LeNard Rutledge, born and raised in Miami, where there is only a handful of truly great jazz vocalists, is usually compared, aptly, to the legendary Lou Rawls. Like Rawls, Rutledge's classy elegance is often permeated by the raw passion of his church choir work. In fact Rutledge still sings with the choir at the historic Saint Agnes Episcopal Church in Overtown. "I'm religious, but not very. I drop the F-bomb when necessary," he says. Rutledge began not as a vocalist but as a drummer, playing in the marching band at Miami Central Senior High, and later making his income during college, in North Carolina, playing at local clubs. He began his vocal career in 1997, when he was asked to join the famed Melton Mustafa Orchestra, whose bandleader, the amazing trumpet player Melton Mustafa, was a member of the Count Basie band for seven years. In 2002 Rutledge was introduced to the music director of Miami's Van Dyke Café, Don Wilner, who immediately recognized Rutledge's talent and began giving him regular spots. "Don Wilner has a reputation of being difficult," Rutledge says, "but that's just because he wants the absolute best. I feel honored to sing there, because it means I'm up to those standards." Rutledge also performs at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach and Emeril's Restaurant, and is working on his debut album, scheduled for release in June. For live performance dates, visit www.donwilner.com.