Women Making Music: Regina Duke – A Singer of Substance
A few days before this interview, I was perusing the Internet as usual and because I am blessed with Attention Deficit Disorder, I switched gears during a specified search for something when I glanced at a popup with a link to an on-line woman’s magazine called ‘Bustle.’ I clicked on the heading – “13 Alternate Words for ‘Woman’ You Need to Start Using Right Now.” The tenth one listed was “Regina.”The feature writer, Laura I. Miller, defines the name’s meaning as “Queen” with Latin or Italian origins. Behindthename.com explains that the name Regina was used in Middle Ages England to honor the Virgin Mary. The Urban dictionary deems it “quite possibly the most beautiful ‘Spanish’ name there is.” It goes on to purport that the name has “style, grace and class,” which most certainly encompasses the aura of Ms. Regina Duke.
What struck me further was when I read the kabalarians.com “meaning of names” website with further characterizations of the name, it also fit her to a ‘T.’ Regina Duke is indeed “driven with a strong inner urge to be of service in some way that would uplift humanity as a whole.” She admits to having “a tendency to assume too heavy a burden of responsibility for others.” And she confesses that “people with problems are drawn to me, as they recognize me as one who brings understanding and gives not only comfort but also provides clarity, advice, or assistance.” Her generous nature makes it necessary for her to be mindful of the benefit to maintaining a balance between giving and receiving.
Resilient Regina learned as a shy and reserved youngster that it would not serve her to be reclusive. She would discover music and use it to her advantage to escape from those bashful tendencies. Recognizing that it provided her levity and a chance to be playful, it also enabled her to cope when her family dynamic grew complex at times. “My father, who was a fearless and bold educator, took a stand against prejudicial treatment back in the 1950’s and fortunately, it later shielded me from the effects of the segregation movement.”
Her sharp and curious mind began to develop at a very young age and triggered her desire to acquire a deeper understanding as to why people in general did what they were doing, and especially why the people she loved did what they were doing. Consequently, it’s not surprising that psychology and music remain her deepest passions. Regina attended Montreat College and UNCA and earned her Psychology degree at Shaw University. Currently she is applying for her graduate degree in Counseling. Her interest in music spawned from a childhood “full of all kinds of music in the house: from Bach, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky to Country, Pop and Rock, to Motown, Jazz and Soul!”
Her mother Barbara was a seamstress and made most of her children’s clothes and was also the go-to neighborhood beautician! Her father, Alva Duke, was Choral Director for Macon County, Franklin NC’s school district. This is where she grew up with twin brother Roger, brothers Alva Jr. and Tommy, as well as sisters Annette and Catherine. In fourth grade she became a member of her father’s choral group. “I witnessed, admired, and learned from the things he was able to accomplish in a school district that had only been integrated four years by the time he was offered and accepted the position.” She watched him develop out of nothing, and teach with great authority a genre-rich, harmony-driven, a-Capella vocal master class to elementary through high school aged children.
After graduating from Franklin High School, Regina was thrilled to escape the confines of small town Franklin, though during her college years and after she struggled a bit to fit in. She needed to figure out a way to feel part of a group, so set her sights on Community Theater. She auditioned and landed roles in musicals such as Cabaret, Jesus Christ Superstar, and a Cole Porter Review at The New Arts Theater, which later became the Grove Street Theater that many may remember was owned by the beloved Art Fryer. It was located below a restaurant that was then called Cahoots and is now known as Scandals.
In short order, she detected she could use some help to strengthen her singing voice. She approached a fellow musical theater actor named Hugh Harvey whom she admired for his strong operatic tone. Harvey became her voice coach for two years and Regina credits him with helping develop her diaphragm through the Bel Canto singing method. This gave her enough confidence to slowly begin accepting invitations to sing classical solos at special events.
These early and varied opportunities performing classical pieces – for weddings, funerals, and special events – lead to auditions, landing the position of lead vocalist in several successive, short lived Top 40 dance bands. As fate would have it, someone who would become a dear friend and music partner, Mr. Randy Weston, subbed on keyboard one night. Always the instigator, motivator, and strong persuader, Randy started playing Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” which was not on the set list. He knew she knew it and that she needed to push herself. As she commenced singing, she heard and felt and executed her voice differently, more genuinely. She unveiled to that audience her true and authentic self, applying a voice she used only at home alone. This enabled her to break through what was keeping her in the background. “This was the start of real growth for me — not only from a vocal perspective, but from a performance and stage presence perspective as well!”
About a week after my husband Bryan and I moved here in October of 2002, and as a way to win friends and resume my musical path and aspirations, we explored the downtown bars, restaurants, and local jam sessions. We reviewed the entertainment sections of the paper each week, looking for area bands and music artists to hear and see. At that time, Regina and the Weston brothers (Randy, Oscar, and Cecil) were going into their 2nd year as the band still known as WestSound. They were playing every Thursday at Tressa’s Downtown Jazz and Blues back then. It didn’t take us long to discover the reasons they were and still are one of the hottest dance bands in town!
The future looks bright for this personable, unpretentious mademoiselle named Regina Duke. As she peers into her crystal ball, she sees herself venturing into Jazz-infused territory as a side project. She intends to facilitate and collaborate with other instrumentalists and singers to develop shows that donate portions of profits to local charities.
I don’t think Miss Regina realizes the healing she bestows to listeners when she croons those tunes and belts those ballads. Her voice is as deep as the ocean and as penetrating, rich, and soothing as cocoa body butter. Her exacting pitch and succulent turn of phrase make for delicious-tasting love songs, and the heaping helping of Rhythm and Blues she and those WestSound Cats are servin’ up will satiate even the pickiest music lover. So get out of your house! Get down to the sounds of Regina Duke, Michael Leshon with Randy and Oscar Weston, where you’ll often hear the divine Miss Ruby Mayfield (January 2017’s Woman Making Music featured artist!) sittin’ in on saxophone!
To keep up with Regina’s public music appearances, visit www.westsoundproductions.net.
Peggy Ratusz is a singer, songwriter, and vocal coach. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and www.reverbnation.com/peggyratusz.