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Aretha Franklin tribute soars, even without her

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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The Tribute to Aretha Franklin on Friday night, June 9, at the Music Hall Center showed that the Queen of Soul need not be present to get her deserved due.

Franklin had been advertised as one of the two-hour salute’s participants, slated to sing the final song of the night. She opened out earlier in the day, ostensibly so she’d be in top form for her Detroit Music Weekend headlining show on Saturday, June 9. But she was there in spirit as the Detroit Superband, a who’s who put together specifically for the show, and a parade of Detroit diva proteges worked through 20 favorites from Franklin’s formidable catalog.

A couple of dudes acquitted themselves well in that mix, too. Mitch Ryder, who’s also playing on Saturday’s bill and will be inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame on Sunday night, June 11, at the Music Hall Center, was joined by the Select of God Choir for a powerhouse rendition of Adele’s “Rollin’ in the Deep” (which Franklin sang with Adele on her last album). And the Dramatics’ L.J. Reynolds nailed the slow-burning “Call Me.”

But it was mostly a night for the ladies, with every one of the featured, and resplendently attired, vocalists capably handling the challenge of being the Queen for a song or two. Tasha Page Lockhart was a standout on the bulletproof “I Say A Little Prayer” and an emotive “Never Loved A Man,” which received the show’s first standing ovation. Angela Davis fronted a nimble early show pairing of “Respect” and “Chain Of Fools,” while Thornetta Davis made short work of “Don’t Play That Song For Me.”

A couple of homegrown gospel heroes made sure that aspect of Franklin’s oeuvre was covered, too. Karen Clark Sheard wound her way through a luxurious take on “Mary Don’t You Weep.” And Vickie Winans delivered church by way of stand-up comedy with a lengthy introduction about Franklin -- who reminded the Music Hall crowd that “Aretha can do what she wants to do, when she wants to do it” -- before powering through a rendition of “How I Got Over” so spirited she wound up kicking off her Louboutin shoes and shaking her wig askew before the song finished.

Honed by rehearsals that ran until just an hour before showtime, the Superband, led by bassist Kern Brantley, belied its ad hoc status with tight, authoritative performances -- and some well-deployed solos for guitarist Andre Frappier and saxophonists David McMurray and Will Cyprian. The full company, singers and musicians alike, wound up front stage for a rousing finale of “Jump To It,” complete with line dances and vocal riff exchanges -- and an odd ending as the curtain came down and the houselights went up while the ensemble was still playing the song.

For full details and lineups about the rest of Detroit Music Weekend, visit detroitmusicweekend.org.

Web Site: detroitmusicweekend.com

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