Kendrah Butler-Waters

Hometown Hero Profile

by Bobbie Booker | Photo Courtesy of Artist’s Website

Kendrah Butler-Waters’ affinity for Philadelphia’s historic musical roots has served as the muse for her creative output as a skilled and imaginative pianist, composer, violinist, and vocalist.

“Philadelphia is one of the premier cities for jazz and a lot of other genres of music as well,” Butler-Waters observed.

Through her classical and jazz training at Settlement Music School and the Mount Airy Cultural Center to studying and touring with nationally and globally recognized performers, Butler-Waters has witnessed the region’s ebb-and-flow, lauded music scene. 

“It’s an insane hub for musicians,” she notes. “All of the musicians who are considered the greats have either lived here, traveled through here, or performed here. And when you think about that rich history, to be from Philly and be a performer from Philly, it’s a huge city of shoes to fill, if you will. Philadelphia, in my eyes, has that same weight as New York, Chicago, or New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.” 

While she is lauded for her performative works, education is at the forefront of Butler Water’s professional endeavors. The multi-instrumentalist earned a dual Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Sociology with a minor in Spanish from Temple University and her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Drexel University. Her students range from the primary grades to masterclasses at multiple universities where she conducts jazz history lessons that explore the popular genre’s influence and connection to today’s music forms.

“People need to see themselves in jazz and to understand that their representation does matter,” explained Butler-Waters. “And not only that, for them to understand how jazz was birthed out of an African American experience of folk songs, shanty tunes, Negro spirituals, plus European traditions of classical music. All of that was smashed and combined to give you what jazz is or what I call Black classical music. Jazz can’t die because of its history. History continues to live—and we just got to keep it going!” 

“People need to see themselves in jazz and to understand that their representation does matter”

“I love being an artist here, and I don’t think I would want to live in a different place. Just the richness of history, the people here, the music: I don’t think there’s a better place to have experiences, be an artist, raise a family in this Philadelphia region. It’s so full of history that you can’t help but be inspired to write the music—and for that, I’m grateful.”