In 1993 when Darden Purcell started out as a business major at Virginia Tech, little did she know she would end up sharing the stage as a vocalist with jazz greats such as George Benson and Eric Alexander, touring internationally with the Airmen of Note, and singing backup for Chaka Khan.
Purcell will return to Virginia Tech on Friday, Feb. 26, for an evening with the Virginia Tech Jazz Ensemble. The concert will take place in the Squires Haymarket Theatre at 7:30 p.m.
The performance will feature some pieces arranged by her husband, guitarist Shawn Purcell: "Your Red Wagon," off her album, Easy Living; a Ray Charles tune "Hallelujah, I Love Her/Him So;" the Bobby Timmons tune "Moanin;" and George Gershwin's "Embraceable You," arranged by Grammy Award-winner, Chip McNeill, a former director of jazz at Virginia Tech.
After singing in one of the Virginia Tech choirs, her choral director, Kevin Fenton, encouraged her to audition for entry into the music program. She changed majors and pursued a degree in jazz vocal performance, singing with the New Virginians, directed by Lisanne Lyons, and Meistersingers during her student years. Jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, and Nancy Wilson were all influences on her singing style; in particular, she appreciates Peggy Lee with her "minimalist approach." Male singers such as Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, and Johnny Hartman were also vocal models and she absorbed the varying styles these singers had to offer.
Upon graduation from Virginia Tech, Purcell won a spot with High Flight, the premier show group of the United States Air Force Band, Washington D.C. In her fourth year with the Air Force, she had the privilege to tour with Airmen of Note, the premier jazz ensemble of the Air Force.
She is director of jazz studies at George Mason University, and has performed with the American Festival Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Tony Maiello, the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra, directed by Jim Caroll, and at the historic Blues Alley jazz club. “I've been really blessed with a lot of wonderful opportunity," she said.
Purcell is excited to be returning to Virginia Tech and working with the Jazz Ensemble and its director, Jason Crafton. Asked if she had any advice for students pursing a career in music, she said, "Just be prepared to work extremely hard — you have to have the passion, drive, and dedicated work ethic. It’s not an easy field. Be dedicated to the performing craft."
Tickets are $10 general/$7 student, and may be purchased through the Squires ticket office, or by calling 540-231-5615. Tickets will also be available at the box office beginning one hour prior to the performance.
Squires Haymarket Theatre is located in the Squires Student Center at 290 College Ave. on the campus of Virginia Tech. Free parking is available on weekends and after 5 p.m. weekdays in the Squires Lot, located at the corner of College Avenue and Otey Streets, in the Architecture Annex Lot on Otey Street, and the Perry Street/Prices Fork lots. Find more parking information online or call 540-231-3200. Alternative parking is available in the Kent Squire parking garage and the Farmers Market metered parking lot, both located on Draper Road. Additional downtown Blacksburg parking information can be found online.
If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please email Susan Sanders or call her at 540-231-5200 during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to the event.