Recap: Songs of Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and more rock the hall with Grand Rapids Symphony's 'Queens of Soul'

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

Detroit’s own Aretha Franklin, whom Rolling Stone magazine dubbed the “Greatest Singer of All Time,” truly was the “Queen of Soul.” An evening of her music would satisfy most people.

But add songs by Tina Turner, Adele, Alicia Keys and Amy Winehouse into a show, and you really have something. You might say it’s a show fit for a queen.

Grand Rapids Symphony opened its 2019-20 Fox Motors Pops Series with Queens of Soul an amazing evening of great songs by all of the above plus Etta James, Whitney Houston and more.

Guest vocalist Shayna Steele summed it up simply: “This is the soundtrack of my life.”

Three great singers, all capable of being either Gladys Knight or the Pips, were on stage for along with Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and the Grand Rapids Pops.

“Queens of Soul” repeats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, in DeVos Performance Hall. Tickets start at $18 adults, $5 students.

GR Symphony 'Queens of Soul'

Three fabulous singers – Shayna Steele, Brie Cassil and Kelly Levesque – joined the Grand Rapids Symphony for the evening of songs including “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “New Attitude” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

The show began with all three taking on the lead vocals for “Proud Mary.” In the best Tina Turner fashion, it started slow and ended rough, and left the audience hungry for more.

The dynamic Shayna Steele returned for her third appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony. She made her debut at the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops with Women Rock! in 2017 and returned to Cannonsburg Ski Area this past summer with Dancing in the Streets: Music of Motown, She’s welcome back any time.

Shayna Steele's powerful voice and strong stage presence lit up the auditorium with songs made famous by Aretha Franklin including a ringing version of “Respect” and a driving performance of “Freeway of Love” that had the house screaming for more. Her old-school interpretation of Etta James’ “At Last” was honest and heartfelt, and she had the audience clapping along on Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way.”

Kelly Levesque  blessed with a dark voice and a dramatic stage presence, belted out a powerful version of songs such as “Rolling in the Deep,” made famous by Adele and an exciting performance of Alicia Keys’ “Fallin.’” Even better was when she channeled the late, great Amy Winehouse with classics such as a tender interpretation of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and a sultry swing through the Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.”

Brie Cassil, a sassy singer, delivered a bright and bouncy version of Patti LaBelle’s “New Attitude,” an exciting rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.” Her flirty performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” was memorable, and her version of Adele’s “Hello” packed an emotional wallop.

Saxophonist Ed Clifford was the fourth star of the night, contributing several great solos including a wicked solo on “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

The show began with all three taking on the lead vocals for “Proud Mary.” In the best Tina Turner fashion, it started slow, it ended rough, and it left the audience hungry for more.

It ended with all three once again sharing leads for “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”

“I hope you’re having as much fun as we are up here,” Bernhardt told the audience on Friday. “We’re having a blast.”

There never was a doubt. The audience was having a blast, too.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 11:00 AM
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