In Tune

Afro-Blue Vocal Band sings new life into a cappella music

”I think a lot of people weren’t even sure what a cappella music was before The Sing Off,” says Eliza Berkon. Berkon’s D.C.-based a cappella group the Afro-Blue Vocal Band ended up placing fourth in NBC’s reality vocal competition show last fall.

”It was life-changing and it was all-consuming, overwhelming and amazing,” says Berkon. ”Prior to that, Afro-Blue was a respected group in the D.C. area, but people weren’t really aware of us in other parts of the country.”

Afro-Blue Vocal Band

Afro-Blue Vocal Band

The 10-member group, which originally formed at Howard University and consists of both students and alumni, has capitalized on that television exposure by increasingly touring the country and performing in celebrated venues, including a debut performance this weekend at Strathmore. The group is also slightly expanding its repertoire, even including the occasional instrumental accompaniment. ”We’re really trying to embrace all genres of music,” says Berkon, including pop. Though, she adds, the group always ”puts a jazz spin on whatever genre we pick.”

Berkon grew up in Arizona singing in the school choir and musical productions, but originally moved to D.C. to pursue a career in politics and journalism. ”Once I got away from music, I realized how much I missed it and how I needed to go back,” she says. Berkon opted to get her masters in music education at Howard because of its great jazz department. She had heard about Afro-Blue from a friend as well as on NPR before she started school at Howard. While these days Berkon is a music teacher in Fairfax County, and most everyone else in the group also has a day job, she notes, ”We’re hoping someday soon it will become a bigger part of our lives, even a full-time profession.”

Afro-Blue Vocal Band performs with Cluster and The Glue Saturday, July 14, at 8 p.m. Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Tickets are $18 to $38. Call 301-581-5100 or visit strathmore.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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