Kimmy & Klasse

Headed by lead singer Kimmy J. Kearse, female R&B vocal trio Kimmy & Klassé have been around since 1994. Their music is best described as urban contemporary/neo-soul with jazz overtones; Kimmy & Klassé are not straight-ahead bop by any means, but jazz is definitely an influence on the East Coast threesome. Kimmy & Klassé bring a long list of influences to the table, ranging from '70s groups like the Emotions and Love Unlimited to Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, and Dianne Reeves (a jazz-oriented vocalist who has strayed into R&B territory at times). While there are parallels between Kimmy & Klassé and 1990s/2000s vocal groups such as En Vogue and Destiny's Child, Kearse and her two colleagues are not as overtly or consistently hip-hop-minded. Hip-hop has influenced Kimmy & Klassé on occasion, but it isn't a huge influence -- certainly not the way it has been a huge influence on Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Blu Cantrell, and Beyoncé Knowles.

At times, Kimmy & Klassé inspire comparisons to Perri, a risk-taking female vocal quartet that enjoyed a small following in the '80s and early '90s. Perri was basically an urban contemporary/soul group, but they did have jazz influences -- and Kimmy & Klassé, like Perri, know how to bring an appreciation of jazz to an R&B foundation. One of the songs in Kimmy & Klassé's repertoire is Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart's famous Tin Pan Alley standard "My Funny Valentine," which has been performed by countless jazz improvisers over the years but generally doesn't receive as much attention from the R&B world. Tin Pan Alley, however, is not a major focus of Kimmy & Klassé, whose diverse repertoire has ranged from Kearse's original songs to the traditional "America the Beautiful" to R&B favorites like "Chain of Fools" (one of Aretha Franklin's big '60s hits) and the late Van McCoy's "Giving Up" (which -- like "Every Beat of My Heart," "Operator," and "Letter Full of Tears" -- was among Gladys Knight & the Pips' early, pre-Motown hits).

Kimmy & Klassé were formed in Upper Marlboro, MD, where Kearse joined forces with the group's two other members, Johnita Wilson-Dillard and LeVondra Attidore. Wilson-Dillard is the only Maryland native in the trio; Kearse is originally from Pennsylvania, while Attidore grew up in Virginia. In 2002, the singers recorded their debut album, The Love of Music, for their own independent label, Kimmy & Klassé Music. For two years, the CD was only sold at Kimmy & Klassé's live performances (most of which were on the East Coast). But in 2004 -- the year that marked the trio's tenth anniversary -- The Love of Music began to enjoy national distribution in the United States. ~ Alex Henderson

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