RESPECT: The Music of Aretha Franklin
September 16, 2017 at 8pm | Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
18 Grammys, 75 million records sold, one incomparable artist — Aretha Franklin.
Celebrate the iconic music of Ms. Franklin in a concert that highlights some of the greatest hits of her career from “Natural Woman” to “Chain of Fools, “Spanish Harlem” to “Since You’ve Been Gone.”
Featuring Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child), Moya Angela (America’s Got Talent, In Transit, Dreamgirls), Ariana Debose (Hamilton, A Bronx Tale), Nova Payton (Helen Hayes Awards Winner, Carnegie Hall), and Bria Skonberg (Sony Records Jazz Recording Artist, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center).
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater –
1101 6th St SW
Washington, DC 20024
Is there anything Michelle Williams can’t do? The beautiful and talented star has evolved many times in her life and she is nowhere near done. She’s added Broadway actress, entrepreneur, designer, television host, and inspirational speaker to her already robust resume, and as she enters the second act of her already prolific career, there is so much more to come.
Since her days of making hit after hit as a member of Destiny Child, one of the best-selling female groups of all time, and then as a solo artist with four critically acclaimed albums (Heart to Yours, Do Your Know, Unexpected, and Journey to Freedom), Williams has grown professionally and personally. Yes, the Grammy-award winning singer/songwriter has enjoyed the success that her singing career has brought, but she is now focusing on the projects and ventures that she feels she was really put on Earth to do.
One of those ventures is Believe at Home by Michelle Williams, a collection of home products, sold exclusively through the digital commerce company, Evine, consisting of exquisite and vibrant comforters, duvets, coverlets, sheets, and shams. It was her grandmother’s quilting that made Williams want to develop the beautiful and sophisticated line. “My grandmother made all of the bedding in her house, the comforters, the quilts — everything except for the sheets,” Williams remembers. “She would have a house full of grandkids running around, but she’d still be sitting on the sofa, quilting and at peace.”
Williams plans to expand Believe at Home into retail stores and eventually add curtains, bathroom accessories, and furniture to the burgeoning line. For her, the best part of running Believe at Home and being an entrepreneur is seeing her vision come to life. Several years ago, she jotted down the idea for the home line in her journal and now those words are a reality. “It’s not just a thought on the paper anymore,” Williams says. “From that thought to actually having the product in my hands took a lot of work, prayer, trusting people, and sitting with someone who actually believed in the concept and I thank them all.”
Another role that Williams has recently taken on is that of a motivational speaker. Public speaking has become a major part of her life and she is very passionate about it. She has spoken at events and forums across the country—captivating and rousing audiences, young and old. Last spring, she was a special guest speaker at a reception for Hillary Clinton, as well as the keynote speaker at the University of Notre Dame’s “Lunch and Learn.” Williams also moderated GRAMMY Pro’s “Up Close & Personal” panel featuring Lalah Hathaway and other music artists. Later this year, she will be a featured speaker at the Kennedy Forum in Chicago, an annual gathering where national and global thought leaders will discuss the stigma against mental health and substance use disorders.
In addition, Williams has signed on to be an ambassador for the Office on Women’s Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to promote awareness about maintaining optimum physical and mental health through nutrition, exercise, and proper medical care, among women and young girls. She also plans to launch her own series of empowerment events, titled the Believe Tour. The seminars will feature panels, workshops, and other programs to inspire people to follow their dreams. “I want to encourage people to have patience and know that if they have an idea, do it. I did a small brunch in New Orleans of about 30 women and we were all in tears afterwards, because so many of those women had ideas that they had brushed aside,” says Williams. “I want to motivate people to keep believing. If they have an old business plan, I want them to dust it off and get to it again.”
Williams also wants to focus on mental health, an issue that has personally affected her and one in which many in the African American community do not like to talk about. But over the last few years, she has been very vocal and candid about her battle with depression, which she was able to overcome through her faith in God and therapy. “I had been dealing with depression since my teens, but back then, I chalked it up to growing pains or hormones. But when it lingered, I was able to put a name to it,” she says. “I had to learn not to entertain negative thoughts because they’re not real.”
In 2003, Williams fell in love with the Broadway stage, where she found solace and serenity, after making her debut in the title role of the hit musical “Aida,” succeeding Toni Braxton. Next, she appeared in a production of “The Color Purple,” playing blues singer Shug Avery in 2007, followed by “Chicago” on Broadway and London’s West End as chorus girl Roxie Hart in 2009, and then the stage play “What My Husband Doesn’t Know” in 2011 and national tour with the musical “Fela!” as Sandra Isadore in 2013. “I love the theater. It has been like therapy for me,” Williams says. “The characters that I play are strong women and they absolutely stay with me way after I’m done with the role. Parts of me are those characters,” she admits.
While Williams plans to continue working in theater, she also wants to land a regular stint on television. After starring in Oxygen network’s series “Fix My Choir” in 2014, as a mentor guiding choirs on their musical careers, and then serving as a guest host on “The View” and “Meredith,” Williams’ goal is to star on a talk show during the day, and then grace the Broadway stage at night. Her charming personality and her ability to command the stage and the small screen has her destined for even more success in both areas.
Williams has taken charge of her career, and her accomplishments have been plentiful, while her evolution has been exhilarating. “As I evolve, I am owing my mistakes, owning my failures, and embracing my sensitivity because that allows me to feel and own my feelings,” she says.
The secret to Michelle Williams’ success has not only been her strong faith, but it’s also the fact that she loves what she does and she follows her dreams and what’s in her heart. “If you are working hard, setting your goals, and you’re a good person, everything you set out to do can be done. Absolutely.”
Moya Angela International Broadway singer and actress. Got her Broadway start in The Lion King on Broadway. Other Broadway credits include Effie in Dreamgirls National Broadway Tour and the Apollo, Ghost the Musical and InTransit the Musical on Broadway. TV credits include America’s Got Talent and Portia in 30 Rock. Moya Angela is an NAACP Theater Award winner and a LA Ovation Award Winner for her role of Effie White in Dreamgirls. She is a proud ambassador for Broadway in the H.O.O.D. NPO
Ariana is currently starring on Broadway as Jane on Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale directed by Robert De Niro & Jerry Zacks. An original company member of Hamilton, she’s known throughout the Broadway community as #theBullet. Other credits; Bway: Bring It On the Musical, Motown, Pippin. Off Bway: Hamilton (The Public Theatre). TV: Blue Bloods, The Breaks for Vh1, SYTYCD, Company On-Screen & Hamilton’s America (documentary).
Nova Tate was born in Washington, DC. Her artistic lineage has been apparent since she stepped on to the scene 26 years ago. Her mother, the confirmed First Lady of Gospel Jazz, Thomascena Nelson made sure she over poured an unyielding passion for music and dance into her daughter’s bloodstream at birth. During high school and college, she performed in musicals, plays and choirs, including Leon Roberts and Roberts’ Revival. Chances are you have heard Nova’s amazing voice leading and directing her own choir, Favour at her home church, St. Martin’s Catholic Church in the nation’s capital or seen her on the television screen, singing in the internationally staged musical, 3 Mo’ Divas.
With a prolific catalog of artist, the former American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) student has shared the stage with legends such as Yolanda Adams, Anthony Hamilton, Freddie Jackson, Karen Clark Sheard, Richard Smallwood, Hezekiah Walker and Stevie Wonder. She has also had the honor to open for other heavyweights like The Chi-Lites, The Dramatics, Will Downing, Stephanie Mills, Melba Moore and Ashford and Simpson. This incredible, imported favorite was a Barrymore nominee for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical for her part in Dreamgirls as Effie White- shows that when it comes to music, her vocal therapy has been well-received by fans all over.
As Nova’s inclination for music continued to grow, so did her tutelage continue to grow, but this time under the world-renowned musical influencer, Roberta Flack. With a full-scale tour, Nova has performed in over 150 major cities across the U.S., as well as Canada, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Europe. She has illustrated her acting talent in Leiber and Stoller’s Smokey Joe’s Café as B.J.; Ain’t Misbehavin’ as Nell; Black Nativity; Malik Yoba’s Acoustic Chocolate; 8-Track-The Sounds of the ‘70s; J’s Jook Joint; and a starred in a soul-stirring rendition of Effie White in Dreamgirls, which garnered her the nomination for a 2006 Barrymore Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. Nova’s most recent role as Motormouth Mabel in the production of Hairspray at Signature Theatre in Shirlington, VA earned her a 2012 Helen Hayes nomination. Currently, she can be seen performing in High Def on PBS, DVD and Blu-ray (purchased through Amazon.com), touring with 3 Mo’ Divas and can also be heard on Allyn Johnson’s gospel jazz CD, “Allyn Johnson & Divine Order”.
Canadian singer, trumpeter, and songwriter Bria Skonberg is described by The Wall Street Journal as one of the “most versatile and imposing musicians of her generation.” Recognized as one of “25 for the Future” by DownBeat magazine (Summer 2016), Skonberg is signed to Sony Music Masterworks’ OKeh Records, and released her debut LP, simply titled BRIA, in 2016. The stunning album won the 2017 Canadian Juno Award from “Vocal Jazz Album” of the year. She will release her new album “With A Twist” on May 19th, 2017.
Wielding a unique blend of modern-day pop sensibility and sizzling musicianship, Skonberg aims for a sense of allure on the new collection. She credits producer Matt Pierson with helping her create music that is both curious and exotic, playing with tension and storytelling. Elite jazz chops, artfully mixed with worldly rhythms and contemporary songwriting, result in a sophisticated pop sound closely resembling that of Michael Bublé, Diana Krall, and Harry Connick Jr.
Noted as a Millennial “Shaking Up the Jazz World,” according to Vanity Fair, Skonberg is a self-described “small town girl” from Chilliwack, British Columbia. She left for Vancouver straight out of high school and earned a degree in Jazz Trumpet Performance from Capilano University. But even as she absorbed the deep knowledge and disciplined work habits needed for a jazz career, she was also hustling hard to book her two bands. While in university she juggled working every weekend, traveling to festivals and shows, plus cramming in schoolwork – all while on the road.
When not traveling for her own gigs, she was building up her stage-show chops with Dal Richards, Vancouver’s King of Swing. Playing at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver capped off this exciting period, with Bria featured at the Paralympics opening ceremony.
In 2012 Bria released So Is The Day (Random Act Records); her first album on a US-based label. That collection showcased a developing flair for original songs with just the right amount of standards mixed in, and also featured a duet with the legendary John Pizzarelli, So Is The Day received rave reviews from critics, drawing comparisons to Norah Jones in The New York Daily News. In 2015, a year after her second album, Into Your Own, was released, Skonberg received the Jazz At Lincoln Center Swing! Award.
To date, Bria has performed at some 100 festivals worldwide. She is the co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Camp and New York Hot Jazz Festival. Further accolades include Best Vocal and Best Trumpet awards from Hot House Jazz Magazine (2014-15), Outstanding Jazz Artist at the New York Bistro Awards (2014), a DownBeat Rising Star (2013-15), and a nominee for Jazz Journalists’ Association Up and Coming Artist (2013).
“I love the idea of being a global ambassador…spreading joy, relating the human experience, and putting good into the world to counteract the negative. I want to make music that makes people feel, and think.” –Bria Skonberg
The American Pops Orchestra Roster
Jose Cueto, Acting Concertmaster