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Miles Ahead Brings Soul And R&B (And Everything Else) To Cultural Fest

Miles Ahead
Miles Ahead
Miles Ahead plays Bloomington's Cultural Fest in Miller Park this Saturday night. The show is part of the WGLT Summer Concert Series Presented by CEFCU.

Miles Ahead is a Bloomington-based R&B/soul/gospel quintet that headlines Bloomington’s Cultural Festival this Saturday in Miller Park.

Kendall Miles is the group’s lead vocalist. She’s also a songwriter. Husband Tommy Miles plays keyboards, bass and other instruments and is also one of the groups songwriters. Both sat down with Jon Norton this week in the WGLT studios.

WGLT: Kendall, you say you’ve been singing since you were 4 and were exposed to all kinds of music. How did you come to the music that you’re now playing?

KENDALL: So, it wasn't just gospel even though that is my base … gospel. I've just been around all types of music. So, I've just loved everything.

Sometimes we get stuck in those boxes, right? You are either R&B or soul or alternative rock or something. Music is more fluid than that, right?

KENDALL: Yes, it is. And growing up in this town, it is very diverse. So, you're around all different types of music. I wasn't just around R&B and gospel. We were around rock and all kinds of music … like country. And I learned to appreciate all different types of music. So, my voice has been trained to love everything and to sing everything.

I had this conversation with an author the other day … he was talking about how especially Black artists in the south listened to country music … they were fans of yodelers like Jimmie Rodgers and people like that.


Is there a stereotype that Black people don't listen to white music? Or more on the country side of music?

KENDALL: I think sometimes it is.

TOMMY: I definitely think it is … we have a wide range of music that we listen to. That's kind of where the name Miles Ahead comes from. Music is always ahead of us and we’re always trying to catch up to the music, you know what I mean? But it's way ahead and with so many genres and different types of music, you'll never catch up to it. You know, I'm always chasing what's next with music. When it comes to different types of genres, whether it’s country, whether it is rock, whether it's pop, we listen to it all.

KENDALL: And you're forever learning about it. I mean, you're learning from different artists and their technique, and it's beautiful. I mean, it's beautiful to watch and my children will learn, and they'll be around all different types of music. That's how we were raised.

So, Tommy, I'll go to you first. Kendall, I sort of asked you this, but who were specifically some of your heroes or music mentors?

TOMMY: For me lately it has been Cory Henry. He's a keyboardist … jazz keyboardist. He's up and coming. There's a lot of gospel music, he does R&B and he's great with jazz and even classical stuff as well. I went to ISU and studied classical and trust me, it's not easy at all. On the gospel side I listen to Kirk Franklin. Back in the day, (it was) Fred Hammond. I play for a church here in town … Mt. Pisgah … so I do that a lot as well. It's quite a few people that I listen to. It’s a wide range of music … never just one genre. I'm always either doing the gospel scene or doing R&B or jazz, something around those areas.

And it sounds like all that gets mixed into Miles Ahead.

TOMMY: It does. (laughs)

How about you Kendall … who were some of your heroes?

KENDALL: I guess I was brought up under (the late Mt. Pisgah) Reverend Frank McSwain. He's gone now. But he taught us a lot. Prince, Anita Baker, Rascal Flatts … they're amazing oh, my goodness. Lady Gaga. She's a genius. People don't know that. Well, people know. But what goes into what she does is just crazy. Another person that I really look up to that has been an inspiration to me is Tina Turner. And when I'm on stage, I kind of go to her when I'm nervous. I think of her as someone who kind of … well does inspire me in a lot of ways.

How does Tina inspire you? I mean, she's a legend.

KENDALL: She's a legend, but she's a go-getter. She's tough. She kind of doesn't think about anyone who's out there. Her critics …she does have some fears. Obviously, she's a woman. She's a go-getter. But you know, when I'm on stage, I look to her. I know the fire in her and how she goes for the gusto. And she sweats it out and she just goes for it onstage

Either one of you. What does music mean to you?

TOMMY: For me it is everything I've been doing since I was six. I started on keyboards. I went to ISU and majored in music and did classical studies and jazz. That's all I know really. I'm very fluent in studio sessions and things of that nature … doing video and audio but music has always my been my go-to. So, for me, it's everything. It’s life, it’s love it keeps me grounded and pushes me forward. It makes me want to see another day.

Wow. How about you Kendall?

KENDALL: It’s life. Its rhythm is what moves us. It’s love. I don't think life would exist without music. I mean … the trees … love … birds … our children … family, is what we hear. I mean, it's how we move. That's what music is, who we are. It's who I am. That's what God has put me here for … for people to love … for my voice … to use my voice. So it’s just what it is.

It sounds like God is really important in your lives. And you explicitly talk about it in your music, as opposed to being subtle. Why is that?

KENDALL: I don't know. It's just … God is love. He is love … he has given us a gift, obviously. And we must use our lives and our voices to be of use in this world, and to be peaceful and to be of influence in a positive way. So, I think we try to do that every day. I mean, we're not perfect, obviously. But we try to do that through our music and to live our lives in a way that is befitting for him in the best way possible.

How can music make this world a better place?

TOMMY: It’s healing, and it's been proven to heal the sick. Soothing. A lot of people use music for therapy, even in everything going on in the world today. Even this past year, music has been very influential to a lot of people just to keep them grounded … keep your head on a swivel with so much that's going on with COVID and people being shut down for a year. What do you do for that four years you got nothing to do? For us it was making music, or it was working on songs and things of that nature. So, what helped us get through it … for other people it’s other things … but for a lot of people music is what gets them through hard times … it’s what helps them with sickness.

KENDALL: And music is therapeutic. Music is healing. It is.

The Miles Ahead band will perform at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, at Miller Park. It's presented by the Cultural Festival. The show is part of the WGLT Summer Concert Series Presented by CEFCU.

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.