Naturally 7 are natural singing sensations 

Roger Thomas has been with Naturally 7 for a decade, but he still gets a kick from the reactions of people hearing the group for the first time.

“They’re shocked,” he says. “They think the band is behind the curtain, and it usually takes them one or two songs to figure out what’s going on.”

There is no band behind this seven-piece vocal ensemble — or, to be precise, the singers are the band.

With their phenomenally flexible voices, the group creates a full range of instrumental sound, including bass, drums, guitars, horns and synthesizers.

It’s all a cappella, although Thomas calls their style “vocal play.” 

“A cappella is vocals without instruments,” he explains. “Vocal play is when you sound like instruments.”

Audiences are getting the distinction — and loving it.

In recent years, Naturally 7 has earned an enthusiastic following, one that draws on fans of jazz, hip-hop, pop and rhythm and blues. The group is featured on Quincy Jones’ forthcoming CD, and has just finished an international tour with singer Michael Bublé.

According to Thomas, he and his fellow singers perform over 200 dates a year, in venues large and small — on the day we spoke, they were opening for Bublé in a 12,000-seat stadium in Paris. Bay Area audiences can hear them at Yoshi’s in The City on Wednesday.

Thomas, 35, traces the group’s roots to his childhood in New York . He and his brother, Warren, grew up in the Bronx, and started singing in church. 

They developed an ear for harmony, and went on to sing contemporary music — “I used to rap, and he used to beat-box,” he says — before forming Naturally 7 with five friends.

The repertoire is an eclectic mix. Their new album, due out later this month, features songs composed by the group. 

But Thomas, the music director and principal arranger, says that nothing is off limits: Their biggest YouTube hit is a cover of Phil Collins’ pop anthem “In the Air Tonight.”

He adds, “We like to do things people wouldn’t expect — take a song everybody knows and put our own spin on it.”

If sold-out concerts are an indication that the group is doing it right, Thomas says the endorsement from Jones was a dream come true.  “It was mind-boggling to have someone of Quincy Jones’ stature notice us,” he recalls. “We did a song at his 75th birthday party, and afterward he came up and said ‘I don’t know who the heck you guys are, but I love you.’ Ever since then, he’s been a good friend.”

For Thomas, the group’s goals are to expand boundaries — and defy expectations. “We try to take vocal music where people have never heard it before,” he says. “We want them to enjoy the music, and experience the performance as if it is a real band.”


If You go

Naturally 7

Where: Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Wednesday

Tickets: $15 to $25

Contact: (415) 655-5600; www.yoshis.com

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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