SONGBIRDS UNLIMITED PRODUCTIONS
Blossomed from a thesis at Brown University (Rhode Island) into a multi-faceted production company! Their original production – SHADES OF THE COTTON CLUB, as it was originally titled, was the brainchild of Mrs. Jeree Wade who subsequently enlisted the help of Frank Owens (musical director/arranger) along with several of her student/colleagues to mount this revue about the Harlem Renaissance. Legally unable to use “Cotton Club” in the title, the revue was subsequently titled SHADES OF HARLEM. Along the way, different performers were recruited, namely Ty Stephens and Branice McKenzie, Juanita Boisseau (one of the original Cotton Club Chorines), as well as Ludie Jones (Lew Leslie’s “Blackbirds”). SHADES OF HARLEM has since been performed at many venues all over the world from 1985 to last year. Included on this list are New York, Florida, Texas, Atlanta and Arkansas, Lithuania, Osaka, Japan, St. Croix and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. Other productions that have sprung forth under the aegis of “Songbirds Unlimited Productions” areJukebox Jubilee, Savoy Suite, Jazz Alley andBasically Blake, a revue of the music of Eubie Blake. Since its inception in 1983, “Songbirds Unlimited Productions” has always been seeking new frontiers and challenges.
In 1958, Pittsburgh's Adam Wade was a member of Dr. Salk's polio research team. When show business called in 1959, Adam began a musical journey that was destined to carry him to success. Adam's charm and charismatic elegance made him the first African American to host a TV game show (CBS' Musical Chairs). He also hosted A.M. Chicago, L. A. Everywhere and WNYC's Media Arts Magazine Show. His other work in daytime television included the soapsSearch for Tomorrow and Guiding Light and prime time television shows (Hill Street Blues, Queens Supreme, Dukes of Hazard, Police Woman, B.J. and the Bear, Adam 12 and Law & Order. Adam is a two time Audelco Award Winner and was twice nominated for Clio Awards, winning for his commercial “Virgin Island Fifty Dollar Days. “ Adam took time out to go back to school after 40 years to earn his B. A. and Masters Degrees inTheatre History and Criticism at Lehman College and Brooklyn College. Adam's all around show business talent led him to the world of voice-overs, jingles, cartoons, looping, dubbing and print work. Adam has directed Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill, Shades of Harlem, Guys & Dolls, The Dancer, Wine in the Wilderness, The Fabulous Club Fifty, Easy, Cafe Society and One Day at a Time. Adam is married to Jeree Wade, and they perform together and separately on cruise ships and concerts and with symphony orchestras around the world. Their production company, Songbirds Unlimited, flies on the wings of Adam and Jeree. Destination? Success! Adam’s last Broadway tour was three years with The Color Purple as Ole Mister in the National Tour.
JEREE WADE (Creator)
Burst on the off Broadway stage in 1983 as star, creator, writer, co-star and producer of the musical, Shades of Harlem, which opened at the Village Gate in New York, in August 1984. At the same time, she formed her present production company, Songbirds Unlimited Productions. She turned Shades into an International touring show creating jobs and opportunities for her company. Then she really went to work creating Jazz Alley, Symphony Suite, Nat King Cole and Mid Life. Jeree was doing well. The only thing that changed was her last name when she married Adam Wade. Jeree was raised in Atlantic City by her grandmother and commuted regularly to Harlem in New York City to stay with her working parents on weekends and summers from the time she was five. Through her remembrances of shows at the famous clubs from Smalls Paradise to the Club Harlem, she continues to cherish and keep the genre of these exciting productions alive. Like her husband, Adam Wade, she headlined at the Club Harlem in Atlantic City in 1978, ten years after Adam was there in 1968. She is a multi-talented singer, actress, producer and a veteran of the show business trade. She has a Bachelors degree in Theatre Arts from Brown University and a Masters in Counseling Psychology from Goddard College.
Ty is an Award-winning Singer/Songwriter, Entertainer/Recording Artist (Grand Prize Winner Jazzmobile/Anheuser-Busch Solo Jazz Vocalist Competition, NYC, 2006, and First Place Winner R&B/Blues Category of the International Songwriting Competition 2002 for Somethin’ Strange), Co-‐ writer/Production, Choreographer and Star of the long-runningShades Of Harlem revue; appeared on Broadway in the original productions of Sophisticated Ladies and Marilyn, An American Fable. Among many recordings, he is Guest Vocalist, alongside Sax Legend Houston Person, on a jazz disc from bassist Jon Burr, "Just Can’t Wait." In Spring 2010, Ty joined with vocalists from Broadway'sThe Lion King singing on the recording of the Soundtrack for the World Cup. Ty has performed/appeared with: Harry Belafonte, Gregory Hines, Phyllis Hyman, Toshi Kubota, Patti Austin, Jeffrey Osborne, Phoebe Snow, Smokey Robinson and Jon Hendricks; at Carnegie Hall with Liza Minnelli and Natalie Cole, (Laurie Strauss Leukemia Foundation Benefits); Ledisi, Savion Glover, and others; appears regularly in Russia as Guest Artist with Russian drummer Oleg Butman's jazz trio and sax great Igor Butman's Big Band; with his band, SoulJaazz, is entering his 5th Season at the world-‐famous Sporting Club in Monte Carlo as the Sporting Orchestra, and has appeared in Japan as part of superstar Toshi Kubota's 25 Anniversary "Gold Skool" tour. Ty's original recordings include "Aquarian Mind", "Deeper in Fantasy" and "Musichameleon".
Is a well-known and influential NYC bassist. He has been a top recording session musician for over 40 years. He is a NYU graduate and learned his craft in the New York City bands of the top professionals of his ERA. He is famous for his playing on the “Hair” movie score, The Bee Gees “SGT Pepper film score” and the Jeff Beck “Wired” album. Wilbur is also known for his work with, and on the recordings of, Aretha Franklin, Jeff Beck, Dr. John, Billy Taylor band, Mick Taylor band, and James Brown.
Was conductor and pianist for the Broadway productions of Ain’t Misbehavin and Maurice Hines’ Uptown It’s Hot! as well as for the Broadway, Moscow and Kennedy Center productions of Sophisticated Ladies. Other theatrical credits include Black Broadway, Melvin Van Peebles’ Don’t’ Play Us Cheap, Hartford TheatreWorks’ Paul Robeson, Blue Monday Blues and his own Shades of Harlem(also a double CD set which he produced).
Mr. Owens was musical director for the first David Letterman Show (Mornings, NBC TV – 1980). Other TV credits include It’s Showtime at the Apollo (7 years), Eubie Blake: A Century of Music (PBS) and Christmas in Washington (TNT). He has been musical director for Johnny Mathis, Chubby Checker, Melba Moore, Johnny Nash, Connie Francis, John Denver, Freda Payne, Ruth Brown, Ann Duquesnay, Lesley Gore, Petula Clark, Oscar Brown, Jr., Lena Horne and Keith Davis. As a studio musician, he received a gold record for his rhythm concept for Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree’. He has done many radio and TV commercials; “Pristique” being the most recent.
Mr. Owens was musical director for Tan Manhattan (Chicago Humanities Festival) and for Hotcha Razz-Ma-Tazz (92nd Street Y in NYC). He was resident pianist at Mortimer’s, a trendy east-side restaurant, and performed several seasons at the Hotel Carlyle’s Bemelman’s Bar. In addition, he has been musical director for the annual Tap Extravaganza in New York City, the annual Tap Extravaganza-‐ Queens at Flushing Town Hall, and hosts an open mic Friday evenings at the Musicians Union, Local 802.
Chad Carter and Patricia Nichols are two artists for whom Mr. Owens has arranged and produced CD’s. As a recording artist, Mr. Owens recorded the music of Oliver in an album entitled: Oliver! Ole! for Columbia Records. His latest CD, Frank Owens Plays the Music of Eddie Heywood is available on Earl Wood Records. For a week in late August Mr. Owens can be seen performing at Bryant Park in Manhattan as part of its Piano in the Park Series. Among his productions is a concert he produced as a tribute to Errol Garner, his idol, at the Tribeca Theater at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).
Her career includes everything from jazz to theater to prolific songwriting.
Some of her credits include critically acclaimed performances at the Newport Jazz Festival, The Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, The Umbria Jazz Festival and the Smithsonian’s 43rd Folklife Festival. On the theatrical stage she has created roles in Shades Of Harlem, Sing Sister Sing, Jazz Alley and the heralded show, I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You (featuring the music of Ray Charles). As a composer and music director, she has penned music for Shelter, Shades Of Harlem, A Little Piece Of God and Blackbirds Of Courage as well as her latest work, This World Is Mine: A Musical Revue for Children.
Ms. McKenzie recently returned from the Shanghai International Experimental Theatre Arts Festival as Associate Director for At The Playground. She has toured with Harry Belafonte (1984 – 1993), Gregory Hines (1987 – 2003), Roberta Flack, Hugh Masekela, Carly Simon, Bebe Winans, Dianne Reeves, Peggy Lee and Miriam Makeba, to name a few and is performing all over the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia. Branice has just released her fourth CD, I Fly, which is “flying” into the hearts of all who listen to it. The reviews describe it as transformative, inspiring and life changing. Ms. McKenzie has a B.A. in Psychology, Brown University and an M.A. in Music Education, New York University.