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Moore By Four performed onstage for Minnesota's Jazz Fest Live. Video run time is 1 hour 4 minutes. Pictured from left to right: Sanford Moore, Ashley Commodore, Dennis Spears, Ginger Commodore, Connie Evingson.


Getting to Know Ginger Commodore and Moore By Four

Vocalist for longstanding jazz group is finding more reasons to croon in 2022

The impeccably stylish, soulful and dazzling vocal jazz group Moore By Four has been delighting audiences for 35 years now. They’ve toured Europe, Asia and the United States, performed with Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie and B.B. King, and sung for dignitaries and every Minnesota professional sports team.

Not only is Moore By Four a showstopping live act, hailed for creative reinterpretations of popular classics and hypnotic, complex four-part harmonies, but each member is a powerhouse in his or her own right on the Twin Cities music and theater scenes.

One of the vocalists who has been with Moore By Four since the very beginning is Ginger Commodore, who has also performed as part of the Grammy-winning gospel troupe Sounds of Blackness, in countless stage productions at Penumbra Theatre and Mixed Blood Theatre, and with the Minnesota Opera.

Although all the members of Moore By Four could easily keep busy doing their own thing, they thankfully came back for a one-off reunion in 2018 that has now evolved into regular performances together. Following the loss of longtime member Yolande Bruce to leukemia in March 2021, Commodore tapped her daughter, Ashley Commodore, to join the reunited Moore By Four alongside Dennis Spears, Connie Evingson and the group’s pianist and composer, Sanford Moore.

About Jazz Fest Live

The Jazz Fest Live series is presented by the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and AARP Minnesota. See our related story to find out more about Minnesota's Jazz Fest Live, learn about area performers, and listen to a Spotify playlist of jazz staples curated by series co-founder Steve Heckler.

As part of the Members Only Access series highlighting Minnesota jazz acts you should know, Commodore joined Minneapolis journalist Andrea Swensson for an exclusive interview with AARP.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


When Moore By Four formed back in 1986, did you ever imagine that the group would still be playing together in 2021, doing virtual events that are livestreamed?

Well, honestly, we were kind of like a phenomenon, because we first got together for a one-time show. And then it just snowballed from there — show after show, every weekend. I feel like I was just so into what we were doing that I really didn’t give a lot of thought as to, well, how long is this going to last? We just rode it. And I think we got lucky.

What was that first show?

The owner of Ruby’s Cabaret [Mary Kelley Leer] had approached Sanford [Moore] to put together a group for a one-night event they were having. We had never worked together musically. So he pulled the four of us — me, Dennis Spears, Jevetta Steele and Sally Dworsky. That was the beginning four. And it went over so well, she was, like, well can you do it next weekend, too? And then it was, well, can you do it next weekend? And we did that for a very long time. We changed shows each weekend. So Sanford would give us new material on Wednesday, we’d rehearse it Thursday and perform it on that same weekend. We did that for a very long time. So there really wasn’t, you know, where’s this going to go? We didn’t have time for that.

It’s even more incredible, then, to think about just how many highlights you had as a group, as things kept snowballing. You eventually performed at the Super Bowl, and did I see you performed for the Clintons?

Yes, the Super Bowl. And the event for Bill — listen to me, “Bill.”

Oh, Bill.

[Laughs.] For Mr. Clinton. Yeah, we were scrambling at the last minute because he had said he wanted to play saxophone with us. And so at the last minute, our horn player, Kathy Jensen, ran home, got one of her horns, came back to the venue and had it there for him. But there just wasn’t time because he was on the tightest schedule. So he didn’t get a chance. He was not happy about that. But yeah, we’ve had lots of highlights.

Are there some other big moments that come to mind when you look back at the 35 years you’ve now been a group?

Oh, gosh. There were many travel opportunities: to Finland, to Italy, to Portugal, you know, all over the United States. We sang at events for the ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.  

Thinking about your career in particular, you’ve been in several groups that could be described as “supergroups” — Women Who Cook, Moore By Four, Sounds of Blackness. There must be something uniquely powerful about performing in these groups where any one person would be capable of commanding the stage alone, but then you’re all coming together to collaborate.

And I think that’s what makes those particular groups unique to the art form. Gary [Hines, Sounds of Blackness founder and director] was very instrumental in my beginnings, with regards to ensemble singing. I’m classically trained, and when I joined Sounds of Blackness, it was a whole different thing. However, if I didn’t have that background studying opera and classical music, I think I probably would have struggled. Because of my training, I get why breathing is so important. And I understand how to change registers. And I know how to emote.

It’s been a tough time for Moore By Four, having lost your longtime vocalist Yolanda Bruce last year. Could you share a memory of her and her contributions to this group?

The group took on many different forms; we had several turnovers. Yolanda came in when I was pregnant with my second child and needed to be away from the group. She took over my spot. Then when I came back, she moved to alto — so we had me and Yolanda, and then Connie came in, singing tenor, and then we had Dennis as the baritone. We all clicked together. And that was our longest combination of singers. She was a very strong part of the reason why we’ve stayed together as long as we have.

Now you have your daughter, Ashley, singing in the group with you. What has it been like for you to add a family member to Moore By Four?

It’s awesome on many levels. From the time she was 2 or 3 years old, Ashley was always around the group. When we went to rehearsal, I had to make copies of my music for her, even when she was 3 or 4. And she learned the songs just by sitting there listening. When we did programs at Orchestra Hall and we had a choreographer, she learned all of the steps, and she could tell you, “Mom, you move over there.” And honestly, I did not know until she joined Moore By Four that it had been a dream for her. Because she never really expressed it like that, until she became a member. And she said, “I just have to tell you that this is like a dream come true.” So it is awesome to see her and work with her.

Was she the baby that you were pregnant with when Yolanda came aboard?

Yep, yep.

Amazing. I was really struck by your performance of “There Will Never Be Another You,” which was dedicated to Yolanda. It was so moving, and I love that each vocalist got a chance to really shine.

And that’s one of the things, as an artist, I always like to point out: In this group, not only are we ensemble singers, but we get an opportunity for step-outs. It’s a unique position. Because most groups, you either all sing ensemble or you’re all doing individual work. Rarely is it combined. So we’ve been lucky in that respect, and I always like to give credit to that process.

As I was reading some of Moore By Four’s reviews from over the years, I really appreciated that almost every time you’re written about, the writer also comments on how well dressed you are.

We laugh at that, because we have gone to great pains to present ourselves as a group in a particular light. Oh my goodness, I’m telling you, the things we have worn. I mean, we’ve traveled to different cities together to try to find clothes. We’ve ordered, we’ve shopped. Dayton’s was our home store. If we needed something, that would be our first stop.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about Moore By Four?

Of course COVID put a damper on our comeback. But we are coming back. And Ashley tours with a national R&B group, called Stokley and the Vu. She’s one of the singers, and my son [Brandon] is their drummer. So they’re usually out on the weekends, doing shows. We’re all working.

A musical family.

Absolutely. And it wasn’t coerced. [Laughs.] They fell into it themselves. So it’s all good.


Andrea Swensson is a music journalist in Minneapolis. She is the host of the Official Prince Podcast and the author of Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound. Swensson has written for Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, City Pages, the Star Tribune, Pitchfork, Artful Living and Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Getting to Know: Minnesota’s Jazz Fest Live Performers

Members Only Access is featuring exclusive interviews with four acts from Jazz Fest Live, along with videos of their performances. Check out the others:

Getting to Know: Maud Hixson

Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Maud Hixson is the cofounder of the continental jazz sextet French 75 with clarinetist Tony Balluff. Hixson’s style is cool and light, and she favors classic jazz standards from the Great American Songbook.

Getting to Know: Charmin Michelle

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Charmin Michelle moved to Minnesota while still a child and has called it home ever since. Michelle has a conversational style reminiscent of Billie Holiday and other legendary women of jazz.

Getting to Know: Salsa del Soul

Salsa del Soul is a nine-piece orchestra performing various styles of dance music from the Spanish-speaking regions of the Caribbean, including son, son montuno, plena, cha-cha-cha, bachata, timba and salsa.


These Jazz Fest Live videos are part of AARP’s Virtual Community Center, where you can find a variety of free virtual events designed for self-learning, self-improvement and fun. 

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