Ladies - and gents - sing the blues

14 musicians compete in city's 13th annual Billie Holiday vocal competition

April 14, 2002|By Nora Achrati | Nora Achrati,SUN STAFF

Terri Kee sang to a full house.

The 32-year-old Baltimore resident, a Virginia native, captured first place in the 13th annual Mayor's Billie Holiday Vocal Competition yesterday before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people. Another 50 or so watched on a TV screen in a waiting room near the packed Center Stage performance hall.

Throughout the afternoon, hundreds more stopped by to watch parts of the four-hour contest that honors Holiday, the legendary blues and jazz singer born in Baltimore.

"I'm told that, for the first time ever, we actually had over 1,600 people," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley told the audience as he presented awards.

Fourteen contestants, all Maryland residents, performed at Center Stage's Head Theater, which seats 396. After each of the 14 performed two songs, a panel of three judges selected five finalists; the top three vocalists received prizes.

In the qualifying round, Kee sang Dorothy Fields' and Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight" and Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." For the final round, she performed "From Butterfly with Love," an original piece dedicated to her parents.

"This is the coolest thing in the world," Kee said after her name was announced. O'Malley presented her with a $1,500 check, a gardenia - Billie Holiday's trademark - and a bag of cosmetics.

Kee has sung in a number of choirs, including the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute's Unified Voices gospel choir and The Refreshing, a Baltimore-based contemporary gospel group.

Second-place winner Marianne Matheny, also a Baltimore resident, received $1,000, a gardenia and bag of cosmetics, and third-place winner Eric Hanson of Annapolis received $500 in addition to his gardenia and bag of cosmetics.

The competition featured a record number of men, officials said, with four competing alongside 10 women for the top prize. Men have competed and placed before - last year's second-place winner, Marvin Parks, was a finalist this year - and three of the four made the final round this year.

First-place winner Kee will appear on Maryland Public Television's ArtWorks This Week at 8 p.m. Thursday. She'll also perform at Artscape, Baltimore's annual arts festival, in July.

All contestants are amateur jazz singers. Each submitted a tape of three songs, one of which had to be a Billie Holiday piece, for review by judges Ruby Glover, Sheila Ford and Parris Lane. Forty-two singers submitted tapes for the competition.

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