Born: October 28, 1948 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Ramona Collins was reared in Lansing, Michigan, by a jazz pianist/singer mother--the late Alice (Collins) Carter--who encouraged her daughter to sing at an early age to combat her shyness. Today, anyone fortunate enough to witness the veteran performer at work will detect not a whit of shyness. Sultry, seasoned, witty and cool are words that come to mind when experiencing this engaging performer whose command of the stage and vast repertoire have helped her establish a solid rapport with club, concert and festival audiences wherever she goes.
Ramona recorded early in her career, which has spanned over 30 years. She made her debut at 16, singing standards on a recording accompanied by her mother and a drummer. Her voice attracted attention from local musicians and before long, she was sitting in at jam sessions and clubs with her mother's musician friends. Her reputation as an exceptional song stylist and performer continues to attract musicians and songwriters of all ages, even today.
One such Toledo writer/producer recorded Ramona in 1970 in a studio located in the rear of his record store. The result, the sassy soul single You've been Cheatin', b/w Now That You've Gone, is now a collector's item in the United Kingdom. Ramona was recently interviewed by Kev Roberts, a popular radio personality in the UK to find out what she's doing these days. He also wanted to let her know she has many fans in the UK who still enjoy dancing to that song she recorded so many years ago. In fact she has been invited to attend the Classic Soul Festival which will be held April 26 - May 3, 2006 in Hilton, New Jersey. This event is a celebration of lesser known heroes and heroines like Cuba Gooding, Barbara Mason, The Ambers, Sandra Philips, The Escorts, The Persuaders and many others. What a kick to meet and party with folks who are some of Ramona's favorite old-school artists. The Europeans love these singers and their music, and Ramona is one of them in addition to being a stellar jazz vocalist.
During the 70s, she fronted several funk, top 40, and show bands that toured the country. When the traveling began to take a toll on her family life, She started singing at clubs that were close to home so she could be with her five children. It was during this period that her mother's advice proved sage, and the standards that Ramona had learned as a youngster became the foundation for her career as a jazz performer.
In 1997, Ramona and her band, Line One, released a well-received CD called Everything Old Is New Again. This collection of frequently requested standards was recorded at the historic Rusty's Jazz Café (1962-2002)in Toledo and garnered raves from jazz radio programmers and the group's loyal fans.
Ramona views her performing career as part entertainment, part educational. To that end, she has taken aspiring young performers under her wing, supporting and encouraging them and teaching them things that will help them grow as entertainers. . There are a number of young people who have talent and respect for jazz , she says. I'm thrilled they view me as a mentor...it's inspiring.
Intent on making both natives and visitors aware of Toledo's rich jazz history, Ramona has teamed up with a number of individuals and organizations to promote it. She was elected to two terms as president of the Toledo Jazz Society and was instrumental in the re-naming of the organization's annual jazz festival, now known as the Art Tatum Jazz Heritage festival, in honor of the Toledo-born jazz legend. In the summer of 2004 she organized a photo shoot to commemorate the many musicians who have helped keep Toledo's jazz scene alive over the years. This photo session also included Ramona's mentor Margaret Rusty Monroe, who owned and operated Rusty's Jazz Club for forty years and jazz legend Jon Hendricks who grew up in Toledo and continues to set the jazz world on its ears as the King of Vocalese.
Ramona counts Nancy Wilson, Etta Jones, Dakota Staton and Joe Williams among her influences. I enjoy singing everything from blues to Motown, but jazz is where my heart is because I love the people who come to hear the music.
Ramona has had the opportunity to perform with some of the country's greatest jazz musicians and vocalists, many of them from Detroit. She has performed at well-known jazz venues in the area that include the historic Rusty's Jazz Café (Toledo), Murphy's Place, the historic Baker's Keyboard Lounge and Bert's In the Eastern Market (where she also occasionally hosts open stage nights), the Bird of Paradise,and(now closed). She was one of the first jazz vocalists to perform at the Motor City Casino in Detroit when it opened. One of the highlights of her career was being a principal in the musical After Hours: Great Legends! Great Music! written by Detroit vocalist Dee Dee McNeil and directed by the late award-winning director Ron Milner. She is a crowd favorite at various festivals she has played - Detroit Jazz Festival, Ypsilanti Heritage Festibval (Ypsilanti MI), Women In Jazz Festival (Dayton,)Art Tatum Jazz Feritage Festival (Toledo OH), Old Towne Jazz Festival (Lansing Michigan), Flint Jazz Festival
National artists she has performed with include pianists, Bobby Few, Larry Fuller, Khalid Moss, Johnny O’Neil, Tad Weed, drummers Greg Bandy and Wynard Harper, trumpeters Marcus Belgrave and Sean Jones, organists Jack McDuff and Joe DeFrancesco and vocalists Allan Harris, Harvey Thompson, & Allyson Williams. On the local level she has worked regularly with pianists Claude Black, Eric Dickey and Mark Kieswetter for years. She worked with the late Pistol Allen and Rudy Robinson, bassists Don Mayberry & Marian Hayden, pianists Charles Boles, Bill Meyer & Alma Smith, and other fine musicians from the southwest Michigan, Northwest/Northeast Ohio region.
There are two individuals, who had an extremely positive affect on her not only because of their talent, but also because even though they carry the titles of jazz legends, they were down-to-earth and extremely gracious. Meeting, talking and making music with Jimmy Scott and the late Etta Jones were wonderful experiences that Ramona won't ever forget. It was especially flattering to have Etta tell Ramona, whenever they saw each other, that Ramona reminded her of a good friend of hers, the late Pearl Bailey. There are others who have said the same thing because of the humor and comedic timing Ms. Collins brings to the stage in her shows.
Another hightlight of her career was the opportunity to facilitate a vocal performance clinic at The Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was great to interact with the students and faculty in an environment that was so constantly positive, creative and energetic. Known in her hometown of Toledo as a jazz activist, Ramona is very outspoken about those issues she perceives to be detrimental to the progress of local jazz musicians and doesn't hesitate to speak up when she believes local musicians being treated unfairly, ignored or taken for granted. Along with the music, a regular feature of her weekly radio program, called T-Town Jazz, was conversational interviews with local, regional and national artists.
Her five adult children share her love and appreciation for good music, and it was because of them that she recorded her first album. Her oldest son once commented to his mother that music has been a huge part of her life, but if she never recorded anything, she wouldn't leave a musical legacy. Ramona took that advice to heart and began to establish her personal music history. She encourages all her friends who are entertainers to do the same. It doesn't matter whether you become famous or not - you've got to leave something behind for family, friends and fans who love your music.
In 2005 Ramona released her second independent CD Live & Lovin' It. This album, which includes one of her originals, Choices, is a foot-tappin', head-noddin' romp through eleven tunes recorded in February of 2004 at the Toledo Museum of Art's Peristyle Lobby. The musicians on this album are old friends who made this recording a great experience. Taking this musical journey with her are Eric Dickey (piano)an outstanding player, yet he's sensitive to vocalists and actually accompanies and listens to them. He's just bad!! Marty Greenberg (bass) is adventurous, creative and exciting! There's no one like him. Sean Dobbins (drums) is the youngster in the group, in fact, Ramona gave him his club gig. He's a solid and creative drummer who is called to work with many of the jazz vets who play in the Midwest. Sean is always positive and brings a good vibe to the bandstand. Detroiter Allan Barnes (sax & flute), is an alumnus of Donald Byrd's Blackbirds who now leads a group called Prime Time. Cass Harris (trumpet & vocals #7) has played with many jazz and R&B acts. He and Allan are amazing on this album because they created their horn parts on-the-spot. Ramona loves performing live because the music is so spontaneous. To capture the true essence of jazz, there was no rehearsal for this album. This is not simply a band backing up a singer. Ramona let each musician make his his musical statement, much like the legendary Dinah Washington used to do. She let the cats play.
After seeing her at the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival, Christopher A. Hovan, photographer and jazz writer said, ...with her robust approach and sparkling personality, Ramona Collins is a regional artist worthy of wider recognition. And she is.
Everything Old is New Again
As a Leader
Live & Lovin' It
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