“I call them Auntie Aretha and Auntie Mahalia because even though I never met them I feel they poured so much into me—I learned from their words, from their music,” Tonya Boyd-Cannon explains. “I’m related to them in music,” adds the vocalist, who will pay tribute to the two music legends, Aretha Franklin and Mahalia Jackson, on Saturday, November 10 at the Art Garage, 2231 St. Claude Avenue. The event benefits the highly regarded and vitally important Musicians’ Clinic and tickets include food and an open bar.
Boyd-Cannon, whose father was a preacher, shares deep roots in the church with both of her idols. She once considered “sticking to gospel, sticking to Christian [music]” as Mahalia did. “Then my heart was calling for music,” she says. “That’s my Aretha side.”
The band for this sure-to-be-special performance includes pianist and music director David Torkanowsky, bassist James Singleton and drummer Jamison Ross.
“She’s killer,” declares Torkanowsky, who has worked with the vocalist several times and wisely left the decision-making on repertoire up to her. “I think it’s important that Tonya picks the tunes that speak to her.”
“The songs that I chose I feel resonated with me as an artist and also my inner child,” Boyd-Cannon says, mentioning tunes, like Mahalia’s moving “Trouble of the World,” that she remembers hearing as a youngster.
Boyd-Cannon is a Mississippi native and New Orleans resident who is noted for having reached the top 20 on NBC’s singing competition The Voice. In her selection of Aretha’s hit “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” she reflects back to Aretha Franklin performing the song at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. “I remember her getting up from the piano and taking off that mink coat,” Boyd-Cannon says with the emotion of the moment in her voice. The vocalist also mentions the possibility of doing some personal favorites like “Rock Steady” and “Spirit in the Dark.”
“This has been a serious emotional journey for me as an artist, teacher, community leader, wife and mother,” Boyd-Cannon confides. “I’m so honored to have this opportunity that I can only shed tears of gratitude for what these women have done in the music industry for me. Their approach to the music was so peaceful and then when they opened up it was like ‘Oh my god, listen to that voice.’ They were great storytellers in song and were singing through pain and joy.”
“Aretha is the voice of the civil rights movement. She was the soundtrack of black America,” Torkanowsky adds. “They both have provided solace to a great number of Americans in times of extreme angst and turmoil. In that sense they were healers.”
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