It is widely known that early exposure and encouragement in the arts help develop a child’s creativity, cognitive development, and social and emotional skills. In addition, it often spills into their academic achievements, and in some cases, it can be the formative learning that shapes a child’s future life.
For three women from completely different backgrounds and geographical locations, it was this early exposure and encouragement in the performing arts that would later lead to the most iconic singing trio in Bainbridge Island history.
Ginni Hawkins was born in California and lived all around the West Coast and Hawaii while her father served in the U.S. Navy. At the age of four, she performed a song and tap-dance to “I love You a Bushel and a Peck,” which was recorded and sent to her father on the Navy ship he was serving on. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from Oregon’s Willamette University. She put the degree to good use when she moved to Bainbridge Island in 1970 to do a show for Bainbridge Light Opera (now Bainbridge Performing Arts). She continued her love of theater, doing a few more musical productions before moving on to the pop music arena. From there, she played piano and sang with other musicians at various venues. That’s how she met her husband, drummer Rick Blumenthal and singers Kaetche Miller and Dianne Brown Trani. A harmonious connection was born among the three singers, leading to the creation of the Fabulous Fenderskirts.
For Seattle native Dianne Brown Trani, it was the influence of her mother, a classical pianist and educator, that shaped her early musical interests. As a young child, she was a student at the Cornish College of the Arts, and later, while attending Garfield High School, choir and drama classes enhanced her love of the performing arts, leading to involvement in small theater performances and as an extra for the first season of the Seattle Repertory Theater. She went on to pursue a degree at the University of Washington School of Art. In 1971, she moved to Bainbridge Island, and within two years, joined her first island band, the Pyramid, and later formed another group, called the Island. The music scene on Bainbridge was a close-knit community that eventually connected her with the two women who would become her musical partners for years to come.
In a small town in the Allegheny Valley, 25 miles outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kaetche Miller (née Facemeyer) Miller performed in her first musical duet at New Ken Elementary. In high school, Kaetche’s first class of the day was choir, which not only enhanced her musical talents, but because it was her favorite class of the day, it got her to school on time. She went on to perform a baton twirling/dance at her high school homecoming in 1963. In college, she appeared in several musicals, including “Oklahoma,” “Bells Are Ringing,” and “On a Clear Day.” After graduating, she taught Phys Ed for seven years before moving to Bainbridge Island in 1975. She wanted to continue teaching, but was unable to secure a position. Instead, she took a job as a waitress at Wing Point Country Club. During her time at Wing Point, she befriended many local islanders, most importantly, Ginni and Dianne. Her friendship with the Fenderskirts led her to meet the love of her life, John Miller, in 1983, and they married in 1987. Both Dianne and Ginni sang at their wedding. John sadly passed away of cancer less than two months ago.
The trio began performing with an established country band, Willy and the Tailgaters (led by Scott Taylor and local potter Bill Clark). As the women’s popularity grew, they formed the Fabulous Fenderskirts with a back-up band of their own.
This vivacious threesome could be heard across the island at long-gone venues like The Lemon Tree (now Isla Bonita), the Martinique, which was located on the corner of Winslow Way and Erickson (across from Amelia Wynn restaurant), Marshalls, which occupied a cinder block building on the south side of the Village Mall (now known as Island Village) and Mac’s Tavern (now Doc’s Marina Grill). They also frequently performed at the annual Firemen’s Ball—initially held at the Timber Lodge, which was part of the former recreation facility for the Fort Ward military post—and later held at the Storefront Theater, then located in the Village Mall where Starbuck’s now resides. They were also the first entertainers to perform live (and returned many times) at the annual 3rd of July Street Fair and Dance (part of the annual Grand Old 4th celebration).
The harmonizing trio specialized in dance music from the 40s through the ‘70s and genres such as Motown, pop, rhythm and blues, and even Hit Parade (and later, music from the ‘80s and ‘90s). However, their popularity didn’t remain local for long. Soon they were traversing the Sound, playing at venues in Seattle, Greenwood, Ballard, Port Townsend and many other locations throughout the Seattle and Kitsap communities. As their popularity spread, they played at private parties, weddings, corporate events and for non-profit fundraisers such as Benaroya Hall Symphony in Seattle and Arts & Humanities Bainbridge.
In 2016, this legendary trio played their farewell show at the Filipino American Community Hall on Bainbridge Island. Long-time islander and fan, Steve Stolee, was there to film it all.
Steve’s passion and profession as a producer, director, writer and performer for independent films and theatrical productions have been an asset to Bainbridge Island for more than 40 years. His cultural contributions to our community include co-founding Island Theatre and the theatre’s annual Ten-Minute Play Festival. He has created several visual histories and documentaries and received the Island Treasure Award in 2019.
This past October, at the Historic Lynwood Theater, Steve’s documentary, “A Date with the Fenderskirts,” debuted, and I was honored to be in attendance. The documentary was a magical look into the lives and journey of the Fenderskirts, featuring interviews of the trio and filmed interviews with those who attended their last performance. It took a great deal of creativity to put the film together because there wasn’t any footage of the trio’s musical adventures prior to the 2016 show. Steve relied on photographs and Zoom interviews to create a montage of the events leading up to the Fenderskirts final performance. As he told me, “It’s a celebration of these three wonderful women that so aptly represent our island’s cultural heritage.”
Following the premiere of “A Date with the Fenderskirts,” the audience was treated to a humorous and harmonious Q&A session with Ginni, Dianne, Kaetche and Steve. Kaetche, who is definitely the comedian of the trio, brought out her pitch pipe and the ladies sang bits of “Don’t Fence Me In” (Cole Porter and Robert Fletcher), which she said was one of their “country and restroom songs” from their days with Willy and the Tailgaters. They also regaled the audience with anecdotes from their musical days. The audience, many of whom were avid followers of the Fenderskirts, included band members Mike Edwards and Rick Blumenthal. The attendees raucously participated in the session, adding their own memories and anecdotes.
In addition, we were treated to mini performances of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (The Andrews Sisters), “I met Him On a Sunday” (The Shirelles) and “That’ll Be The Day” (Linda Ronstadt). The ladies ended the evening with a beautiful version of “Sincerely” (The McGuire Sisters).
This fantastic documentary wouldn’t have been possible without Arts & Humanities Bainbridge (AHB). Their commitment to the island’s creative community through student programs, collaboration with local artists, scholarships and grants is unprecedented. It was the Individual Artist Grant from Arts & Humanities Bainbridge in 2019 that allowed Steve to convert the rough cuts into a documentary to memorialize these island treasures.
All proceeds from the film debut were donated to AHB to allow them to continue their work enhancing our artistic community. If you missed the show, don’t fret, you can stream the film and the Q&A (for a small donation to AHB). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
This article was originally published on AHB Currents Online on November 23, 2021: https://www.bainbridgecurrents.com/stories/cinema/island-wanderings-the-fabulous-fenderskirts-how-three-women-became-the-islands-most-iconic-musical-trio/