Aretha Franklin has long been recognized as one of America’s greatest vocalists, with a hit-making, award-winning career that spanned the mid-1950s to her death in August 2018. Her musical legacy will be honored in “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: A Celebration of the Legendary Queen of Soul,” slated Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24 and 25 at the Victoria Theatre.
“It’s crazy how much Aretha influenced music, even today,” singer Chela Faulkner said. “Nobody taught her how to write or play instruments. She had to learn on her own. She didn’t have people to look up to who could show her how they put it together. It was just a gift from God and if you listen to her catalog, you see how she influenced our culture. She influenced Black culture. She influenced pop culture and just so much more.”
Dramatic musical journey
Presented by Dayton Live, “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” is unique because the program features four designated hosts. They not only perform classic songs popularized by the beloved singer but also present details on her life and work.
“It’s classified as a dramatic tribute concert, so we have dialogue in between,” said Faulkner, who is Host 4. “You learn little nuggets, facts and history that surrounds Aretha, even who she was touring with at that time. There are four hosts. We all play an important part. Some have solos and (there are) times where we’re together and have choreography. It’s not just one singer and a band so it’s really dope.”
The other featured artists are YahZarah (Host 1), Meghan Dawson (Host 2) and Terrell Foster-James (Host 3).
“We’re hosting this show and we’re taking you on this journey,” Faulkner said. “The main act is Aretha and her legacy that she left. We’re trying to embody that spirit, and because she meant something different to everyone, we each bring a different perspective. We have different insights. We’re able to deliver her music with four different points of view of how this message is to be delivered and how we carry on her legacy.”
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The inner diva
“R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” started in Australia and was revamped for an American audience by director Christina Sajous in 2022.
“Our director, Christina, challenged us to find the Aretha inside of us,” Faulkner said. “She said, ‘Do your research and find out what she means to you. Who is Aretha to you?’ To me, she’s a diva, of course. That’s the spirit I try to embody. But she was also a mom. She went through her struggles, and someone may be able to identify with that part of her. At the end of the night, we hope you all can find the Aretha in you.”
Tapping into the spirit of the late superstar wasn’t difficult for the classically-trained Faulkner. Like Franklin, she started singing in the church as a child.
“I was singing for the Lord at age 4,” she said. “That’s what they tell me, but I don’t remember. I do remember singing my first solo at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Monroe, North Carolina. Singing in church is the foundation of my life. Church singing is filled with feeling and emotion. You can feel where we come from and that’s what prepared me for this particular role. Aretha started in the church but then she used that training and did disco and pop. You’re like, ‘What is that? What is that little twang and what’s so special about it?’ It’s the church.”
Queen of Soul
Franklin, who passed away in 2018 at age 76 having battled pancreatic cancer, was one of the most successful female vocalists of the 20th century. She placed 100 singles on the Billboard R&B chart, including 20 No. 1 hits. She won 18 Grammy Awards and numerous other accolades.
In 1987, Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was selected in the top spot of Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” in 2010. She held onto that position when the publication issued its updated list of the “200 Greatest Singers of All Time” in 2022.
“It’s no easy feat to sing her songs,” Faulkner said. “She really was a vocal powerhouse, and she poured her heart, her life and everything into the music. That’s why we’re still talking about Aretha and why we’re still singing her songs. Her legacy as one of the greatest singers of all time is still very much alive. We want to keep this conversation going and honor her to the best of our ability.”
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
A dream tour
Faulkner, who studied classical voice performance at Elizabeth City State University, is experiencing her first national tour. She is pleased to be a part of such a large-scale production.
“I’ve always dabbled in music,” she said. “I’ve done commercials and small TV shows here and there but this is my first time being part of a production this big. I’m getting to know the ins and outs of the business, meeting these other great voices and feeling the crowd’s energy every night. This is also my first time being away from home, so it has been an amazing experience. I’m a country girl so I’ve predominantly been in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. To go on a national tour has been great.”
Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO GO
What: Dayton Live presents “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: A Celebration of the Legendary Queen of Soul”
Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton
When: Friday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
More info: 937-228-3630 or www.daytonlive.org
Artist info: www.respectontour.com
Aretha Franklin: Inside the Queen of Soul
The early days: Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee but relocated to Detroit with her family by the age of 5. She got her start singing in the church of her preacher-father when she was 10 and was soon performing on his gospel caravan tours. She started releasing gospel recording before she was a teenager and then made the move to secular music in 1960 when she was 18. She spent six years with Columbia Records, released nine albums of jazz standards and had several hits. However, her fortunes changed after she moved to Atlantic Records in 1966. The following year, Franklin released her breakthrough album, “I Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You.” It featured now-iconic tracks like “Respect,” “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”
R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: Franklin was not only a powerhouse vocalist but a great song stylist who put her indelible stamp on countless covers. One prime example is “Respect,” which had been recorded two years earlier by Otis Redding. In February 1967, Franklin entered Atlantic Studios in New York City with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, her sister Carolyn and producer Tom Dowd. The idea was to radically change the song. They added a saxophone break, but the big alteration and part of the magic was the spelling out of the song’s title and Carolyn’s dynamic backing vocals. Redding’s much simpler version reached No. 35 on the radio charts, while Franklin’s reimagined version hit No. 1 on the pop charts that June.
Hit machine: While Franklin managed three Top 10 R&B hits during her tenure with Columbia Records, she truly began to establish herself as the Queen of Soul after Jerry Wexler signed her to Atlantic Records in 1966. Her first single for the label, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” was released the following year. It was her first No. 1 R&B hit and first song to hit the Top 10 on the pop chart. While there were some fallow periods, Franklin remained a fixture on the radio. She placed 100 singles on the R&B chart, including 20 No. 1 hits. Her last hit was a cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” which stalled at 47 on the R&B chart but was No. 1 on the dance chart.
Screen time: With a globally recognized moniker like the Queen of Soul, Franklin’s vocal prowess is undeniable. However, she also had opportunities to stretch herself creatively with some acting roles. She appeared as Mrs. Murphy in the original “Blues Brothers” film in 1980 and “Blues Brothers 2000″ in 1998. Her first foray into acting was in 1972 when she had a guest spot on “Room 222.” The James L. Brooks series was set in the fictional Walt Whitman High School and ran for five seasons on ABC. In 1991 Franklin appeared as herself in an episode of the hit CBS sitcom “Murphy Brown.” She also had an opportunity for some voice work as Homebuilt Computer in the 1997 animated film, “The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue.”
More screen time: If you want to find out more about the famed singer, there are several recent projects about her life. Jennifer Hudson portrayed Franklin in the 2021 feature film, “Respect,” the directorial debut of Liesl Tommy. The cast included Forest Whitaker, Audra McDonald, Marlon Wayans, Mary J. Blige and Marc Maron. That same year, Franklin was the focus of the third season of National Geographic’s “Genius,” an eight-episode miniseries featuring Cynthia Erivo in the title role. If you want to see Franklin herself in her prime, check out the concert film, “Amazing Grace.” The footage was shot in 1972 but was shelved until the film’s release in 2018.
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