Soul sistas

3 Dayton women’s journeys to the Schuster stage

By Gary Spencer

Photo: (l-r) Dayton Performing Arts Alliance’s ‘Soulful’ winners, Tiffany Bryant, Frances Wright Pate, and Yolanda Drake

It’s everyone’s dream to go from doing something you love for your amusement or for the entertainment of a small circle of family and friends to the big stage, under bright lights, with thousands in attendance waiting to see you do your thing.

This weekend, three Dayton women will get the opportunity to do just that – live their dream –when they sing with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and Toronto’s Jeans ’N Classics concert at the Schuster Center in downtown Dayton entitled “Soulful,” a celebration of soul music from the 1950s to the present. What follow are the stories of these everyday women, which led them to a moment they did not necessarily expect and now are relishing.


Frances Wright Pate, feat. Soul and Heart 

One of the finalists is Frances Pate, a native Daytonian who works for Dayton Public Schools. Her life growing up was pretty normal for a girl in Ohio, being raised in a household centered on family and Christian values to make their way in the world.

“I had strong, loving parents. [We] believed in faith, family, values, work, home, school, church, and the community – respect of God and life,” Pate says. “It seemed as though we wasted nothing, always creating from what we had.”

According to Pate, her love of singing came to her very early on in life.

“I have been singing since I was in my mother’s womb!” she jests. “I discovered my love of music and singing when I was about 12: I was asked to sing on an album at my church called Lord I’ll Go!

This led Pate to one of her earliest – and most memorable – experiences: singing before an audience.

“My greatest feeling while singing in front of an audience was at my Church when our pianist asked me to sing the song. I saw the audience stand, clap, dance, scream…that filled my heart with so much joy. The words of the song: ‘Lord, tell me what to do… Lord, tell me what to say… I’ll go anywhere… I’ll go any place… Lord, I’ll go if you go with me.’ These words have moved me to keep pursuing being a singer and performer, in hopes I will be a light to my audience and the world.”

Around the same time, Pate heard her first soul record and soon discovered this genre of music spoke to her on both an aesthetic and emotional level: “The first soul record I heard that really grabbed my attention was, I Had a Talk with my Man Last Night by Mitty Collier. When I heard her voice, it was calming, soothing, and I could hear her heart. It was a love letter that had a beginning and a sweet end,” Pate explains. “The essence of soul music and its enduring appeal, in my view, it is the individual and their character portrayed in song from that individual’s soul and heart. That piece inside all of us that connects us to one another – love, fear, joy, disappointment, fulfillment, laughter, sorrow, pain, resilience, and, most of all, hope. Soul music endures because hope endures.”


Yolanda Drake & The Determinations 

Another one of the Soul Singer contest winners is Yolanda Drake, who was born in Middletown but moved to Dayton in 1990. Similar to Pate, Drake came from a happy upbringing in a working-class family.

“I was blessed with two wonderful parents and a sister,” Drake says. “My parents worked hard, and they gave us everything we needed, plus what we wanted.”

Drake’s family’s involvement in the regional music scene was an entryway for her to discover her passion for music, with soul music being one of her first loves.

“I first discovered my love for music at age, like, 7,” Drake says. “My dad was the manager of a soul band called The Determinations and they practiced in our home a lot. I would sit there, listen, watch, and dance. I would also sit in the hallway in our home and listen to WDAO radio station in Dayton and sing every song that came on the radio.”

Also very much like Pate, Drake’s first experience performing in front of an audience came by a chance to sing in church.

“My very first one was in the church choir,” she explains. “I had a solo and I had never sang in front of an audience, but as I started singing, the people were enjoying it and I was enjoying feeding off of the people. I have been singing ever since.”


The Gospel with Tiffany Bryant

The final winner of the 2016 Soul Singer Search is Tiffany Bryant, hailing from the Gem City. Much like Pate and Drake, Bryant explains that she was fully ingrained in activities focusing on her faith.

“I wasn’t like other children in the neighborhood that played outside all the time. I was the child that went to all the church concerts, youth workshops, and all the vacation bible schools.”

Bryant’s first introduction to singing was gospel music via the church choir at a young age. (You might notice another trend here.)

“I discovered my love for singing from going to choir rehearsal with my mom,” Bryant explains. “Then, church, put together our children’s choir, where I got my first lead. The song was called ‘God Is,’ and that song follows me still, to this day.”

And while gospel music was her first love, she soon discovered that she loved soul music, too, with some of her favorite artists being Jill Scott, Eric Benet, Boyz II Men, and Stevie Wonder. Bryant has a vast knowledge of the soul genre past and present and loves what the style of music can capture in a listener.

“Soul music is pure sensual music,” she says. “I love great harmony in a song and I love singers that sing how they feel – it makes the song believable. If you can grasp the audience with that feeling, you have won your audience.”

Fast forward to fall 2016: in October, the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance announced that it was conducting a Dayton Soul Singer Search. Local vocalist hopefuls submitted YouTube videos of themselves performing a soul or R&B song of their choice for the chance to be a guest vocalist at “Soulful.” The DPAA then posted all the contestants’ clips to its website, where visitors were encouraged to vote on their favorite performances. These votes were then augmented with votes by a panel of judges, including Jeans ’N Classics founder Peter Brennan, DPO conductor and artistic director Neal Gittleman, WROU DJ Faith Daniels, and renowned local singer Felita LaRock. Pate, Drake, and Bryant found themselves among the 10 finalists and prepared for the second round of the competition.

“When finding out that I had been chosen to be one of the finalists for the second round, I was humbled and honored! I prayed and sang!” Pate exclaims.

“I was so excited to find out that I had made it to the finals of the competition,” Drake adds.  “What I did to prepare for the final was simply practice.”

“My mom called me at work and said someone called from Dayton Philharmonic,” Bryant says. “She laid the news on me – I started crying. I conquered a fear of feeling like I was not good enough to be on a stage this big.”

The second round of the Soul Singer contest was a live performance of two songs of their choice in front of a packed house of 200 people, as well as the judges panel at The Dayton Beer Company in November. Understandably, Pate, Drake, and Bryant were anxious yet excited at the thought of singing live with the chance to perform at the Schuster Center on the line.

“My feelings – a little nervous, blessed, and inspired,” Pate remembers. “The people were smiling and clapping, singing with me – it was a blast! It was an experience I will never forget.”

“Frances owned Gladys Knight’s ‘Got To Use My Imagination’ – a brave song to perform and really well done,” says Brennan, Soul Singer judge and Jeans ’N Classics founder. “She moved, strutted, and sang with so much soul and joy – it was awesome, and the audience reaction certainly reflected that.”

“I received a standing ovation,” Drake adds. “I felt the energy in the room, I felt the people – it was awesome!”

“Yolanda, right off the bat, grabbed the energy and fun of ‘Lady Marmalade’ – a tough piece to tackle – and conveyed these elements to the crowd, who in turn reacted wonderfully,” Brennan adds. “The more she gave… the more they gave back! Just the way it should be.”

“I had butterflies in my stomach,” Bryant recalls. “When I was done, the crowd was loud, something that I look for to see if I reached them, and it made me warm inside.”

“Tiffany nailed me when she did a female take on Billy Paul’s ‘Me And Mrs. Jones’,” Brennan says. “She had a lot of charisma, a sense of humor, and seemed very comfortable. She sang in the original keys and was terrific.”

A few weeks later, Pate, Drake, and Bryant were notified by the DPAA Communication Manager Angela Whitehead that they had been chosen as the winners of the contest, and they now we’re going to perform at “Soulful” on the Schuster stage.

“I was at work when I received the call and could not scream. I told her, when I leave work, I was going to run!” Pate exclaims. “When I got home and told my family, we all yelled, ‘Hallelujah!’”

“I screamed in her ear! I was ecstatic, overwhelmed, and just happy,” Drake adds.

“It was the most wonderful news I ever got – I was speechless,” Bryant says. “It was on my bucket list to one day sing on this stage.”

The “Soulful” concert Saturday covers timeless soul and R&B classics, including legendary songs by Ray Charles, Prince, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, and Pharrell Williams, performed by the Jeans ’N Classics band backed by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, along with starring vocalist of stage and screen Gavin Hope. Each of the three winners will be the featured lead singer in a song in the show, in addition to one of a full ensemble performance during the encore. Not surprisingly, these women have visions of what they wish to accomplish with this once in a lifetime opportunity.

“I am hopeful that I can leave something with the audience that will bring them joy and make them want more,” Pate says. “I feel that this is providence, and I see an open door for [something] greater in the future.”

“I’m hoping this will launch some future performances with the Dayton Philharmonic and launch more bookings for me and my husband’s band, LYD,” Drake says.  “My future as a performer will continue and hopefully broaden from the performance – I will be working on a Christmas CD for this year and also a CD of originals.”

And for Dayton City Paper readers, Bryant has one simple message as to why you should come see “Soulful” this weekend:

“This show is going to be the bomb because you’re getting three divas that are gonna tear that stage up, Gavin Hope, the orchestra, and a live band – you’re getting the best.”


The Dayton Philharmonic and Jeans ‘N Classics present ‘Soulful’ Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Schuster Center, One W. Second St. in downtown Dayton. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29-81. For more information, please call 937.228.7591 or visit

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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