- Faith & Family
Sultry jazz vocalist Cynthia Strachan Saunders has a real message in her music, the foundation of which comes from her Georgia-Bahamas roots. Born in Opa-locka, she spent most of her time in Carver Ranches and lives there today – in the home that her grandmother first purchased back in the early 40s. She says music was always present in the house but until high school she was the quiet child.
“Integration came to South Florida and I found myself being sent to brand new Miramar High,” she said. “It was still under construction when we started classes — I was part of the first graduating class in 1972. I didn’t want to go there but it was a blessing in disguise. I discovered that I had a voice and began to spread my wings. I joined girl groups modeling The Supremes. But then reality set in and I went to Miami-Dade Community College to study physical therapy.”
Chance news article changes her life
After answering ad in a paper, Cynthia found herself on the road with a funk band called October Road, belting out Chaka Khan tunes. Then, seven months into their gig she lost her voice, was subsequently fired and had to remain completely silent while her vocal chords healed.
“What good is a singer that can’t sing?” she joked.
In a chance meeting, she met a vocal student from Bethune-Cookman University that helped her learn how to sing correctly and led her to the school’s Concert Chorale Director Dr. Rebecca Walker Steele. Soon Cynthia was on
scholarship. She learned how to use her voice correctly but she says she also caught the jazz bug.
“I sang with a jazz combo for a short stint on the weekends to hustle up dollars — that was until Dr. Steele caught wind of it and ended that,” she said. “But I was hooked. Jazz found me and it’s been my passion ever since. Ella, Billie, Nina, Cassandra, Dianne and my favorite, Shirley Horne. They were the pioneers.”
While she has recorded several CDs, done studio work and performed with some of the top jazz artists including Jon Lucien, today her focus is on telling the history of Blacks through the written word and in song. She has written an historical documentary, “Promises From the Palmetto Bush,” that tells the story of those early Black pioneers [including her grandmother]that moved to Carver Ranches during the 40s. She has released a CD and written and produced an historical-musical play that is based on her research.
“We’ve performed the play, “Their Story is Our Story” a few times in the area and plan to do it again during Black History Month next year,” she said. “And I’m working on another play based on the history of Blacks in the Village of Lincoln Heights, Ohio. But first having my grandmother’s home designated an historical landmark. Then I will really have something to sing about.”
By D. Kevin McNeir