For more than a year, Kendra Erika has sung on Thursday nights at Vino Wine Bar and Tapas in Boca Raton. She covers jazz standards, Frank and Ella and all the favorites, standing in the corner with a sultry sound that goes well with a nice red. But if you wait long enough, the mood segues into something more urgent, more current, pulsating with a beat that commands you to dance.
“She starts out with familiar songs, light and refreshing,” says Vino manager Kait Watson. “But around 11 o’clock, wow, does she turn it up!”
And now, that sound, and that singer, has reached beyond the walls of the wine bar, far past Boca and into the top 50 on the Billboard charts. After years of playing in and around the area, the singer is finding new opportunities to keep the beat.
The song, released on Dauman Music/Big Deal/Sony/Red,was produced by Grammy-winner Damon Sharpe, who has worked with Jennifer Lopez, Kelly Rowland, Natalie Cole and Boca Raton’s Ariana Grande, among others. And it was remixed by production team The Perry Twins, whose past remixes have included tracks by Lopez and Christina Aguilera.
“Oasis” was inspired by a trip to California, where Erika was recording music. When she left the studio, she got to explore “the desert-like environment. I literally imagined an oasis, (and wrote) a song that people can get lost in, to let go of all stress and really let go.”
The lifelong Boca Raton resident has been writing and performing since she was a kid. She looks the part of a dance chart diva, with long auburn hair, black thigh-high boots and a soulful stare. But behind that magazine-worthy facade is an opera-trained singer and recent Lynn University graduate who once feared she’d never be able to find her voice.
“I was born tone-deaf,” Erika explains. Obviously, that’s a deal-breaker for most musical careers. But most people aren’t as determined as she is.
“I”m a Leo, so that comes with the territory,” she says, laughing.
She caught the performance bug as a little girl, and began doing community theater when she was about eight: “When I was a little girl I always liked inspiring people.”
One of her training grounds, Little Palm Theatre, has another notable alumni, Boca Raton’s Grande. Erika says she remembers her “but never really knew her,” and politely declines comparison with the singer.
“I have my own path,” she says. “I like to be an original.”
Erika found she “had the confidence to perform” but needed help on the skills. So she sought help from Fort Lauderdale vocal coach Gisbert Heuer, who “really laid out for me what I had to do. He gave me a foundation for technique and taught me the intricacies of what I can do with my voice. I was a sponge.”
After fine-tuning her voice and getting a solid base in opera and classical, Erika branched out into jazz, finding a love for Frank Sinatra, who she calls “the original cinematic singer. It’s like a Scorsese movie,” she says. “He was a rule breaker. He created music you want to sit back, have a cocktail to and be inspired by.”
Her own songwriting which began with “bubblegum sort of pop” eventually transitioned into her current loungey vibe. Although her genre is technically EDM and deep house, a sub-genre with jazz and soul-inflected roots, she’s channeled that through the seductive sheen of the Bond Girl.
“They’re very tasteful. They embrace their sexuality in a very classy way,” Erika explains, adding that she also draws style points from the sultriness of Rita Hayworth and the class of Audrey Hepburn, as well as the “very cinematic” music of current singers Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding. “They’re very timeless, iconic. I want to be that, instead of a quick fad.”
She comes by her love of strong-willed, stylish ladies honestly - in the last show of her senior year at Boca Raton’s Saint Andrew’s School, Erika played the delightfully droll Baroness Schrader in “The Sound of Music.” While most see the character as a rival of sweet former nun Maria for the heart of Captain Von Trapp, Erika sees “a sassy character full of elegance and tastefulness.”
In her musical travels and performing around South Florida, she caught the ear of guitarist, engineer and arranger Lazaro Rodrieguez, who recently worked with legendary singer and South Florida fixture Barry Gibb. The acquaintance “has been a positive thing,” Erika says, and she’s met more people on the scene, including her “Oasis” co-writer Fabian Hernandez. The single was recorded at Hollywood, Fl’s MEG Production house, and she says she’s excited to do more on that Fort Lauderdale/Miami scene.
“Miami is very swiftly becoming a place I am involved with,” she says. “Every place in South Florida is different, but Fort Lauderdale and Miami are definitely where you chill and celebrate.”
Erika also credits influential dance music publisher Jason Dauman, whose Dauman Music has a distribution deal with Republic/Motown/Universal Music Group, and who connected her with Sharpe. “He’s fantastic,” she says. “I was grateful to have met him.”
Her life has been classes, recording, and gigging. She travels all over, but says she prefers to stay local “because I have a good support system here and a sense of groundedness. It’s great to have that.” Her mom, Ingrid Fulmer, even acts as her interim manager.”
That support system has become important to her gig at Vino, where manager Watson says she brings a dedicated following “who demand that she do her original music as well. We’re very proud of her.”
Erika is making appearances around South Florida and is working on an entire album, while hoping to tour more extensively. And you can still catch her on Thursdays at Vino, where she’s happy to have a home.
“I always like to have a ‘The sky’s the limit’ attitude,” she says. “I don’t believe in setting a fence around what you can accomplish. I’ve visualized myself being here. And I’ve created something really good.”
WATCH ‘OASIS’ VIDEO: