As an old school music man in a millennial body, I’ve become accustomed to losing my heroes left and right since I graduated from high school. Admittedly, I’ve found myself quite jaded by many of their deaths, but four in the past decade have rocked me to my core. Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince and Aretha Franklin. Although I preferred Patti and Gladys to the Queen, I still felt as though I’d lost a grandmother or great aunt (though, to be perfectly honest, the church boy in me found great joy in the #BringRethaBackChallenge that happened on Instagram as a result of her passing). Aretha’s catalog is filled with stirring hits spanning the highs and lows of R&B, jazz, gospel and soul. It’s safe to say there will never be another Aretha Louise Franklin. The voice that the world respected and loved would only be heard through her records.
That being said, when I read that The Carnegie was doing a tribute concert called “Queen of Soul: The Music of Aretha Franklin,” I was excited, but also a bit skeptical. Aretha’s music was all about feeling. I’d heard wonderful things about Tia Seay and had confidence in her after her portrayal of Effie White in “Dreamgirls” a year prior. However, to perform Aretha’s music properly, you need a solid band behind you. You need horns, background singers and a rhythm section that knows the concept of playing in the pocket. How would all of this be accomplished? Would they be able to pull it off or would the concert turn into a talent show?
I need not have worried.
As Seay sauntered on stage following her band last weekend, it was clear that the audience was going to be in for it. Without a word to the crowd, Tia began the show with four lesser known selections from Aretha’s catalog before taking us on a journey through many of the Queen’s standout hits. Backed by incredible background singers (LaCrea Burns, Barry Stiles, Karisma Hazel) and musicians known as The Royal Court, Tia led us down Soul Street with her renditions of “Respect,” “Think,” “I Never Loved a Man,” “Ain’t No Way,” “Chain of Fools” and more. Standout vocal moments included the lush background harmonies on “Day Dreaming” and Seay’s straight churchy take on “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” The band, led by G. Scott Jones, was also quite solid. I found myself particularly engaged by keyboardist Chris Marks, who played the songs as if he’d been present for the original recording sessions.
Tia’s charm, humor and authenticity were also on full display that night. From wardrobe malfunctions to fielding shouts from the crowd, Seay comically handled them all without missing a beat. After 90 minutes of music, Seay left the stage with the audience wanting more. Most of us stayed in the theater so long that Seay came back onstage. After chants and pleads from the crowd, she indulged us with an encore of “Respect” with her band, background singers and husband.
One of the most memorable parts of the evening took place took place offstage. As I looked around in the audience (on both floors, mind you), I witnessed people of all ages, races and physical abilities vocally enjoying themselves. It was yet another reminder of how the power of music brings us all together. There’s no doubt that the Queen’s catalog will continue to bring joy to the masses, and Tia Seay paid it the R-E-S-P-E-C-T it deserves.
Andre DuBois is the Engagement & Event Coordinator at ArtsWave. Outside of that, he is also a songwriter, producer, musician and protector of soul music and African-American culture.