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D.C.’s Secret Society: A Band for the Grown Folks

In the music industry there are various types of bands from all genres. Secret Society [SS] band of greater Washington, D.C. is a rare find. And it’s probably best to classify them as a classic hip-hop band.

And Mark Neal, a lifelong Washingtonian, is a consistent supporter of the group.

When it comes to performing “hip-hop” music of the mid- 1980s thru early 2000s,” Secret Society is unmatched, not only in the DMV, but nationally. Their only close competitor would be The Roots, the Philly-based hip-hop band making nightly network appearances on the Jimmy Fallon (NBC) talk show.

During a recent live appearance at the Half Note Lounge in Bowie, a capacity audience screamed their approvals for the SS crew. Neal, at 54, said he really likes Secret Society.

“I’m a musician with my own bands, so I can see what they bring to the table,” said the Duke Ellington School of the Arts graduate.

As a younger Baby Boomer, he’s part of a demographic that SS bandleader/tenor saxophonist Bryan Mills specifically targeted when he formed the group back in 2009.

“I noticed there were lots of jazz, funk and go-go bands here in the DMV, but none that really targeted mature audiences that likes to chill, but still want to dance and have fun – listening to the music of their youth,” he said.

In this case, Mills, 45, wanted personnel flexible enough to perform old-skool ‘70s funk ‘n soul, smooth jazz in addition to the funky hip-hop tunes of the 1980s and ‘90s.

“I grew up on hip-hop,” said Mills, a Silver Spring native who boasts a music degree from Howard University. During the week when not on the bandstand, he teaches elementary students the basics of vocal music.

The seven-member band features a varied compilation of musical talents and skills including drummer Duane Thomas, a percussionist with back-beats founded in D.C. go-go rhythms. You’ll find Thomas in praise-mode on Sunday mornings at First Baptist Church of Glen Arden (Maryland).

Bassist David Dyson has a formal background from Berklee College of Music, where his Boston ties landed him a touring gig with New Kids On The Block. Guitarist Robbie McDonald, also of Silver Spring, has a funk background and tours with jazz violinist Chelsey Greene.

Keyboardist Patrick Cooper is virtuoso on the 88s and mimics jazz greats like Bob James and the late Joe Sample. He hails from Portland. Vocalists Michael Madison and Taryne Warren help ice the band’s cake, each with unique vocal styles.

D.C. native Madison can deliver smooth Luther Vandross ballads, followed with some funky Bobby Brown, then seal the deal with hip-hop signatures of Notorious B.I.G. or Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest.

Blessed with a lovely smile to complement her feminine stage presence, Warren effectively covers Roberta Flack, Lauryn Hill or Mary J. Blige to the rhythmic hip-hop poetry of Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Salt ‘n Pepa. The Albany, New York, songstress possesses a natural beauty that captivates her fans.

Credit tenor saxophonist/bandleader Bryan Mills for his visionary leadership. Having trained in jazz at Clark Atlanta University and Howard University, Mills’ early training occurred under the tutelage of legendary go-go creator Chuck Brown, and the Marcus Johnson Project. Meanwhile, Mills’ collegiate study as a jazz-performance major is apparent in his playing. His John Coltrane- flavored solos are embedded in many of the band’s funkiest vamps.

“It’s a joy for all of us to unite and play music. We love performing for our fans, and we enjoy each other. It’s a blessing,” he said. Mills also credits Half Note ownership and management for providing what’s arguably the premier live-music room in the greater Washington area.

For more information about Secret Society Band and Half Note Lounge, access the following websites: www.secretsocietylive.com, or 202-746-2480; www.halftnotelounge.com, or 301- 809-6683.

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