KENSHAKA ALI, vocalist, actor, director, professor, first started taking interest in singing after being taught sight reading by Walter Turnball, Founding Director of Boys Choir of Harlem. Born and raised two blocks from the World Famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem, right in the Mecca of the Black Arts movement where theatres, clubs, and bookstores were everywhere, Kenshaka was hit by the entertainment bug at a young age. He was an errand boy at the Apollo and would get free entry for bringing meals and beverages to the performers and backstage workers. He had center stage seats for every music legend who ever played the Apollo; it became his second home. His career as an actor began when he got caught playing on the rooftop of the Afro American Studio for Acting and Speech located right down the street from the St. Nicholas projects where he lived. When he was brought into the theatre and walked pass a rehearsal going on, he was immediately entranced and enthralled and knew instinctively that he would be an actor. He went on to work in most of the theatres in New York, worked with many legendary performers and earned a bachelors degree in theatre with a minor in voice at City College. While there, he sang with Jay Clayton’s jazz vocal workshop.
Becoming a regular at open mikes throughout the city, Kenshaka happened into the legendary Barry Harris’ jazz vocalist workshop, where over a period of five years, his repertoire grew to well over two hundred songs. He began to increase his time on the open mike circuit and gigging at venues like Cleopatra’s Needle, the Lenox Lounge, and the St. Nick’s pub where he jammed with the likes of Olu Dara, Bill Saxton, and Patience Higgins and the Sugar Hill Quartet. All the while, Kenshaka remained active in the New York theatre acting, directing, and producing. He earned his masters in theatre, planning on continuing his work on stage and in clubs, but academia called and Professor Ali was born. He taught and directed at many New York area schools including Ramapo College, The New School, Eugene Lang College, American Musical and Dramatic Academy, The College of New Rochelle and others.
Upon relocating to California, where he taught theatre at Pomona and several other colleges, Kenshaka met the late great Billy Higgins and embarked on the second phase of his vocal development at the world renowned World Stage Performance Gallery with the inimitable Dini Clarke, whose emphasis on the art of the lyric meshed with Kenshaka’s theatrical training and transformed him into a polished, sensitive, and revelatory story teller.
His debut CD is aptly entitled “Night Songs,” because as Leslie “Ms. B” Brewington puts it in her linear notes “His songs have potent immediacy and relevance. Kenshaka respects, loves and lives these songs. He is genuine and unadorned: what you see and hear is what you get. What you hear is a man who has lived a night song, and come about into the light.”
For Night Songs, he has amassed a stellar line-up featuring Larry Flahive on piano, Henry “The Skipper” Franklin on bass, George Harper on tenor and soprano saxophones, and Donald Dean on drums. While the torch ballad suits his theatrical sensibilities, Kenshaka loves to swing and does so with a mirthful exuberance that leaves audiences howling with delight.