Crystal Monee Hall

Queens of Soul

Louisville Orchestra
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Crystal Monee Hall, Kelly LaVesque, and Tamika Lawrence, guest vocalists

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

According to the Oxford Language definition, Soul Music is, “a kind of pop music incorporating elements of rhythm and blues and gospel, originating in African American communities. Characterized by an emphasis on vocals and an impassioned improvisatory delivery.” I completely agree with this definition, but this genre of music is so much more. This music is love, sadness, perseverance, and triumph.

The formative period of this music was the 1960s, and several names became important, such as Sam Cooke, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye. But, what about the ladies? The women that grace the list are veritable who’s who of soul music and this evening we were treated to some of the top hits by some of these formidable ladies, often referred to as “Queens of Soul”.

With orchestral arrangements by Jeff Tyzik and a fabulous rhythm section made up of artists such as Craig Wagner on guitar and Jackie Dorman on keyboard, our scaled-down orchestra was graced with vocal talent from Kelly LaVesque, Tamika Lawrence, and Crystal Monee Hall, who just happened to be making her “Queens of Soul” debut.

Beginning the evening like gangbusters, our trio of ladies started with John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary,” made famous by the indomitable Tina Turner. To add to the fun and what I am sure was an homage to “The Burner”, Lawrence was dressed in a fringed pantsuit that looked as if it were pulled straight out of the 60s.

Arguably, Etta James is the foundation of the genre and Hall captured all the sensuality and grit that we have come to associate with Ms. James’ singing style.

Moving forward a couple of decades, Hall took us on the “Midnight Train to Georgia” made famous by Gladys Knight. When taking on Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Hall embraced the heart of it without copying and made it her own.

In the past 15 years or so there have been a few ladies who have come onto the music scene that have all the right pieces that fit within the soul music genre, such as Alicia Keys, Adele, and the late Amy Winehouse.

LaVesque took on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” as well as Ms. Keys’ “Fallin’”. Both songs share a fondness for rolling lyrics and glissando delivery,  which LaVesque rendered unfailingly. Tamika’s take on Amy Winehouse’s powerhouse song “You Know That I’m No Good” was stylized to fit what Tamika could do and she handled it with aplomb. Another of Adele’s ballads, “Hello” was beautifully realized by Hall, who shared the breathiness and pop sensibility that we have come to know from the British diva.

We heard examples of many other pop-ish soul sisters, such as Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and Patti LaBelle. But when Lawrence started into Donna Summers’ hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” I think we were all transported to the dance floor of Studio 54. And just when you caught your breath from that disco hit Lawrence’s hit it out of the park with her interpretation of Tina Turner’s “The Best”.

To end the evening the ladies chose arguably the best for last, a selection of four pieces made famous by the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. With Lawrence taking on “I Never Loved a Man” and putting in some hot sauce with “Respect,” while Hall made us jump in the back seat of the Cadillac as she drove “Freeway of Love” with fun abandon.

The ladies joined together for Carole King’s ode “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” famously performed by Aretha, and they gave the appropriate deference to both the songwriter and the songstress.

The evening was an exciting and energetic jog down memory lane that showed the far-reaching span of soul music and the women who have made it shine over the years.

While the vocal talent was fantastic, let us not forget our instrumentalists, especially our rhythm and brass sections who continued to show off their world-class talent and abilities.

Bravi Tutti!!!

Queens of Soul

January 20, 2024

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York, and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over 25+ years of experience in the classical arts.