Bay Area African American Women in Music: Brenda Vaughn Brings Oakland Soul to the World


Brenda Vaughn didn’t know quite what to expect when in the late ‘80s her friend, the late Oakland soul singer Jacquii Marshall, recommended her for a gig at Eikokan, a nightclub in Osaka, Japan.


“It was very, very different,” she recalled last week to this writer. “It looked like I’d walked into the middle of an old Japanese movie.”


Vaughn went over so well at Eikokan that the club kept flying her in from Oakland for return engagements. She eventually settled in Tokyo and spent 13 years there performing in clubs, concerts and cutting records and commercial jingles.


She also began booking gigs for other African American singers living in Japan.


“There was work around the clock, especially for females,” said the Mississippi-born singer, now 56. “They don’t care if you’re big or small. They just care if you’re good.”


The petite vocalist was a popular attraction during the ‘80s at Dock of the Bay in Berkeley, Ivey’s in Oakland and other local African American venues.


Vaughn – who organized a hugely successful benefit at Geoffrey’s in January for ailing former Prince vocalist, Rosie Gaines – left Japan in 2011 following the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdowns that followed. She then began traveling throughout Asia and living out of a suitcase, most recently during the last six months of 2014 in Singapore, where she performed five nights a week at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.


Just last week, Vaughn was in Macon, Georgia, where she was teaching voice, stage presence and other subjects to teenagers at the Otis Redding Music Camp.


Vaughn is back in Oakland this week organizing a show called “Women Who Jam! The Next Generation!” The show will be held Friday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, 410 14th St. in Oakland. Through her Sistuh to Sistuh organization, Vaughn is co-producing the event with the San Francisco chapter of the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment (NABFEME).


Among the artists slated to perform are singers Micheala Cheadle, Tamar Gillette, Ke’Shay and Milika Ubaka and the duo Mz SwitchedUp. Their performances will be critiqued by a panel including: vocalists Vaughn, Larry Batiste and Nona Brown, keyboardist Rodney Franklin and producer Jay King.


Tickets are $10 in advance from, or $15 at the door.


Vaughn will leave Oakland next weekend for an extended engagement in Taiwan, then return to Oakland before going to Russia for three weeks.


“I’m really enjoying my life right now,” Vaughn said. “There are a lot of countries I still want to go to. I’m not chained to one particular place. I can get up and go anyplace. I like that freedom.”


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