When you gaze into the alluring eyes of the complex and multi-faceted Volora Howell, you’re
looking into the windows of one cultured and classy soul. In addition to her meticulously trained
musical chops and her keen eye for art, she uses the sincere warmth of her personality to bring out
the very best in artists she interviews on her musical television show. Her deep love for music
from Rachmaninov to Chaka Khan coupled with her university degrees in music and journalism,
her years of experience as both a performer and an entertainment reporter, and her earthy, exotic
glamour and sex appeal, situate Volora in a class all her own.
In her quest to be "the Oprah of the music variety world," Ms. Howell has been producing "The
Volora Show," a half hour program focusing on stellar musical guests with revealing interviews
and exclusive performances. This educational and entertaining show - produced through the
entrepreneur’s own Sahara Entertainment company - has risen from a prime time New York cable
phenomenon boasting 850,000 viewers to a welcome addition to the programming of the
nationally syndicated BET-J channel. Volora accomplished this by focusing on deserving talents
of distinction primarily from the jazz and R&B realms.
Key to the intimate nature of the show is its roots in Volora’s own remarkable story. A native of
Newark, Volora was drawn to the arts early in life and has been thoroughly immersed in them
ever since. "Music encompasses my entire life," she says, and the show reflects her sojourn from a
child prodigy to the woman she has become.
Raised in East New Jersey’s working class Ironbound section of Newark, NJ neighborhood,
Volora grew up a minority in a primarily European neighborhood. When I attended Wilson
Avenue Elementary School," she remembers, "I loved listening to ladies like Julie Andrews ("The
Sound of Music") and Barbara Streisand ("People"). I found I could hit and hold high notes just
like Streisand. Then I sang ’O Come All Ye Faithful’ at a Boys Club Christmas program in front of
hundreds of people and got a great response. That’s when I truly fell in love with singing."
At home, Volora, her brother and sister also enjoyed Mom’s R&B, the occasional Sarah Vaughan
Jazz Lp and pop singers such as Eydie Gorme. Involvement in music was encouraged as a sensible
and enriching activity for the children to keep them off the streets. Volora learned more about jazz
via New York’s legendary inner city program "The Jazz Mobile" after seeing Billie Holiday sing a
heart-wrenching version of "I’m a Fool to Want You" in a documentary. "In the late 1960s and
early 1970s, there was no divide in terms of generations," she continues. "Mom took me to see
everyone from James Brown to Duke Ellington - a wealth of culture. I grew up in the best of
times in terms of music."
Volora was accepted into the prestigious Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey whose alumni
now include tap dance master Savion Glover, jazz legends James Moody, Wayne Shorter and
Andy Bey, triple threat Tisha Campbell and Tony Award-winner Melba Moore. Volora began
singing in earnest here - everything from Mozart and Bach to gospel and old Negro spirituals. She
also added organ and cello to her classical studies, but balked when offered a chance to study with
renowned bassist Ron Carter because, "the cello was bigger than me and I wasn’t trying to walk
eight blocks to school every day carrying the thing!" But she did form an exciting extracurricular
singing group that went by the name of The Black Sisters of Uniqueness. "We were young, gifted,
beautiful and black with big afros and perfect size 3 to 5 bodies! We knew our stuff - all our
harmony and theory - and I wrote all of our arrangements. We were ahead of our time...like En
Vogue in 1973. We just didn’t have the avenues and opportunities that singers have today."
Though she later studied voice at the New England Conservatory of Music on scholarship, the
practical side of Volora deemed that she could not count on making a living from singing. So
when she was accepted to Suffolk University in Boston, she decided to pursue broadcast
journalism, inspired by Barbara Walters, African-American Gil Noble, and Melba Tolliver, a black
reporter she watched every night on "Eyewitness News." Volora wrote stories for local papers
and got her first on-camera experience one summer subbing for a reporter on maternity leave at
Channel 12 in Providence, Rhode Island. That fall she transferred to work at CBS affiliate
Channel 7 where she presented features on the social sciences, fashion, and entertainment. "I
never got too deep into politics," she admits. "I was still an ’artiste’ at heart."
To that end - after earning her BA in journalism, an associates in broadcast journalism and moving
on to Emerson University and Cambridge College for her Masters - Volora and the city of Boston
began having a serious art world love affair. "I had my own talk show on Boston’s WILD called
’Dancin’ in the Streets’ where I focused on jazz, Broadway and things I liked. That put me among
the who’s who of the community and upped my profile. And with the Berkeley School of Music
nearby, I wound up working with up-and-coming jazz pros like (saxophonist) Donald Harrison
and (drummer) Jeff ’Tain’ Watts. Everyone thought I must be a Berkeley student because I had
relative pitch, knew harmony and, in general, knew what I was doing." She was also, what was
then termed ’a stone fox,’ and found herself getting lots of attention from publishers, senators,
house representatives and musicians alike. "I was shy, though, and really didn’t play into all of that
as much as I could have," she adds...coyly.
It was while adding fashion commentator (influenced by Ebony Fashion Fair moderator Audrey
Smaltz) to her already exhaustively hyphenated string of skills that she officially returned to
singing in public. "I was afraid to sing on my own, but a group with just a male singer was playing
at the fashion show and I thought to myself, ’They need a girl.’ They liked my speaking voice so I
dared them to let me sing. They had me doing all the wrong songs (like ’Off the Wall’ by Michael
Jackson), but I shined on the ballads. I got my first critique from the Bay State Banner - the best I
ever received. I went solo after that!"
This was the early ‘80s when the Quiet Storm radio format was burgeoning, introducing an
incomparable crop of female singers who strolled the fine line of cocktail jazz, champagne soul,
sophisti-funk and top-shelf pop - artists like Chaka Khan, Angela Bofill, Stephanie Mills, Jean
Carne and Volora’s favorite, Phyllis Hyman. Volora took to this niche like a swan to a still water
pond. "I saw these women as young, passionate, beautiful artists that I could strongly identify
with. They combined all the things I could be with their R&B, Jazz and Classical influences,
especially Phyllis with her high coloratura voice on classics like ’Meet Me on The Moon.’ And I
always heard Angie’s ’Under the Moon and Over the Sky’ as a concerto."
Volora began performing in clubs primarily in Boston and New York City, including the Blue
Note, the 5-Spot and the Lenox Lounge. She booked shows in Italy, Japan, the U.K., Tobago and
Grenada, but had to limit her travel to care for her children. To provide for her two daughters
(Salamishah Tillet who now holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and Scheherazade Tillet who
earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and son Shaka, Volora put her
entrepreneurial skills into overdrive and developed a successful corporate headhunter enterprise.
She also began writing songs, while keeping a foot solidly in journalism.
Volora scored her first TV gigs as a temporary host and producer on New York cable’s "Woman
of the Week" and "Surprise, Surprise, Surprise." Then in 1998 on cable’s Manhattan Network, she
debuted "The Volora Show," where she would graciously host music luminaries from vocal group
the Delfonics and jazz chameleon Onaje Allan Gumbs to neo-soul star John Legend. Interviewing
and singing with each guest, Volora proves she is the consummate hostess and has developed a
significant fan base via her show and her many on-line subsidiaries. "The Volora Show" made the
transitions to Montclair Cable and Dish Network, and is now set to go national on Black
Entertainment Television’s adults-targeted spin-off channel, BET-J in Spring 2008 and Colours
Simultaneously, Volora is preparing her first official CD, which features a lovely rendition of
"Moonlight in Vermont" with strings, "Yesterdays" with horns, a Calypso medley, her takes on
Mongo Santamaria & Oscar Brown, Jr.’s "Afro Blue," Ms. Bofill’s "Under the Moon and Over the
Sky," plus writing contributions from Mike Ant and Grammy®-winner Gordon Chambers.
All things considered, Volora Howell is primed to shine like never before with all of her gifts at
their absolute peak of radiance. Classily combining fine arts, culture, fashion and great music -
from exciting newcomers to Grammy and Tony-Award winning masters of Jazz, Classic Soul and
Neo-Soul - The Volora Show is nothing short of a lifetime achievement for its lovely creator. I
produced this program to transcend race, sex and age as a vehicle to keep top quality music and
performances alive, Volora concludes. For music is the heart of everyone’s soul.
(Spring - 2009)