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Propelling the Arts - Zandrina Dunning

The 2019 “Queen of Soul: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin” crowd-pleaser, featuring Black Diamond at Charleston Music Hall.

The ZD Experience
Producing musical extravaganzas and uplifting lives

Turn the radio up. I can’t get enough…. Wanna give it to the world. Can’t keep it all to myself….” On the TedxCharleston stage last spring, vocalist Zandrina Dunning sang of love and good vibes, drawing the audience into a rhythmic groove. The song, “Cascades,” which she cowrote with Stephen Washington, embodies her belief in the power of music to revive and connect. “In a world full of chaos and turmoil, it’s important to get back to love, and a tool that we use is music,” she explained into the mic.

Now, perched behind the sound board at Ohm Radio, where she works as program coordinator and host of the biweekly show The ZD Experience, the 41-year-old talks of the links between the Earth’s vibrations, musical energy, and personal well-being. “Vibrations in music have the ability to help release you from fear and help the healing process.” That conviction resonates with each measured career step this entrepreneurial impresario makes.

Every Tuesday and Thursday at noon, Dunning reaches out to Lowcountry listeners with her community-focused program. From Ohm’s studio tucked in The Refinery, she chats with wellness experts, musicians and singers, cancer survivors, business owners, and more. “I love hearing about my guests’ journeys and applying inspiration from their stories to my life,” says the host.

As a young girl, Dunning wanted to be a news anchor, but still remembers her mom beaming with pride after she took to the stage during a third-grade performance. “There was something about that interaction that stuck,” says Dunning, who began singing in the church choir. As a SC State University student, she “dibbled and dabbled a little” at the school radio station while earning a BA in music industry studies. Twenty years later, she’s found a balance between her anchorwoman dream and absolute love of performance, but her talents reverberate far beyond the 96.3 airwaves.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, as the term “essential workers” made headlines, Dunning reflected on the essential nature of live music. “We were on lockdown. The streets were bare. We needed some type of revitalization, and I knew music could provide that.” So in 2020, she and Washington launched the P.U.R.E. (Peace, Unity, and Revival through Entertainment) concert series at Forte Jazz Lounge, kicking off with “amazing drummer/vocalist extraordinaire” StaLaV. Their initial vision has since rippled into an annual showcase of intimate live performances held from November through March. “These artists are all positive, uplifting, and inspiring, not only in their music but also their dispositions,” notes Dunning. For its most recent season, the series moved into Fox Music House. Looking to season four, Dunning promises “growth” with a smile that hints at seriously amplified plans.

The vocalist regularly takes the spotlight as a solo performer, as a duo with Washington on keys, and alongside Charleston Jazz Orchestra. Last August, Dunning teamed up with Lindsay Holler and other lyrical ladies for “Women & Bond,” a tribute to iconic 007 soundtracks. “I chose some powerful songs by really powerful women,” says Dunning. In a bejeweled white gown, she crooned “Diamonds Are Forever” before changing into a fiery red dress for a fierce rendition of the GoldenEye theme. “The concert and event producer in me sometimes comes out when I’m performing,” she laughs. Under The ZD Experience umbrella, Dunning also curates full-scale tribute shows to the reigning divas of soul, including Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Gladys Knight.

The producer at Fox Music House, the new home of her P.U.R.E. concert series.

In February, the single mom staged a different sort of show, performing at the School of the Arts, where her daughter plays clarinet, as part of her school outreach program, Hall Pass. Launched last year at the urging of jazz drummer and Sedgefield Middle assistant principal David Patterson, the program invites professional musicians to perform for and interact with middle and high schoolers. This half-hour “escape from their day-to-day” aims to build confidence and inspire positivity.

After the group’s first session, Patterson shared with Dunning the story of a seventh grader who was being bullied and had been contemplating suicide. “I remembered her commenting that we’d played her favorite song, Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds.’ That song at that time had the power to save her,” says Dunning. “As creatives, we have something special,” reflects the vocalist, “and that’s the ability to change lives.” —Lauren B. Johnson

Up Next!

May 26: “Love Is”
Featuring Zandrina Dunning
Friday, 7-9 p.m. & 9:30-11:30 p.m. 
$25, $30 (premium), $40 (VIP)
Forte Jazz Lounge, 477 King St. 

May 31: “Summertime Jazz” dinner show featuring Dunning
Wednesday, 7:30-9 p.m. $65
New Realm Brewing, 
880 Island Park Dr.



Photographs by (portrait) Alice Keeney & (concert) Everett Zuraw