Fort Myers Florida Weekly

Gulfcoast Symphony pays tribute to the Queen of Soul



“Aretha Franklin was a singular talent,” declares Broadway performer Capathia Jenkins (pronounced ca-PAY-thia.)

“Nobody is as soulful as Aretha.

“She just oozed soul.”

That originated from her upbringing in the church, she notes.

“She was just a vessel for this magnificent talent that came out of her. When I watched the documentary about her, ‘Amazing Grace,’ I found myself crying. I was sitting in a movie theater, and tears were coming down my face. That’s a power that she has to move you. She was so young at the time.

“What a gift she got from God!

“She means the world to me, as a singer and as a human being, the trajectory of her life. As long as she lived she was the Queen of Soul.”

Ms. Jenkins listened to her music as a young girl, growing up in Brooklyn.

“I grew up with her playing in the house,” she recalls. A middle child with six siblings, her older brother would play albums in his room. Aretha was often on the turntable, along with Motown and Gladys Knight. “Aretha was always sort of in my life,” she says. “As I got older and became a singer myself, I realized she was a master, no matter what she sang, whether it was the Great American Songbook, jazz, gospel, soul.



“You always knew it was Aretha. She always stayed quintessentially herself. I admire that so much. As I was finding my own way as a singer she was part of my research.”

Ms. Jenkins will sing the Queen of Soul’s songs at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. She’ll perform songs such as “Respect,” “Think,” “Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools” and “Amazing Grace.”

She’ll be accompanied by the Gulf Coast Symphony, directed by Andrew Kurtz.

What does it feel like to perform with an orchestra onstage with you, instead of in the pit?

“It is thrilling. Thrilling. I always describe myself as this little Black girl from Brooklyn. When I get to put on my cute dress and my shoes and walk out on stage with a 60-, 80-piece orchestra (there), it’s like, oh my gosh, I’m living the dream, live and in Technicolor!



Performing with Ms. Jenkins will be Ryan Shaw.

Carrying the entire concert vocally by herself would be too demanding, she explains.

“We wanted to have it be (the music of) Aretha and the men in Aretha’s life: Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke. One of the things people don’t know is that Otis Redding wrote ‘Respect’ and sang it first. But after she sang it, he said it was her song.

“I try to bring the essence of who she was to these songs that everybody knows. And I bring myself to it. There are admittedly some things I have to try to do like her, little things I know everyone is used to hearing.”

Her personal favorite is “Natural Woman.”

She also loves performing “Nobody Does It Better,” written by Marvin Hamlisch. Although Carly Simon recorded the song, Aretha performed it at a memorial service for Mr. Hamlisch. Ms. Jenkins had worked with Mr. Hamlisch.



“I don’t think I took a breath the entire time she was singing it,” says Ms. Jenkins. “I got to witness her sing that song live. She was so amazing.”

Ms. Jenkins has had her own moments in the spotlight, especially on Broadway.

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote a humorous song for her, “Big Black Lady Stops the Show,” which she originated and performed during Martin Short’s “Fame Becomes Me.”

And yes, she did stop the show with that song. Every night.

Ms. Jenkins also originated the role of the Washing Machine in “Caroline, or Change,” performing it both on Broadway and off-Broadway. In this musical, nominated for six Tony awards, including Best Musical, inanimate objects are given voice by singers.

She initially auditioned for the role of the radio, performing in front of Jeanine Tesori (music), Tony Kushner (lyrics and book) and director George C. Wolfe. Ms. Tesori told her later that immediately after she’d left the room, Mr. Wolfe had declared, “That’s your Washing Machine. Done.”

“That’s a weird thing, to be cast as a washing machine,” Ms. Jenkins says, and laughs. “I had no idea what it was all about.”

Neither did her agent.

All she knew when she went to audition was that they wanted to hear an R&B soul song from the ’60s or ’70s.

And the song she sang that snagged her that Broadway role?

Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back To Me.” ¦

In the KNOW

Aretha: A Tribute to the Queen of Soul

Gulf Coast Symphony with Capathia Jenkins and Ryan Shaw

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 31

Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall,

Cost: $69, $59, $49, $29 plus fees

Information: (239) 277-1700 or

Note: CDC guidelines are followed. Temperature checks will be taken. All seating is socially distanced. Masks required.

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