Legendary pianist, singer, songwriter and pioneer, Aretha Franklin was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Respect: The Aretha Franklin Songbook is a fitting masterclass on the late icon’s inimitable talent and volume of work. We caught the stage show earlier this year and bring you this review ahead of the show’s return this autumn.

Franklin’s career in the music industry was stellar, with an amazing 18 Grammys and 17 Top Ten US chart hits over a music career that spanned seven decades.

Universally recognized as the ‘Queen of Soul’, Aretha was an outstanding performer with passion and an incredible control over her voice. Modern day performers from Mariah Carey to Adele cite her as their musical muse.

For all of these reasons and more, Respect: The Aretha Franklin Songbook has some big shoes to fill. The musical is a compilation of her best known, popular songs, enjoyed as a stage show that takes us all the way to Church!

Aretha’s story was deeply rooted in her Pentecostal church background and this is the premise of the show.

…renditions of 24 of Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits including Think, I Say A Little Prayer, Do Right Woman, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Natural Woman, Son Of A Preacher Man, Respect and many more are performed

Born in Memphis, Aretha grew up in Detroit. Her father Rev C.L Franklin was a charismatic pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church. Anyone who has ever attended a Black church with a Pentecostal style of worship knows what to expect! Lengthy enthusiastic sermons, rousing musical interludes and religious sermons that fill the room as people sway and in chip in with ‘amen’ and ‘hallelujahs’ from the crowd!

It is this context, that Respect: The Aretha Franklin Songbook evolves on the rectangular stage. We were lucky enough to catch the performances at Hammersmiths Eventim Apollo venue in the spring featuring Glee’s Amber Riley, pop star Cleopatra Higgins, stage actress and R&B royalty Mica Paris and soul star Jaki Graham.

Aretha Franklin Songbook
The spring cast

The show begins with ‘Preacher Man’ casually strolling on to the stage to deliver his sermon with the intonation, pace and fervour that you would expect from a character like that, in the church.

As the Preacher Man delivers his reading about Aretha’s life, her triumphs and challenges, career highlights and spiritual beliefs, he keeps the pace and momentum of the evening.

At times, brief pauses allow the performers to come on and wow the crowd with their renditions of 24 of Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits including Think, I Say A Little Prayer, Do Right Woman, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Natural Woman, Son Of A Preacher Man, Respect and many more are performed.

The two-hour production takes you on a nostalgic musical journey. The singers are accompanied by the incredible Urban Soul Orchestra and the incomparable voices of the London Community Gospel Choir who wear rich red choir robes and fan themselves (just like when you’re watching them in church).

As the evening continues the crowd are encouraged to get up, dance, sing and participate with the call and respond style of show.

The production team outdid themselves. Director, Choreographer and Playwright Tiffany King is one of the creative collaborators who developed the script and the show was produced by Adrian Grant, the man behind Thriller Live – the Michael Jackson story so expect to be entertained while appreciating the sheer musical magnitude of an incredible artist.

Tuesday 17 September 2019 sees the start of the national autumn tour across the UK. The new tribe of talented singers will be taking the show on the road so prepare yourself to be dazzled. X Factor finalist from 2011, Stacy Francis, West End performer, Tanya Edwards, pop backing singer, Cleo Stewart and existing tour member Cleopatra Higgins will wow audiences with their powerful voices.

Aretha Franklin Songbook
The autumn cast

Almost a year ago, on 16 August 2018, Franklin’s family confirmed that ‘Lady Soul’ had passed away at the age of 76 years-old, but her legacy continues. The songbook celebration is a fitting tribute. Look forward to a great night celebrating the power of music and an artist whose iconic status remains unmatched.

For Respect: The Aretha Franklin Songbook dates, venues and tickets, visit: respectaretha.com

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