Years ago, Lena Cole traveled to big cities like Chicago and New York to check out comedy shows and musical acts until one day she decided to bring the talent to Milwaukee.
"I was traveling almost every week and one day said ‘I can make it happen here,’" says Cole.
In 2009, Cole started two ongoing events, R&B Live and Funny First Sundays. She also runs her own management and event planning business, Above Average Entertainment.
R&B Live Milwaukee takes place every third Sunday at Wherehouse, 818 S. Water St. It premiered at Cuvee and later Suite Nightclub, but the event, which draws more than 100 people, eventually outgrew both spaces.
The next performance is Sunday, Jan. 18. Doors open at 7, the show starts at 8 and the cost is $10 in advance or $20 at the door.
R&B Live is a concept that originally premiered in New York and Los Angeles. Cole decided it might be a good fit for Milwaukee, and received permission to use the name. In other cities, R&B Live provides a live band with back-up singers and an open mic for lead singers. However, Cole auditions lead singers for the Milwaukee version of the event.
"People who can’t sing won’t usually get on stage in New York or L.A., but in Milwaukee, they will," she says.
The singers range in genre from rock to country to reggae which provides a twist to the R&B sound. Most of the singers are from Milwaukee, but Cole occasionally picks talent beyond Brew City.
They perform a cover song with the band – which includes guitarist Shonn Hinton – and two backup singers. After the third time a singer performs at an R&B Live event they are allowed to sing three original songs and sell merchandise.
"People are more willing to pay attention to original songs after they fall in love with a cover first," says Cole.
Cole also founded the urban comedy show Funny First Sundays at ComedySportz – the only stand-up show at ComedySportz, 420 S. 1st St. Chicago’s Damon Williams serves as the host.
The show takes place the first Sunday of every month and the next one is Sunday, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. The cost is $10 in advance or $20 at the door.
Cole was born in New York, moved to Indiana during her childhood and attended Robert Morris University in Chicago on a soccer scholarship. After graduating from college she went on a two-year tour with Vogue Magazine, working the first year as a model for live fashion shows around the country and the second year as a model supervisor who acted as a liaison between the models and management.
In 2003, she moved to Milwaukee to be closer to her family. She received an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University a couple of years later and during that time started her entertainment company. At first, she organized special events at clubs – the now-defunct Velvet Room and Tangerine – as well as private parties for members of the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucks, Marquette teams and more.
After she graduated, Cole tried working a 9-5 job but realized it wasn’t her thing and returned to run her business full time.
"I was given a lot of opportunities," she says. "One of the great things about Milwaukee business owners is many of them will give you a chance if you come to them with a good idea and willingness to work hard and make it happen. The majority of them were willing to take a chance and believe in me."
Cole, who also works as a stylist at KRS Hair Studio in Riverwest and manages the careers of two aspiring musicians, says she considers Milwaukee to be her home and she plans to stay here for awhile.
"Milwaukee has a lot to offer and my goal is to help the city reach its full potential," she says. "You can’t complain if you don't try to help make things better."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.