SARASOTA, FL – Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and Key Chorale will honor Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” on the 50th anniversary of her groundbreaking Grammy Award-winning album, “Amazing Grace.” WBTT artists Matelyn Alicia and Naärai will join Key Chorale, along with its featured soloist, Amy Connours, for an evening of soulful gospel songs and Franklin’s most famous R&B classics on May 8 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
‘Amazing Grace’ was recorded live in January 1972 at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, Calif., with Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir performing alongside Franklin. It was released as a double album in June 1972 by Atlantic Records.
In the first act, the performance will feature numerous spirituals and inspirational gospel numbers such as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “How I Got Over” and “Mary, Don’t You Weep.” The second act is a veritable “greatest hits” compilation of Aretha Franklin songs, including a mash-up of “Think/Respect,” “Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Rock Steady” and “Freeway (Pink Cadillac).”
“It is truly a thrill to be able to put a program of this magnitude together, in partnership with Maestro Joseph Caulkins and the expert singers of Key Chorale,” said WBTT founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs, who will solo on the concert’s opening number. “Aretha Franklin is one of the most legendary artists the music industry has ever known and ‘Amazing Grace’ was not only her highest selling album but also the biggest selling live gospel album of all time. I can’t wait to share this experience with the audience on May 8!”
Matelyn Alicia is a native of Akron, Ohio. In 2007, she appeared in her first theatrical production as 1920s blues singer Bessie Smith in Mabel Robinson’s “Mahalia: Queen of Gospel” on the main stage of the National Black Theater Festival. She would appear with NC Black Repertory Company in multiple National Black Theater Festival mainstage productions, including Regina Taylor’s “Crowns” and Mabel Robinson’s “Glory of Gospel,” in addition to several seasonal productions of Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity.” She made her first appearance with WBTT in 2015 in the world premiere of Nate Jacobs’ “Jazz Hot Mamas.” After multiple international tours of Germany, Switzerland, France, and England with NY-based DP Joubert, LLC and releasing her first solo music project, “God’s Butterfly LIVE!” she is excited to return to Sarasota for “Grace: The Spirit of Aretha.”
Naärai – the daughter of WBTT Founder/Artistic Director Nate Jacobs – is a Sarasota native with a long list of WBTT performances to her credit. She is a proud graduate of Howard University, where she received her BFA in Theatre Arts, magna cum laude. After the release of her first solo EP, “On My Way,” in 2015, Naärai moved to Los Angeles, Calif., where she has spent the last eight years making a name for herself as professional singer. She’s had the privilege of providing background vocals for Beyoncé (Coachella Music Festival, “Homecoming” film, and album “Renaissance”), Tori Kelly, Mariah Carey, and Kanye West (“Jesus is King,” “Jesus is Born,” and “Donda”). In 2021, she was featured as a soloist on Elton John’s single, “Finish Line,” which also featured Stevie Wonder. In 2022, she released her single, “Perfect,” to rave reviews.
“This collaboration is an opportunity to present music that inspires, uplifts and energizes. The opportunity to perform spirituals, gospel music and R&B with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is truly a thrill,” said Maestro Caulkins. “The combination of WBTT’s incredible performers and Key Chorale’s 100 singers is sure to be an experience music fans won’t want to miss.”
Join Artistic Directors Joseph Caulkins and Nate Jacobs for a pre-show reception from 6-7 p.m. A light dinner of sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres, and an open bar are included. Cost is $100. Reception ticket DOES NOT include a show ticket – a separate show ticket MUST be purchased to attend the show.
Takes place Monday, May 8, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (777 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota). Presenting sponsor is PNC Bank. Show tickets are $35-$100 and are available on the Van Wezel website, vanwezel.org; reception tickets are available for purchase there as well or call the Key Chorale box office at 941-552-8768.
About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
The mission of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates African American history and experience, engages a broad base of patrons and audiences, supports the development of a dynamic group of aspiring artists, and builds self-esteem in youth of color. Visit westcoastblacktheatre.org for more information.
About Key Chorale
Key Chorale, the Suncoast’s premier symphonic chorus, is dedicated to transforming lives through innovative programming, artistic excellence, educational outreach and service to the community. Led by Joseph Caulkins, Key Chorale produces high quality collaborative musical events that engage and enrich our community. Through dynamic collaborations with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, The Sarasota Ballet, The Venice Symphony, The Circus Arts Conservatory, and more, Key Chorale is able to create unforgettable programs that continue to push the boundaries of choral music. For more information, visit keychorale.org.