Dayton Philharmonic Soul Singer Search heats up

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Peter Brennan of Jeans ‘n Classics partners with DPO to find Dayton’s next soul singer

One thing I’ve always admired about the Gem City is its ability to put the spotlight on homegrown talent, and sometimes in unusual or intriguing ways. That certainly seems to be the case with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s Soul Singer Search currently underway, where two winners will get the honor of performing at the DPO’s upcoming Soulful concert alongside Juno-nominated vocalist and star of stage and screen Gavin Hope in January.

The Dayton Soul Singer Search and Soulful concert are being presented in conjunction with the Canadian organization Jeans ‘n Classics, a 30-member group dedicated to programming and performing orchestral rock concerts across North America for the past 20 years, integrating popular music with symphony orchestras for enjoyment by people of all ages.

“We perform 50 different theme shows, which range from Led Zeppelin to James Bond, and Queen to Annie Lennox, always with orchestras,” says Jeans ‘n Classics (JnC) owner, arranger, and guitarist Peter Brennan. “Our mission is to present rock music, R&B, and pop with symphony orchestras in order to appeal to a wide audience demographic who love music but may not be acquainted with an orchestra or who may not see their orchestra in this manner.”

The concept of the Dayton Soul Singer Search is modeled off a similar concept the DPO and JnC used a couple of seasons ago when they had a contest to find local talent to perform with the two ensembles for their Guitar Heroes concert. For the first round, roughly 30 Soul Singer contestants submitted YouTube videos of themselves performing a song of their choice, which were then uploaded to the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance’s website back on Oct. 16.

Viewers were then welcomed to vote on their favorite videos, and then combined with the votes by a panel of judges—including Brennan, DPO conductor and artistic director Neal Gittleman, WROU on-air personality Faith Daniels, and renowned local singer Felita LaRock—which have narrowed the search down to 10 finalists based on criteria the judges are looking for in an ideal soul vocalist: Tiffany Bryant, Mia Calarese, Yolanda Drake, Willie Four, Jevon Kennedy, Kameron Mosher, Billi Nicol, Deana Ragsdale, Andy Rush, and Frances Wright Pate.

“I shall be looking for a great voice in terms of tone, pitch, and range technically, then the ‘soul’ part of it,” Brennan says. “By this I mean the sincerity, the delivery in terms of care and conviction, [to] skip the tricks and move me, regardless of era or gender.”

The 10 finalists were announced to the public Nov. 4 at the DPO Rockin’ Orchestra concert Landslide: The Music of Fleetwood Mac. Now with the entry pool whittled down, the next round of competition is set to take place with a live performance by each contestant this coming Saturday at The Dayton Beer Company in downtown Dayton before the judging panel. Dayton residents are also encouraged to come see the homegrown talent battle it out for a spot on stage with Jeans ‘n Classics and the DPO.

“The contestants will be singing to karaoke-styled backing tracks, and yes, it is open to the public,” Brennan explains. “The public’s role will be to cheer on their ‘faves,’ but they won’t be [there] in a voting capacity.”

Following this performance, the judges will convene to decide on two grand prize winners based on vocal talent, stage presence, demeanor, and overall grasp of the soul and R&B genres. These winners will be announced to the public Dec. 9 at the Dayton Philharmonic’s Hometown Holiday SuperPops concert and via WROU Radio and the Dayton Daily News Dec. 11. From there, the two champions will begin to prepare for the spotlight that will shine on them during the DPO Rockin’ Orchestra concert Jeans ‘n Classics presents Soulful featuring Gavin Hope on Jan. 28 at the Schuster Center.

“The show is a salute to soul, R&B, and other soul-related musical styles, including music by artists like Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Isaac Hayes, Prince, Luther Vandross, Earth Wind and Fire, Seal, Outkast, and Pharrell Williams,” explains Neal Gittleman, who will be conducting the Soulful concert. “The Soul Singer Search winners will each sing lead on a song with JnC and the DPO. The show will also include one a cappella song performed by the fabulous a cappella group ETHOS from Wright State. And everyone—DPO, JnC, Gavin, Soul Singer winners, and ETHOS—will join in on the grand finale which will remain top-secret.”

Ultimately, such projects as the Dayton Soul Singer Search and the Soulful concert are the fruit of a successful partnership between Jeans ‘n Classic and the Dayton Philharmonic, and it looks like this relationship will continue to yield exciting results for their future together in the Gem City.

“The DPO is welcoming and very open to our various repertoire themes,” Brennan says. “They also are a superb orchestra. Dayton is so fortunate to have such a fabulous organization, and their Executive Director Paul Helfrich is never afraid to try new ideas and stretch the boundaries.”

The second round of the Dayton Soul Singer Search takes place Saturday, Nov. 12 at The Dayton Beer Company, 41 Madison St. in downtown Dayton. The event is free and open to the public. Competition begins at 7 p.m. and runs through 11 p.m., the latest. For more information, please 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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