“Aretha’s life and her tenacity as a black woman in the music industry inspires me and proves that talent, perseverance and hard work pays off.”
This weekend, an epic musical event honouring the life and career of late soul, R&B, gospel, jazz and pop icon Aretha Franklin – ARETHA: A Love Letter To The Queen Of Soul – will debut at the Sydney Opera House. The life-spanning opus, directed and narrated by Jada Alberts (Wentworth, Cleverman) with musical direction from Joe Accaria (Velvet Rewired), will feature 32 songs from across Franklin’s labyrinthine catalogue.
According to a press release, ARETHA “will chart not only her music but the ups and downs of the Queen of Soul’s extraordinary career – from her early gospel roots and rise to fame, to her legendary hits and lasting impact on music.”
Bringing Franklin’s music to life will be a packed roster of Australian stars: Emma Donovan, Montaigne, Thandi Phoenix, THNDO and Ursula Yovich. They’ll perform back-to-back shows in Eora/Sydney over Saturday June 17 and Sunday 18, before taking ARETHA to Meanjin/Brisbane on Wednesday June 21 (taking over the QPAC Concert Hall), and finally Naarm/Melbourne on Sunday July 2 (for a show at Hamer Hall inside the Melbourne Arts Centre).
Speaking to TheMusic, Alberts said they found “so many things” about Franklin’s catalogue instrumental in making it “so unique” – but none as crucial as the late legend’s one-of-a-kind voice. Alberts explained: “Her voice has the ability to reach us so deeply, to shake up our souls and remind us to move, to dance, to feel and to feel big.”
As for what to expect from ARETHA, Alberts says we’ll be in for “two hours of Aretha's greatest songs, sung by some of this country’s greatest singers”. We should leave the event, they say, having “fall[en] in love with the Queen Of Soul all over again”.
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Montaigne notes that although they “didn’t grow up consciously hearing Aretha[’s music]”, they have “always been aware of her influence on the trajectory of modern music”. They said of Franklin’s enduring legacy. and how it rubs off on their own creative output: “You always hear Aretha on the radio, in cars and shops and in DJ sets. She’s pervasive as all great artists are, [and] I’ve been a sponge to her music in that way.
“I wouldn’t say my sound is generally soul- or gospel-influenced because I would say I have trouble getting in touch with my ‘soul’, but I appreciate Aretha as an artist who was pretty much raised on that goal. Getting to know the music and her voice better now through the show, the influence she’s having on me is definitely through her vocals. I’ve been practising improvisational singing with my vocal coach, and boy, that’s scary. I’m not good at it. Aretha improvised like water flows. It’s very cool to be impelled to practise that kind of singing, finally.”
Phoenix, too, said she’s long been inspired by Franklin’s “raw, heartfelt and empowering” music and message. She continued: “That's the same energy and spirit I hope to convey through my music. Aretha’s life and her tenacity as a black woman in the music industry inspires me and proves that talent, perseverance and hard work pays off.”
Phoenix went on to say that ARETHA will showcase “a whole lotta heart and soul”, describing the show’s cast as “a powerhouse ensemble of artists” whereby “each of us will bring our own unique take on Aretha’s music”. She added: “It’s going to be a night full of celebration, honouring Aretha and delving deeper into her life, her music and legacy.”
In that aforementioned press release, Ebony Bott (the head of contemporary performance at the Sydney Opera House) added to the sentiment: “The spirit and fire behind Aretha Franklin’s voice earned her many accolades over the years, from 18 Grammy awards, to more than 75 million records sold and even taking the crown as number one on Rolling Stone’s recent ‘Greatest Singers Of All Time’ [list].
“Her music connects so genuinely with audiences – we’ve all experienced heartbreak, longing, and love through her voice and lyrics. ARETHA promises to bring this together in an incredible evening of entertainment that pays homage to the icon, her extraordinary catalogue of songs and gets audiences on their feet.”