This production was the brilliant idea of a Grammy Award-winning composer, the late Dr. Thara Memory, who selected Renee to write the libretto. Thara Memory has been working for a couple decades on the music for this unique blending of jazz and opera. The show centers on Sherman Thomas, a gifted saxophonist from Mississippi who mesmerized audiences in smoky jazz clubs in North Portland.


This was at a time when the African Americans during WWII came to Portland to build war ships and brought their East Coast music; dubbing North Williams Avenue as “Black Broadway.” For the 2-week run, sponsored by the Regional Arts & Culture Council, this show had a 9-piece band on stage and an amazingly talented cast, including:


  • LaRhonda Steele

  • Reggie Houston

  • Chantal DeGroat

  • Sarah Billings

  • Roshan Armstrong

  • Taneshia Manning-Granville

  • Dominique Vazquez

  • & musicians Ezra Weiss, Renato Caranto, Stan Bock and the late Janice Scroggins, among others


Sherman: A Jazz Opera

CLICK poster above to read interview with Thara, Renee and KBOO-FM host Dmae Roberts about some of the hidden history of Portland’s jazz scene and the black musicians who made the music. Renee also was executive producer with Liz Vice, of Fishgate Films, on a documentary on Sherman Thomas that was made as a part of the Sherman experience. Check it out on

From the moment I was emailed the script, I had a unique sense about the project.

The kind you get when you’re meeting a newborn for the first time. The sense of wonder that can only come from seeing a new life that has yet to be defined, corrupted, enhanced, or molded. It was innocence and the prospect of overwhelming eye-opening possibilities, void of good or bad, that gripped me. My world was wonderfully challenged, expanded, educated, encouraged and inspired by my fellow cast members.


Sarah Billings, singer and Sherman cast member

© 2019 by Renee Mitchell Speaks. All Rights Reserved.

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