Musicians dazzle with Aretha Franklin tribute at Jorgensen

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Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is loved for that very reason. Her expressive vocals combined with beautiful piano melodies propelled her to global fame. Her background in gospel made her music that much more soulful. 

Damien Sneed, a multi-instrumentalist composer and songwriter, paid homage to the Queen of Soul through his wonderfully produced “Tribute to Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul.” The show took place on Sunday, Feb. 20 at the Jorgensen Center for Performing Arts.  

Sneed performed with Valerie Simpson, half of the iconic duo Ashford and Simpson. They wrote songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Every Woman.” They are also in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  

Sneed opened the show with “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me,” a 1987 duet between Franklin and George Michael. Right off the bat, Ronald Alexander’s funky bass tone got the audience clapping and grooving. After the third song, people were up and moving. Props to Sneed for keeping that energy rolling through the majority of their performance.  

Other songs in the repertoire included “Rocksteady” and “Pink Cadillac.” The backup singers were very much in-tune with the band, playing off the melodies and Sneed’s vocals. The auditorium was well-suited for their sound, and it was never too loud.  

Throughout the show, Sneed provided the audience emotional anecdotes about performing music. 

“It’s okay to show emotion,” Sneed said. “As a musician, we should always bear our souls and testify. The thing about gospel music is that it allows for us to bear our souls and handle everything that life sends us.” 

Sneed also played mini-mashups of songs from Franklin’s discography. It was difficult to tell exactly what they were, but it was awesome nonetheless. 

After a calm interlude by Sneed, in which he soloed the piano and sang, one of the singers was placed front and center. She sang Nessun Dorma, which Franklin covered at the 40th Grammy Awards after famous opera singer Luciano Pavarotti called in sick. The singer at the tribute did an admirable job emulating Franklin’s fusion of soul and opera. 

Finally, Simpson got on stage, performing three songs. Among them were “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.”  

Sneed has a rich history touring with soul, jazz and R&B musicians, including Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross. He also has taught African American music history at the Manhattan School of Music and is the founder of Chorale Le Chateau, a musical group that reinterprets a wide variety of pieces. According to the MayoArts, the vocalists on-stage were Markita Knight, Chenee Campbell, Anitra Raquel McKinney and Alicia Peters-Jordan. Gabriel Carter was on keys, Alfred Rutherford on organ and Nathaniel Townsend on drums.  

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