It was a night for soul music’s greatest star, Aretha Franklin, to get her Carnegie Hall tribute from City Winery’s Michael Dorf. Alas, the Queen of Soul was in absentia. But that didn’t stop “Soul Man” Sam Moore– her labelmate at Atlantic Records during their heyday in the 60s– from tying past to present singing Aretha’s “Don’t Play That Song For Me”– written by Atlantic’s late chief Ahmet Ertegun–by giving his great-niece her own debut at Carnegie Hall. That would be Courtney Trice, who with her uncle garnered a standing ovation while recalling the likes of Aretha and Della Reese. But more than on that in a minute.
Dorf served up an eclectic group of artists who did justice to about two dozen songs associated with the Queen, from “Dr. Feelgood” (Labelle’s Sarah Dash, who stopped the show cold– why isn’t she a Broadway star?) to “Respect” (Antibalas with Little Kids Rock”) and “Rock Steady” (a ferocious reunion of Living Colour) to songs Miss Franklin has covered like Elton John’s “Border Song” (Rhiannon Giddens) and The Band’s “The Weight” (Rodney Crowell).
Many were established names, but some were not– like Don Bryant, the famed Memphis-based gospel singing husband of Ann Peebles, who tore down the house with “Drown in My Own Tears”– and Austin’s Grammy nominee Ruthie Foster, whose “Natural Woman” was something to behold. That’s sort of the point of the annual Dorf/City Winery tributes: arrayed among the obvious choices are these gems to be discovered.
Still, nothing would prepare the audience for Todd Rundgren, glam rock holdover from the 70s, prancing on stage and discovering his inner diva on “Since You’ve Been Gone.” And Bettye Lavette was reliably soulful delivering the Franklin masterwork, “Ain’t No Way.” CeeLo Green recalled Rufus Thomas on “Nightttime is the Right Time.” And Melissa Etheridge would have won Aretha’s respect on “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).”
But the night belonged to Courtney Trice, Sam Moore’s great- niece, who hails from Akron, Ohio and sings part-time with three different bands around the Cleveland area. Not only did she roar onto the stage with her uncle for “Don’t Play That Song,” she later wowed the crowd at City Winery fronting Antibalas for a memorable “Rock Steady.” Even Bettye Lavette, who followed Trice to the stage, was impressed. And Trice–it’s her first trip to New York and she may never leave. Why should she?
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