Aretha: A Love Letter To The Queen Of Soul (Matinee Session)
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Aretha: A Love Letter To The Queen Of Soul (Matinee Session)

Words by Kaya Martin

That voice – it has an almost supernatural quality to it, an undeniable and enduring power that has impacted generations of listeners.

It’s no wonder they call her the Queen of Soul. But Aretha Franklin is more than just a once-in-a-century talent – the story of her life is inseparable from her music.

Aretha: A Love Letter To The Queen Of Soul seeks to shed light on that story. Narrated and directed by the ever-talented Jada Alberts, the live show celebrates the music, life and legacy of the legendary artist.

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As paying tribute to such an icon is no easy job, Jada has pulled together an all-star cast of some of Australia’s most renowned vocalists including Emma Donovan, Thandi Phoenix, Montaigne, Thndo and Ursula Yovich. They’ll be accompanied by a nine-piece band directed by Joe Accaria.

“Oh, there’s some powerful voices!” says Thandi Phoenix. “You can expect nothing less when celebrating Aretha, you know? You have to bring in the big guns.”

The Eora-based dance pop singer-songwriter says her love for Aretha has only deepened since being brought on to the project.

“Obviously she was one of the greatest of all time so I was across her work, I had her CDs growing up,” she says.

“When I landed this, I had to do an even deeper dive into her discography, like – wow. She’s just had so many songs. She’s such an inspirational person, not just an inspirational singer, but just her journey and the strength that she continued to show in the face of adversity and setbacks.”

After recently branching out on her own as an independent artist, Thandi has a newfound admiration for Aretha’s courage to stand up for herself and what she believed in.

“Looking at her journey just as a woman in the industry and especially at the time when she was doing it – civil rights movement, women’s movement – she was an incredible advocate for those issues as well. She really had to push on the social side and try to fight injustice as well as being this monster singer.”

A hybrid of concert and memoir, the show takes audiences through Aretha’s life, from singing in her father’s gospel choir to becoming one of the most widely adored vocalists of all time. Rather than attempting to recreate what made Aretha special, it offers its own original take featuring creative vocal arrangements and deep cuts from the artist’s discography.

“We’re not trying to be Aretha, we’re not playing a part and dressing up like her. We’re just being ourselves as our own individual artists,” Thandi says.

“I mean, come on, who is doing Aretha like Aretha? There is only one Aretha. But we will do our humble, humble best.”

Every member of the vocal team is an impressive artist in their own right. Thandi had met a few of her collaborators before – she’d done a session with Montaigne and performed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games closing ceremony with Emma Donovan – but she says the first time the whole team came together in person, it just felt right.

“There was just no ego, so much love, and everyone who’s involved just has a real respect for Aretha. Ha, not meaning to throw that one in there.”

“It’s going to be a really incredibly powerful evening of song and celebration and spirit because everyone who’s involved in the project has a really beautiful heart and soul, and that’s what Aretha did – she had heart and soul and she was so genuine and authentic with everything she expressed and delivered.”

Aretha: A Love Letter To The Queen Of Soul will travel to Sydney and Brisbane before finishing up at Hamer Hall on July 2. It’ll be the same week Thandi celebrates the release of Rebirth – her first EP since going independent. She’s looking forward to stepping into the exciting new phase of her career.

“For me, with music, it’s instinctual – it’s your energy, your essence, and your spirit. Her songs, you just feel that power in them.”

Aretha: A Love Letter To The Queen Of Soul will be performed at Hamer Hall on July 2. Tickets available here.

This article was made in partnership with Rix Management.