Students pay tribute to the Queen of Soul at Benaroya Hall

SPU students perform at Aretha Franklin tribute at Benaroya hall. Back row, L to R: Dr. Stephen Newby, Isabel Smith, Amanda Dorgan, Maren Pingree, Sam Hart, Eric Busz, Sam McFarland, Dr. Ryan Ellis. Front row, L to R: Cadence Moore, Hannah Marsh, Isabel Hernandez. Photo provided by Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

Twelve SPU students joined the Seattle Symphony and other community voices to pay tribute to the Queen of Soul at Benaroya Hall in January.

The students performed Aretha: A Tribute three times over the Jan. 21 – Jan. 23 weekend to honor the legendary singer Aretha Franklin. Conducted by Lucas Waldin, the tribute included Franklin’s chart-toppers such as “Respect,” along with sacred selections such as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Amazing Grace.”

When the opportunity came to join the backing chorus for the tribute, SPU students jumped at the chance. Beyond the honor of performing with the Seattle Symphony, the students missed performing live during the past two years of the pandemic.

“This experience took me by surprise when Dr. Ellis first presented it to us,” said sophomore Cadence Moore. “I started SPU last year during mostly online classes, so it was different from doing choir in high school with a big, in-person group.” Moore found the Seattle Symphony Chorale singers to be “very kind and humble about the whole experience, which made me even more grateful to work with people who know the importance of music and how it can bring people together.”

And for freshman Hannah Marsh, being on stage at Benaroya was a childhood dream. “Performing at Benaroya Hall was particularly exciting for me because my grandfather conducted there once a year for my entire life, and I grew up wanting to be on that stage,” Marsh said. “The flawless runs and powerful belting seem to be effortless, but I know these performers have put in hours to make this show come to life. Musically, I’ve learned so much about singing with an orchestra and as a background gospel choir. You really have to enunciate, which is tricky with masks, and watching the conductor is key.”

SPU students joined the Seattle Symphony by forming a volunteer group of choral vocalists, to provide background for featured soloists Capathia Jenkins and Darryl Williams, with background vocals by Nichol Eskridge, Veronica Moss, and Phillip Ferrell. (Ferrell has taught at SPU and directed SPU’s Gospel Choir.)

“I was so proud to see our students performing and engaging with the culture of this incredible music,” said Ryan Ellis, SPU’s director of choral music. “We all felt a deeper sense of how the legendary Aretha Franklin brought her faith into the secular world through her God-given gift of music. There was a magnetism of the Holy Spirit in Benaroya Hall for each of these three concerts, and the audience exemplified that joy as we all left feeling a greater sense of hope in our humanity in and among God’s Kingdom.”

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