The bio on 91.3 WYEP’s website identifies singer Clara Kent, its newly minted Friday evening host as “an Afro-Indigenous multidisciplinary artist” and “a community liaison from Homewood, Pa.”
That’s a mouthful. Upon meeting her, the words that come most quickly to mind are “joyful muse” and “an irrepressible human being who finally commands a long overdue platform.”
A few minutes of conversation with Kent, who was voted Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Person of the Year” for music in 2019, is proof that every once in a while, a truly nice and deserving person is capable of finishing first.
Late last month, the CEO of Bounce House Studios & Productions began what will probably be a long-running stint as the host of “More Bounce with Clara Kent,” a weekly two-hour exploratory trek into musical genres and styles not typically heard in Pittsburgh.
Fortuitously, Kent studied radio broadcasting at Columbia College Chicago, so this isn’t her first rodeo. She’s thought long and hard about the kind of radio programming she would like to do if she ever got the chance.
Kent conceived her show as an extension of what she’s already doing as an artist, mentor and local curator who has a deep understanding of where to find marginalized and often ignored talent in the community. Kent says she always has antennae up for young artists and new artists on the scene. These emerging artists will have a regular slot in her show called “Elevate the Underground.”
“My main message since I was very young was to always advocate for Black people in all the vastness that we are,” Kent says. “We are not a monolith. We have so many different colors, shapes and sizes, perspectives, ideas, feelings and thoughts. We also know how to be under the same roof together. It’s beautiful.
“I want to represent that in the show,” she says, when asked how she pitched something as sonically and thematically ambitious as “More Bounce” to WYEP when there was no precedent for it on Pittsburgh’s airwaves. Not even the late and much lamented WAMO ever took music programming as far as Kent plans to at WYEP.
“I specifically said multiple times that [the show] is about the African diaspora and representing something that we all share. R&B tends to be pigeonholed into one thing, but really it’s rhythm and blues and soul [and hip hop]. It’s very ancestral and I love how it pops up in other cultures whether it’s an Ethiopian artist, or an artist from France or Jamaica or Mobile, Alabama.”
Google WQED’s “Sessions” to get a sense of Kent’s music, which is steeped in many of the genres she champions on her show. The charismatic singer, who speaks with a southern drawl at times that disappears when she sings, has an approach to singing that is reminiscent of many of the classic chanteuses of the last century.
With the singer-songwriter INEZ, Kent co-founded a website/music resource for local talent called BLKNVMBR (pronounced Black November) that spotlights many of the artists she’ll be showcasing on “More Bounce.”
During our interview, she ticks off the names of artists she believes will become familiar to music fans in the region in the months to come — Dejah Monea, Mani Bahia & the Mob, Blaire, Anyah Nancy and others.
Kent jokingly blames her mom for her musical eclecticism and sense of responsibility for mentoring her fellow artists on the value of good business practices.
She remembers fondly how her mother would take her to WAMO “when it was still Downtown” when Kent was a child and expose her to the world of music that way. She also made her watch documentaries about Mahalia Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and countless blues and R&B artists who died broke or were swindled out of the ownership of their music by record companies.
One of the pleasures of having a platform like the one provided by WYEP is the freedom to program shows in terms of themes, she says. For March, the themes tackled on “More Bounce” will be womanhood, femmes, gender identity and artists who push the envelope — both local and beyond the borders of Pittsburgh.
Kent has been on the receiving end of glowing features and news articles in recent years, but she’s not feeling the compulsion to relocate as her fame and reputation grow.
“I started [my production company] Bounce House as a way for me to stay connected to Pittsburgh,” she says. Later in the conversation, Kent sums up her philosophy as a Black artist in racially insular Pittsburgh and as a radio host in a position to change things.
“We tend to focus on our hardships, which can be constructive because that’s how we fix things,” she says, “but every time I talk to an African or someone who’s really doing the work, they’re looking for a place to celebrate and enjoy life. In the two hours I program from 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday, I want everyone to come together to celebrate Black creativity.”
Tony Norman’s column is underwritten by The Pittsburgh Foundation as part of its efforts to support writers and commentators who cover communities of color that historically have been misrepresented or ignored by mainstream journalism.