainly jazz standards from the 1920s through the 40s, I fit into the theme of their evening. I will research my material and choose tunes from the popular movies of that era.” Accompanying her are Rick Carlson (piano), Keith Boyles (bass), Dave Schmalenberger (drums) and Doug Haining (sax).
Past that, she’s pretty psyched about having recently been awarded a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board for the Cultural Community Partnership and will be collaborating with Plymouth Christian Youth Center and the Capri Theater to produce a show. PCYC’s Artistic Associate Dennis Spears will assist her in producing a show reminiscent of a night at a Harlem hotspot such as the legendary Savoy and the Cotton Club. “I have a history with the Capri Theater and Plymouth Christian Youth Center,” she says. “I came in on the ground level with the opening of the first Legends Series show Dennis Spears created, A Tribute to Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday, featuring me, Dennis, and Debbie Duncan with the Wolverines Classic Trio. I also performed in A Copasetic Christmas Carol—[which] I co-wrote with saxophonist Doug Haining—in 2007 and 2008.
“The location of the Capri was a draw for me,” she continues. “Living in the Powderhorn neighborhood where through community action we are thriving, I see PCYC and the Capri Theater contributing the same to the North Minneapolis area. Bringing the arts and working with neighborhood youth hopefully will bring the community together and bring in more businesses.” A date for the production has yet to be nailed down, but five’ll get you ten the joint—to quote Fats Waller—will be jumpin’ and the place will be packed. It couldn’t happen for a more deserving, hardworking talent than Charmin Michelle.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.