Seasoned jazz singer teaches students to ‘listen all the time’

The UM School of Music always prides itself on its faculty and staff of educators who are also working musicians. This year, the school considers itself lucky to count jazz singer Dr. Kevin Mahogany among its ranks.

Mahogany, originally from jazz-infused Kansas City, came to UM from a guest teaching position at Berkeley College of Music. He attended Baker University in Kansas, where the industrious Mahogany founded a jazz choir. He entered the school in 1976 and graduated with a BFA in Music, English and Drama in 1981.

Mahogany started his musical career on saxophone but found that his vocal talent was unique, as most male jazz singers at the time were over 60. Since the early 1990s, Mahogany has released several albums on three different recording labels. Most recently released was Pride and Joy, a collection of Motown and R&B tunes performed in a jazz style.

In the midst of his success as a performer and recording artist, Mahogany feels that education was the key to his musical growth and that he has something to share with young musicians as an educator.

“Music education is important to me, to help the continuance of this art form that is uniquely American,” Mahogany said. “It has been my experience that students want to know what is happening in the music industry today, and my current travels and career allow me to keep them apprised of what is going on right now. It is an advantage for them and allows me to continue my career while teaching.”

Mahogany grew up surrounded by the sounds of Memphis and Motown, as well as the ever-evolving rock and roll in the turbulent ’60s. At the same time, he was very attracted to singers such as Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and Eddie Jefferson.

His first organized singing was in church during his senior year in high school. After college, Mahogany joined a ’60s R&B horn band and then went on to create a group called The Apollos, playing mostly R&B and Motown. After that, he formed Mahogany, an outfit that specialized in R&B, Motown, soul and contemporary jazz.

“My biggest musical influences have been constantly changing. I am sure that most people’s taste in music changes,” Mahogany said. “My earliest influences were Charlie Parker and Ben Webster. My earliest vocal influences were Al Jarreau and Jon Hendricks.”

When asked who he felt young musicians should be listening to, Mahogany said, “I recommend all musicians to keep their ears open to all styles of music. You never know where you can receive inspiration. One vocalist that I recommend for all musicians is Johnny Hartman.”

So far, Mahogany has kept his students busy with new musical ideas, and he has learned from them also.

“Learning is an ongoing process throughout life. So it would be safe to say that I have learned while I have been here at the University of Miami,” Mahogany said. “I am always listening and learning and hopefully growing. Both musically and personally.”

Having been a guest performer or artist in residence at many schools across the country, Mahogany assessed the caliber of the music program at UM compared to that at other universities.

“University of Miami’s music program seems to be competitive with other universities that I have visited and worked with,” Mahogany said. “They seem to have a combination of good faculty and good recruitment to comprise an excellent learning atmosphere.”

Mahogany tries to teach students life concepts in his classes and lessons in addition to musical concepts.

His advice to singers is to listen all the time.

“I listened to everything while I was coming up. If all that is in your background, you should be able to sing anything,” he said. “My advice to young people in general would be to work hard and keep a positive attitude about whatever choices you make in your life,” he said. “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”

Dr. Kevin Mahogany will perform a free live concert with the Jazz Vocal Ensemble 1 at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Mar. 28 at UM’s Gusman Hall.

For more information on Dr. Kevin Mahogany, visit

Jaclyn Lisenby can be contacted at