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Aretha Franklin tribute concert comes to Boston

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Aretha Franklin tribute concert comes to Boston
Chelsea native and “R.E.S.P.E.C.T” host Terrell Foster-James. COURTESY PHOTO

Aretha Franklin’s legacy will be honored in the only appropriate way this month, with a full-fledged tribute concert and dance party. “R.E.S.P.E.C.T — A Celebration of the Music of Aretha Franklin,” at the Emerson Colonial Theatre March 17 and 18, brings powerful vocals and essential history to the stage.

Though this is a tribute concert and not a play, the four hosts guiding audiences through the experience do weave information about Franklin’s life into the show. As they perform a set that moves through Franklin’s life and career, the hosts explain what circumstances led to these incredible hits.

For Chelsea native and “R.E.S.P.E.C.T” host Terrell Foster-James, the performance is a homecoming as well as a way to pay homage to one of his favorite artists. Foster-James grew up performing and touring with the Boston Children’s Chorus and received a full scholarship to Berklee College of Music. Now he’s coming full circle, touring a show through the city that shaped him as an early artist.

“A lot of people that are coming to see the show, I haven’t seen them since I was training as a child to do exactly what I’m doing now,” says Foster-James. “I’m extremely excited.”

Foster-James also has an interesting role as the only man in the four-person cast. He says it took some time to discover how he could best show up for Franklin as a man. “It’s been an experience for me to tap into my own inner diva … and to see how I can add that to telling her story and showcasing her legacy,” he says.

Franklin went through a lot before hitting stardom, and still more afterward. In addition to having a tumultuous personal history, the singer was operating during the thick of the Civil Rights movement and hit barriers based on her race and sex constantly. Foster-James says it’s learning about everything Franklin experienced that makes this such an inspiring evening.

“There were people in those days that didn’t want people that look like us to thrive and succeed,” says Foster-James. “She overcame a lot of adversity and still made it to the top, and that’s extremely inspiring.”

Above all, the concert is a celebration. Audiences will be up and dancing to hits like “Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Respect,” and many more. Foster-James’s personal favorite is “Rock Steady.” Learning the cultural and personal context behind these showstoppers makes them that much more powerful.

“It’s very interactive, it’s very immersive … It’s kind of like a party,” says Foster-James. “At the end of the day, we’re here to celebrate her life.”

Aretha Franklin, arts, music
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