Stevee Wellons and Cheryl Rinovato, the two principals in the dynamic duo known as Soulful Femme, are more than simply a dynamic singing duo. They are seasoned performers in their own right, each possessing vast experience in the music business who happened to join forces and find an ideal chemistry.
Wellons has been performing since the late 1970’s in a variety of bands, among them any number of accomplished outfits, including the Rhythm Machine, Jumpstreet, Shaker, the Cruisers, the Elmonics, The Real Deal Band, and The Stevee Wellons Band. Over the course of her career, she shared stages with the Dazz Band, Cameo, Peaches and Herb, and Howard Hewett, among many others. She’s released two solo albums — Stevee Wellons -All Natural Ingredients and one simply titled Stevee. In addition, she recently co-wrote and performed background vocals for the artist known as Sun King Rising, A.K.A John Blangero. She previously taught at the Afro-American Music Institute and is currently an adjunct professor at the Community College of Allegheny County.
Cheryl brings an equally impressive resume to the table. She’s been a student of guitar since the age of nine and later became a graduate of the prestigious Berklee School of Music. A three-time recipient of the prestigious Jim Weber Award accorded to the blues guitarist of the year, she claims extensive studio experience while citing such early influences as Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Tower of Power, and Burt Bacharach. In addition, she’s a Delaney Guitars-endorsed artist who has two signature models that were designed with her in mind.
The two met at a Blues Society event in 2014 and clicked immediately. A year later, they competed at the International Blues Competition in Memphis. Their first album, It Is Well With My Soul, was released in 2021. They then found themselves touring consistently, sharing stages with Tommy Castro and opening for such acts as Robert Cray, Mavis Staples, Ana Popovic, Samantha Fish, Shemekia Copeland, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Bernard Allison, Mike Zito, Albert Castiglia, and Jeremiah Johnson.
“The planets were all in line when Cheryl and I met,” Stevee insists. “It became obvious that we had to take this journey simply because it was meant to be. She and I are women of a certain age and aren’t quite ready to hang up our instruments…We still have a lot to say and we’re determined to say it in the here and now!”
That’s especially evident with their new album, the aptly titled Attitude. Recorded at Fat Rabbit Studies in New Jersey, it was produced by blues great Albert Castiglia and engineered by Grammy nominated Dave Gross. It also features an impressive array of special guests, with Castiglia contributing guitar, the great Tommy Castro guesting on “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing,” and multiple award-winning singer and guitarist Kevin Burt dueting on “Insane Asylum.” The other musicians include Michael Bram (formally of Jason Mraz’s band on drums), Matt Raymond on bass, Doug Woolverton on trumpet, Mark Earley on tenor saxophone, and Dave Gross on Hammond organ and percussion.
Not surprisingly then, the music comes across as both confident and credible, from the funk and stomp of the dynamic title track and the energized and assertive upbeat boogie of “Not Like You,” to the emphatic stance of “Crazy” and the easy stride and soulful feel that underscores “Dysfunction Funk.”
“My mother played piano and sang for the church as a teen,” Stevee recalls. “I wrote the song ‘Attitude’ in honor of my mother,” Stevee said. “She wanted me to take care of myself and love myself… and to be proud of where I came from, to be proud of who I am. And love the skin I’m in”
She said that “Crazy” came about during a very dark time in her life. “Fortunately, I am out of that darkness now and I’m living in the light.” She also lists “Insane Asylum,” her duet with Kevin Burt, as one of her favorite tracks on the album. “It’s a badass tune,” she insists.
“Attitude is a reflection of our growth as artists and writers,” Cheryl says proudly. “The music is spawned from many genres, including blues, rock, reggae, and soul, but at the same time, the arrangements reflect our own signature style and determined delivery. Our goal was to make music that would connect with a live audience while also conveying a definitive passion and purpose.”
Tommy Castro concurs. “Soulful Femme is a unique act,” he declared. “Cheryl’s guitar style compliments Stevee’s voice. The songs are well crafted and I’m a fan!”
“The reason I immediately knew that I wanted to pursue this musical adventure with Stevee became clear as soon as I heard her interpretation of the music we wanted to sing,” Cheryl says. “The first thing she shared was “I Pity The Fool,” a classic that’s been interpreted by both Shemekia Copeland and Robert Cray. I had never heard anyone with such a commanding presence like the one she put forth. She displayed a boldness, a unique ability and an inherent command of the material. That’s just pure Stevee, and that’s how I knew we needed to work together.”
“The importance of this partnership and what it means to me cannot be overstated, either personally or musically,” Stevee says. “As we began to perform with the band, it became clear that we were gleaning many of the same influences. That was reflected in our song selections. We wanted to more or less stretch the boundaries of the typical blues bands we favored. That led to our revamped arrangements of the Allman Brothers’ ‘Whipping Post’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On.’ We also wanted to share arrangements of one of our major heroes, Jimi Hendrix. So when we put the duo together, it gave us the opportunity to explore some different avenues. Along the way we became good friends as well.
Happily then, their efforts quickly paid off. Living Blues magazine noted “Wellons’ ethereally stirring vocals carry us to a different plane of existence, and Rinovato delivers exquisite guitar solos.” Likewise, Arts’ Garage declared, “Soulful Femme presents a one-of-a-kind show, playing a mixture of blues, soul and rock like you have never heard before!”