‘Cotton Club’ tour kicks off in Waynesville on May 13

The Western Carolina University Catamount Singers and Electric Soul take “Echoes of the Cotton Club,” a musical salute to the roots of jazz and the big band era, on the road in May with stops in Waynesville, Asheville, Cary, Apex and Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ashley T. Evans)

The Western Carolina University Catamount Singers and Electric Soul take “Echoes of the Cotton Club,” a musical salute to the roots of jazz and the big band era, on the road in May with stops in Waynesville, Asheville, Cary, Apex and Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ashley T. Evans)

The Western Carolina University Catamount Singers and Electric Soul will kick off an East Coast tour of “Echoes of the Cotton Club,” a musical salute to the roots of jazz and the big band era, Tuesday, May 13, in Waynesville.

The tour, which comes on the heels of a radio re-creation performance April 24 at WCU’s John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, will include stops in Asheville, Raleigh and Washington, D.C.

“Echoes of the Cotton Club” is the sixth in a series of academic-based entertainment projects mounted in collaboration with four departments and three colleges at WCU. The nationally award-winning shows feature live music and sound effects, hearkening back to the golden age of radio. The traveling shows are a collaborative effort by music directors Bruce Frazier and Jon Henson, writer and producer Don Connelly and choreographer Karyn Tomczak.

“Echoes” follows significant musical developments through the decades to the present day – swing, blues, soul, rhythm and blues, Motown, funk, disco, hip-hop and modern singer-songwriters. Featured songs include hits by artists Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald, and the contemporary entertainers they inspire – such as Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Bruno Mars.

Assisting in pre-production on “Echoes of the Cotton Club” was Mercedes Ellington, president of the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts in New York City and the granddaughter of music legend Duke Ellington, a bandleader at the Cotton Club nightclub in Harlem on which the show is based.

In addition, the show has been registered with the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, and it will be eligible for an invitation to a regional Kennedy Center festival next February. Shows selected from the regional festivals across the country receive an invitation to perform in KCACTF National Festival events next April in Washington, D.C.

The summer tour of the show will get underway at 5 p.m. May 13 with a cocktail fundraiser and performance at Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville. The event will benefit WCU’s Friends of the Arts, an organization that helps support the activities of the Bardo Arts Center and all of the university’s academic programs in the arts.

Tickets are now available for $30 per person, which includes entertainment, small plates and desserts. For tickets, call the Laurel Ridge Country Club at 828-452-0545, extension 131.

Additional stops on the tour are scheduled for Wednesday, May 14, at Tuscola High School in Waynesville and Reynolds High School in Asheville, with Raleigh-area performances Thursday, May 15, on tap at Green Hope High School in Cary and Apex High School.

The final leg of the tour has the student ensemble in Washington, where they will perform at West Potomac and Annandale high schools on Friday, May 16, and at the National Mall on Saturday, May 17.

The Catamount Singers and Electric Soul are flagship ensembles of WCU’s program in commercial and electronic music, said Jon Henson, assistant director of athletic bands at WCU who also teaches in the program.

“The ensembles were established to provide our music students with a real-world experience of being both a performing professional but also working with the technical side of putting on a production,” Henson said. “Our very own students provide all the technical support for the show. It is a great synthesis of what our commercial and electronic music program is all about.”

The groups have previously traveled to and performed at the Island Festival Park in Manteo, Walt Disney World Resorts in Florida, and in Nashville, Tenn.

For more information about the summer tour, contact the WCU College of Fine and Performing Arts at 828-227-7028.