From left, Jennie Wasserman, J.B. Flatt, Ashley Vitha, Heather Wolfe, Pamela Quinn of The Sweet Divines
Dansettes move on to something more divine
By Lee Ann Westover
In early 2007, New York City lost one of its best groups, The Dansettes. The band began as keyboardist and songwriter J.B. Flatts baby in 2003, and grew to include a trio of female singers plus a rhythm section, who played music of the 1960s in an authentic style. Just a few years later, the band was soaring high on the national scene. The vocalists were occasionally singing background with Sharon Jones and the ubiquitous Dap-Kings (who can be found playing horns on several Grammy-nominated albums this year) and performing to capacity audiences at SXSW and all over New York City.
In the midst of the buzz, some members began to want to branch out and explore other musical styles within the framework of the band. Because of this decision, the Dansettes eventually split up with two singers and the rhythm section headed off in one direction and the third singer and the former bandleader headed in another. These two Flatt and singer Jennie Wasserman are in the process of perfecting and polishing their new branch on the tree, the Sweet Divines. Already beefing up with four phenomenal singers who will shoop and doo-wop in front of a tight rhythm section, the new group is continuing in the Dansettes tradition of playing groovy 1960s soul and R&B, and will make their public debut this Friday in Brooklyn.
The birth of this new band came about in the middle of the Dansettes death throes. Last year, one of the Dansettes singers had been first to jump ship. After her departure, the remainder of the band held auditions for a replacement. The search for a singer was successful, and brought Flatt and Wasserman into contact with Pamela Quinn and Ashley Vitha, two young women who are preternaturally talented for being relatively new to the music business. A few months later, professional vocalist Heather Wolfe contacted the group in hopes of auditioning for the Dansettes. Even though the Dansettes were defunct by then, she agreed to meet with Flatt and Wasserman to sing through some tunes. Jay played the piano and I sang with Heather, said Wasserman. It just clicked! We loved her immediately.
They asked the three women if they were interested in performing with a new band. We didnt think they were all going to say yes, said Wasserman. But they were really gung ho!
This boon came along at the same time as another source of inspiration
the Sweet Inspirations, in fact, a quartet of women who, in addition to continuing to record their own albums, sang backup for some of the most famous acts in the world, including Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. Cissy Houston, Whitneys mother, was once a member. Flatt and Wasserman had been listening to them regularly when Wolfe made contact. It was this fateful confluence of coincidences that sparked the birth of The Sweet Divines.
Even in rehearsal, its clear that the band has a lofty trajectory. The four women clearly like each other very much, and they sparkle with excitement over their upcoming debut. When I showed up to rehearsal, they were preparing for a gig singing backup for Divines band member Eli Reed. Flatt, who acts as musical director, tapped his slippered foot as he operated the CD player while the women sang along. In addition to keeping their lovely voices in tune, they also spent a good deal of time on choreography, which as I divined from their lightening-fast patter includes such moves as the Slow Bump, the Up-n-Over, the Snap-n-Chug, the Shimmy Shoulders, and the Snap-n-touch.
Though there was a good deal of giggling throughout, these women are not relying on their bubbly personalities to reach audiences. Each one is a fantastic singer, with spot-on intonation and soul to spare. Vitha and Wolfes rich alto tones mix lovingly with Wassermans bright belt and Quinns Irish soprano. After the dance was worked out for Reeds show, they moved on to rehearsing one of Flatts original tunes. Heck of a Man is a tricky number, and the vocalists breezed right through crazy counterpoint lines as easily as if the song were Mary had a Little Lamb.
Its not much longer now till the first show, and the bands excitement is palpable. After the Dansettes failed to work out, Flatt admitted its sometimes frightening to be moving forward with a new project. I have these visions, where were at our first show and no ones there! But with a burst of what is becoming typical Sweet Divines optimism, Wasserman added, I just cant wait until people hear the four-part harmonies. I cant wait!
Learn more about the Sweet Divines atthesweetdivines.com For a limited time, download a free mp3 of their new single Honeythistle when you sign up for their mailing list on the site.