Nestled in the heart of North Berkeley California is one of the Bay Area’s hidden musical treasures – Meet the multi-talented Raz Kennedy, a singer extraordinaire that has been performing and recording in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 40 years including a 6 year stint as a founding member of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra as well as many other amazing projects that top a star-studded resume. Let’s start by saying this cat can sing the roof off of any joint without the use of a microphone. He’s also a World Renowned master vocal coach, producer, songwriter, musician and also dabbled in promoting shows in the 70’s with partner Greg Perloff, who went on to become the founder of Another Planet Entertainment. He’s done it all and taken no shortcuts in honing his skills and exceptional musical talents. He’s worked and recorded with many artists around the Globe including Narada Micheal Walden, Al Jarreau, Carlos Santana, Mickey Hart and Tevin Campbell to name a few. As a master vocal coach and vocal producer, he’s earned many Gold and Platinum records working with Adam Duritz from Counting Crows, Davey Havok of AFI, the late Saxophone player Clarence Clemin’s and the list goes on and on. Currently, Raz is working on new music, he continues his master teaching courses and lessons and also sits on the faculty of two of the Bay Area’s top musical schools Blue Bear Music of San Francisco and The Jazz Conservatory of Berkeley.
I recently had the pleasure to work with Raz firsthand and was able to sit down with him to learn more about his music, his passions, and his many talents…
Sason Bishope Parry: How are you and how is life? Were you born and raised in the Bay Area?
Raz Kennedy: I could not be better. Thank you for asking, Sason. It’s gratifying to be recognized by a magazine that has it’s finger on the pulse of cutting-edge arts and culture. I was born and spent my childhood in Los Angeles. In 1975, I migrated north and made Oakland/Berkeley my home.
SBP: Tell us a little about yourself?
RK: Beyond my work and the realm of music, I love traveling, particularly experiencing different cultures and connecting with artists and educators around the world. Physical exercise is a discipline I enjoy, primarily surfing and pilates. I’m a vegetarian, an advocate for social justice and equality, and have a deep appreciation for women.
SBP: When did you get into music and how?
RK: My mother was a publicist and promotional specialist within the music industry, representing artists, such as Ike and Tina Turner, The Yardbirds, Little Richard, Donovan, Major Lance, and many more. The combination of my mother’s career path and the vibrancy of the Los Angeles music scene provided the backdrop for my early adventures in music. The first concert I attended was Ray Charles at the age of 5. At age 12, I took up the cello, followed by the guitar. At age 15, I experienced my first rock show – Jimi Hendrix, live at the Shrine Auditorium. It had the most profound impact on me. Inspired by the likes of Hendrix, Smokey Robinson, The Beatles, Bobby Womack, The Four Seasons, and Bob Dylan, I formed a band with kids from my neighborhood, performing for school functions and private parties. None of the other members wanted to front the band, so I assumed the role of lead singer out of necessity. There, I found my calling. These experiences solidified music as the primary passion in my life.
SBP: You are a singer virtuoso, has singing always been easy for you?
RK: Thank you for the high compliment. In my opinion, my attainments pale before those of my idols. Contrary to popular belief, singing has always been challenging for me. Since day one, I’ve invested significant time, thought, and energy into conquering my vocal weaknesses because I love to sing. I attribute much of my success as a vocal coach to this insatiable curiosity and discipline. My mission is to thoroughly understand the intricacies of the human voice and assist every singer I work with to advance their skills.
SBP: With your chops and music background, you should be a superstar, is that something you still aspire towards?
RK: At the outset of my musical journey, I, like most young artists, had aspirations to get noticed and share my talents with as many people as possible. However, my motivation, as an artist and educator, has always been driven by the pursuit of excellence rather than the pursuit of popularity or notoriety. Music is, and continues to be, my chosen method of communication, a means to be creative and emotionally expressive. It is my intention to engage the hearts and minds of others through song.
SBP: How did you get such an amazing ear for music?
RK: I developed my ear for music by learning how to listen. Music is a listening art form. It’s all about communication, which begins with knowing how to effectively hear others. The great virtuoso, Bobby McFerrin was instrumental in teaching me how to, not only listen with my ears, but also to hear feelings, thoughts, and imagings. Deep appreciation must also be extended to Narada Michael Walden. He taught me how to capture the essence of a singer, embody different characters, and accurately support the unique vocal aesthetics of each artist I work with.
SBP: How would you describe your style of music?
RK: Eclectic and all over the map. I draw influence from a myriad of musical genres. Everything from rock, pop, soul, funk, Afro-Cuban, and jazz. I have also studied Eastern European and Brazilian music in depth. My versatility can be attributed to the long list of artists and music professionals I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with.
SBP: Who inspires you musically? Were you a Prince fan?
RK: Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, and Eric Dolphy opened my ears to an expansive musical frontier. Prince was a strong influence on me. I identified with how he seamlessly blended a range of musical influences. I admired his artistic freedom and his unapologetic eccentricity. His music is all I’ve listened to since I received the sad news. I deeply grieve his passing.
SBP: Beyond singing, you are a World renowned master vocal teacher, how did that come about?
RK: I owe everything to my then wife, Therese Quinlan, who recognized my gift for instructing singers and secured me my first teaching position at her school. From there, I was recruited to teach at Cazadero Music Camp and soon after, joined the faculty at Blue Bear School of American Music, where I’ve taught for the past 35 years. I built the foundation for my private practice through study with highly esteemed and accomplished vocal instructors, including William Hannibal Means, Jane Sharp, Seth Riggs, Tikey Zes, and many more. I think of myself as a lifelong student. For instance, I recently completed a four-year course of study at Complete Vocal Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was an enriching experience to refine my command of vocal pedagogy under the remarkable Cathrine Sadolin.
SBP: You’ve worked with many great artists including Davey Havok from AFI, Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E street band and many others, tell us about those experiences?
RK: Over the course of my career, I have been blessed to work with many highly successful and profound artists. No two experiences have been the same and I cherish every last one. My work with Davey Havok was oriented towards opening up his voice to attain full metal in the upper range. He is a magnetic performer, a courageous singer, and someone I consider a dear friend. Clarence Clemons was a sweet soul and an amazingly disciplined artist. During our time together, we enhanced his dynamic range, strategically balancing support and creating volume in a healthy manner. To this day, I have a surfboard that he gifted me on display in my workspace. I miss “the big man” very much.
SBP: Whats one of your fondest musical memories?
RK: There are too many meaningful events to choose a single favorite. A few highlights of my career, include becoming a founding member of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra, participating in George Coates Performance Works in Japan, singing background vocals alongside Lisa Fischer, Claytoven Richardson, Sakai Smith, Nikita Germaine, and Sandy Griffith for Narada Michael Walden, Sting, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. and others, singing background vocals for Rebeca Mauleon.
SBP: You had the opportunity to study music and voice in Cuba before it opened up recently, how was that for you?
RK: Very uplifting and humbling. In 2001, I traveled to Cuba in a small group, led by percussionist extraordinaire, Carolyn Brandy. We studied with master instructors from Havana through Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa. My objective was to gain a deeper understanding of polyrhythms and immerse myself in the cultural and religious basis of Cuban music. Cuban musicians are among the most skilled and expressive in the world. I will always cherish this eye-opening adventure.
SBP: You’re heading to Europe for some big events, tell us about the shows?
RK: Teaching voice in Europe has become a recurring part of each calendar year. During my studies at Complete Vocal Institute in Copenhagen, I forged lasting relationships with Cathrine Sadolin and her talented faculty. This, in turn, has led to an expanding web of new associations and opportunities throughout Europe. On this tour, I will be presenting a series of vocal masterclasses on technique, interpretation, rhythm, and group dynamics. I can hardly wait to return to Italy, Sweden, and Denmark again and to teach in Spain for the first time. For more information about these masterclasses, I invite you to visit and explore RazKennedy.com.
Here is a selection of the institutions and studios I will be teaching at:
Centro Ottava Roma
Marinelli Sala Prove e Studio di Registrazione
Voice Room Malmö
Complete Vocal Institute
These are some of my local partners to present vocal workshops in Europe:
SBP: What other shows & projects do you have coming up?
RK: For the duration of the summer, I will be dividing my time between the Bay Area and Europe, offering my services to singers, as an instructor and a vocal producer. Come fall, I will debut a series of brand new workshops for national audiences and begin writing my first book, which will serve as a teaching aid. Meanwhile, I am pursuing various artistic projects, including recording original music with The PoRazone Love Project and preparing myself for a return to live performance in 2017.
SBP: What’s the best way for people to find out more about you, your teaching, and your projects?
RK: Please visit RazKennedy.com to stay connected with me and my offerings. There, you will find ways to learn more about my activities and how to contact me directly.
SBP: So, what’s next for Raz Kennedy?
RK: I wish to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the art and science of singing. I intend to work with as many singers as possible. In the next year, this pursuit will take me to new countries, assist me in developing teaching resources to benefit a larger audience, and continue to expand my understanding of the human voice.
SBP: You have a charismatic and welcoming energy that is very refreshing in this music business and I’ve had the pleasure to work with you and now call you a friend, do you have a connection with most artists that cross your path?
RK: I have a natural affinity for artists and I thank you so much for your compliments. Underpinning the work, compassionate energy is highly beneficial. That is something I truly love both giving and receiving. I’ve made a religious practice of exercising the 3 C’s as often and as deeply as I can — Curiosity, Connection, Communication.
Listen to “Duet” from Talk To Me by The PoRazone Love Project now: