In era when representation is everything, it was an inspired move for the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, led by progressive conductor Janna Hymes to honor the music of “The Queen of Soul.” A joyous celebration, “Tribute to Aretha Franklin” was held Saturday at The Palladium at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
Not only did the CSO, numbering sixty-one accomplished musicians demonstrate their musical versatility, skillfully interpreting Franklin’s songbook with its rock, R & B and gospel influences, the concert was also above the ordinary due to the three wildly talented vocalists and sought after music director and pianist John Boswell who accompanied them. The trio, all of them with Broadway credits included Shaleah Adkisson, Tamika Lawrence and Melvin Tunstall III. Producer Scott Coulter and his company Spot-On Entertainment was responsible for the CSO’s special guests.
One of the most dynamic of CSO’s concerts I have witnessed, during my coverage of the past three seasons, the energy and showmanship of the vocalists, especially Lawrence who stood out, was infectious and the vocal power of all three was simply astonishing during a program that was filled with highlights, which were many. They included “Precious Lord,” “Chain of Fools,” “Baby Love You,” “Ain’t No Way and “Think.”
Two very special moments occurred when “Natural Woman” was performed, during which many females in the audience sang along. Another happened when Lawrence is shared her rendition of “Nessun Dorma,” from Puccini’s opera “Turandot,” Act III. The stuff of legends, Franklin sang the famous aria when she stood in at the last minute for an ailing Luciana Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammy Awards and brought the house down. Duplicating Franklin’s triumph, Lawrence did the same as many in the audience gave her a standing ovation following her moving performance.
The concert closed with the trio singing “Respect,” making for a rousing response from a normally staid CSO audience that was more diverse than previously seen at its concerts. Hopefully, the inclusive crowd’s animated reaction to civic rights activist Franklin’s music portends an increasing openness to more cultural awareness and tolerance.
For tickets and information about Carmel Symphony Orchestra’s’ 2023-2024 Season visit carmelsymphonyorchestra.org.