Arts Review

Aretha - A Love Letter to the Queen of Soul


Aretha - A Love Letter to the Queen of Soul

Concert Hall, QPAC

20th June, 2023.


Dr Gemma Regan


An enlightening and fitting tribute to The Queen of Soul.


Aretha - A Love Letter to the Queen of Soul is a musical tribute to the Queen of Soul music, the first woman to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Named by Rolling Stone as the 'Greatest Singer of All Time', Aretha Franklin earned 18 Grammy awards and sold over 75 million records! She has been an icon for many women around the World with her incredible success whilst overcoming poverty and depression.


The live concert has 5 divas and a narrator, with a live band featuring eight musicians covering a massive 32 songs over six shows in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.


Jada Alberts is the narrator and director, interspersing the hits with some lesser-known tales from Franklin’s life. She is a Larrakia, Bardi, Wardaman and Yanyuwa performer, as well as a director and playwright from Australia’s Top End. 


She starts with Franklin’s birth in Memphis in 1922 before she moved at the age of four to Detroit, the birthplace of soul influencing her calling. Alberts described Franklin as ‘arguably the most accomplished and sublime soul vocalist in the history of pop music’.


The staging was simple, the six women were lined up with mics wearing their sparkly Motown best. The nine-piece band surrounded the singers with two drum kits, an organ and a piano. Starting with Try a little tenderness the audience was happily crooning along from the beginning.


Each singer is an accomplished performer, with Alberts commenting that she was ‘thrilled to direct this astonishing line up of Australian vocalists as they interpret some of the most iconic songs of the 20th century in their own unique way, paying respect to a woman who has influenced all of us'. 


The glittering lineup included Montaigne, described as an ethereal modern muse and a pop musician with a large Australian following. Thandi Phoenix, who has been called a vocal powerhouse with a unique tone and long blonde braided extensions. Emma Donovan is an ARIA-nominated Gumbaynggirr and Yamatji singer and songwriter, and THNDO and Ursula Yovich are esteemed actors and songwriters.


The divas all had solos with the others working as the backing singers. The fabulous THNDO had an amazing voice belting out I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You from 1967. She is also an actor and a songwriter and had the best voice of the evening. She is considered to be Australia’s ‘First Lady of Soul,’ a title well-deserved based on her performance. 


Ursula Yovich was the other outstanding diva and is also a multi-award-winning actor and writer, receiving The Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright's Award in 2016. 


Joe Accaria was the musical director of the nine-piece Motown band which had two sax players, one of whom also played a mean flute with a fabulous solo in Natural Woman. The pair were a slick double act bobbing along in true Commitments style to Chain of Fools


The two pianists also made the unique Motown sound by playing the funky organ and honkytonk piano. There were two drummers to keep the beat moving, although it often felt like they were dragging behind the soloists rather than spurring them along. 


The concert seemed to pass quickly, with the most popular songs having the audience grooving in their seats. The narration in between was concise and accompanied by the band allowing the funky, energetic vibe to flow throughout the presentation.

The big hits Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves and Respect had the audience bopping away, all singing along as if it was a real Franklin concert. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience, with a range of ages, some of whom were too young to have experienced Aretha and all her number-one smash hits. It was an enlightening and fitting tribute to an iconic musician and a powerful delivery of music from the heart to the fans of The Queen of Soul. 


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