A Musical Tribute To Aretha Franklin... Sung By MenPlay
Monday evening, a trio of men take on the music of Aretha Franklin at the Armory in Somerville. Vocalist Gordon Michaels and pianist Michael Larson join us in studio for a preview.
Meghna Chakrabarti: Gordon, I’ve got to ask you, what made you think that you –- all due respect –- as a gentlemen, could do Aretha?
Gordon Michaels: Well, one because no one else is doing it. I wanted to incorporate something that everyone would know and, that the catchiness of the title, would get everybody to come out. So I had decided that I wanted to do men singing female songs. That was the first theme. And then I had to pick which artists and I got down to two: It was going to be Aretha or Gladys – two of my favorites.
So I looked at all the songs from Aretha that I had and I looked at all the songs I had from Gladys and Gladys and the Pips, and I figured that Aretha was better.
The thing about singing Aretha songs is that, it’s not just that she was a women who sang them, I mean these are songs about women.
And so how do you do that as a guy?
Because I’m very connected to lyrics and what the songs say, and from my life experience of what I’ve experienced in my love life, my personal life — pain, heartache — Aretha touched me and I felt the same things she was singing in those songs. I was like, why can’t I do it?
Well tell me about when you first fell in love with Aretha and her music.
Oh my God. I first fell in love with Aretha, I had heard her doing the R&B thing — the first song of course I heard was I think “Respect,” her big song. But I kind of knew of her from an old album that my mother had when she was singing gospel, she was singing this big mass choir gospel number called “How I Got Over,” which my choir at my church sang. And once I found out it was Aretha then I had to find everything she did.
Do you do “Respect” in the show?
No. That’s the only one we refuse to tackle. Because, you know, some things Aretha just needs to keep.
When I hear you sing, I mean, you’ve got that power, you’ve got the Aretha power. I mean, is that one of the reasons why those songs work for you?
Do you do anything to tweak the lyrics, though, cause I mean, I hear you when you say great music is universal — it shouldn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman singing — but do you tweak the lyrics at all?
Sometimes. But on some of the group numbers we’re doing, we’re not changing the gender at all. We’re doing it just as the lyrics were written.
And how does the audience respond?
We’ve only done it once, so it was for a men’s retreat even though there were a lot of women in the audience because the show was opened up to the whole town. We got nothing but standing ovations so we did really well with it. That’s why we are so, so excited to be doing this Boston debut of this particular show.
So have you ever met Aretha Franklin?
No. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve met Gladys, I’ve met Patti Labelle, Natalie Cole, Diana Ross, but I’ve never met Ms. Franklin.
If you did, what would you tell her about this show and why you’re doing it?
Well, first I would say, 'Is it okay?' And, 'Do I have your permission to keep singing your music?' Before she sues me! But it would just be an honor to meet her and just say thank you for what she’s done for music, for the black community.
This segment aired on May 14, 2012.