"Listen to the words of the spiritual; it's a message that says I want to be free; I need to be free," singer Kathy Wade tells an assembly at Robert E. Lucas Intermediate School in Sharonville.
"Then see how they turned the spiritual into gospel music," she exhorts with her arms raised to the ceiling and a mega-watt smile. Music swells from keyboardist Billy Larkin.
She has 600 children awestruck and riveted - and she knows it. Ms. Wade is preaching the gospel of the arts to whomever will listen. These days, many are.
Since she began her "Black Anthology of Music" program 17 years ago, 250,000 kids have heard her 45-minute journey, from spirituals to rap. She has added other programs: "Rhythms . . . Common Bonds," "Respect" and this year, "Books Alive," a new program of books and music targeting preschoolers through third-graders.
For Ms. Wade, 43, jazz singer and music educator, her Black Anthology is part African-American odyssey, part motivational sermon. Like all of her shows, it comes with a message.
"I will finish," she intones, "what I start." The children repeat.
She croons the song from her Emmy-winning video Someone's In Love - part ballad, part gospel - then says, "Music that makes you rock comes from the heart and soul." When the show ends, teachers and students line up for hugs, autographs and group pictures.
"We are creating an audience for the arts," says Ms. Wade, looking snappy in a short skirt, blazer and an Angela Bassett hairdo. The hair is one of the wigs she keeps on hand for modeling and shooting TV commercials - or when she hasn't had time to do her trademark braids. She is a local celebrity and musical ambassador who has represented Cincinnati in Zurich, Switzerland, Kharkiv, Ukraine, and Munich, Germany.
When landing at the Cincinnati - Northern Kentucky International Airport , one of the first voices travelers hear in the Delta Air Lines terminal is Ms. Wade's in Cincinnati - The Movie, a promotional video produced by the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. Her enthusiasm is infectious. When she enters a room, she holds court, says Yvonne Thomas of the Junior League of Cincinnati.
"Kathy talks fast; you have to listen quick. She keeps you on your toes."
Residence: Bond Hill.
Activities: Executive and artistic director of Learning Through Art, Inc., a non-profit performing arts organization that augments arts education programs and develops new audiences. Serves on the board of the Cincinnati Arts Association, Cincinnati Arts Festival and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
Family: Married nine years to Dan Jenkins, network analyst for Delta Technology. Daughter Karlyn Wade-Richardson 21, is a senior at Elon College (N.C.); stepdaughter Dawn Jenkins, 22, is a senior at Ohio University.
Education: Bachelor of arts in sociology from Edgecliff College, Cincinnati; master's in arts administration from University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Best advice received: ''Just wait five more minutes; it will come.'' (From the late Rev. Dr. Wayland E. Melton, a family friend.)
Her non-stop talk is like her non-stop schedule. In 1992, she co-founded Learning Through Art, Inc., a non-profit organization to present educational programs and corporate workshops, with her husband of almost 10 years, Dan Jenkins, a network analyst for Delta.
"She always likes a challenge, and she believes that things can change," Mr. Jenkins says. "Sometimes I think she just likes to raise a little ruckus once in a while."
When she launched a summer concert series in 1995 to benefit LTA, "The 'Hood is Bigger Than You Think," no one dreamed she would nab Rosemary Clooney to star in the show three years later.
Ms. Wade grew up in Evanston and East Walnut Hills, one of six children of Jeanette and Marshall Wade. She was raised on the jazz albums her parents played at home.
Although she won her first singing contest at 14, her college degrees were in sociology and arts administration. She never planned to go into show biz, even though she has co-produced her own CDs (You Got the Magic and Kathy Wade Live! Sunset at Seasongood), starred in a PBS special (Jazzstruck, 1989) and opened for Lionel Hampton at the Kennedy Center in Washington (1981).
She has achieved many firsts, from being the first female African-American president of Withrow High School's student council to being the first African-American board member of Cincinnati's Junior League. Building an audience for the arts remains her primary mission. She is outraged at "the huge population not being touched by the arts."
What makes it all worthwhile? After a Books Alive presentation at Windsor School in Walnut Hills a learning-disabled child said, "I love that book, I just love that book."
"If I look out there and see one spark of light, I am happy," Ms. Wade says.