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Star Vocalist Morgan James Headlines KSO Show in Florence

SOULbrette is the key word in the title of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra’s season closing concert headlining Morgan James on Saturday, May 14.

The reason for the sobriquet? The idea of “a blonde soubrette soprano winding up in Motown” led to the concert’s title SOULbrette (Puccini to Prince), says KSO Music Director James Cassidy. “Adding the ‘L’ seemed kind of fun,” Cassidy added. The “Puccini to Prince” refers to her wide range.

Cassidy had been looking for bluegrass programming possibilities, “when I accidentally came upon Post Modern Juke Box and Morgan.” He dug a little more and discovered James really does – she grew up on R&B and soul, studied opera at Juilliard, did a stint on Broadway in shows including Motown and Wonderland.

Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, Jr. said “She sings it all” and The New York Times wrote, “A phenomenal talent whose feel for classic soul music is bone deep… This woman is on fire.”

Since the release of her first long-play Hunter, James’ music videos have more than 45 million views. Check her rendition of Prince’s “Call My Name”: 

The KSO program was devised by Morgan and Cassidy and “essentially traces Morgan’s musical journey through various genres.”

The program’s first half opens with Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. Jeanne Tesori’s original hit for Kristin Chenowith —“The Girl from 14G” -- introduces James as the opera and jazz singer.

Her classical chops are on display in Puccini’s “Chi Bel Sogno di Doretta” from La Rondine and Richard Strauss’ song “Morgen” (‘Morning’). Broadway comes on stage with Barbara Cook’s classic by Wally Harper — “It’s Better with a Band.”

Aaron Copland’s “Laurie’s Song” from the opera The Tender Land leads back to Candide and show-stopper “Glitter & Be Gay” to close the first half of the concert.

After intermission, it’s Morgan James today, singing two songs made famous by the late Nina Simone (“I Put a Spell on You,” “Little Girl Blue”), then one of James’ favorites, Maroon Five’s “Maps” in an R&B adaptation. Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic” gets a “harp and soul” treatment before the KSO’s Boogie Band offers the Tower of Power instrumental “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

Morgan returns with songs from Hunter and Prince’s “Call My Name.” Aretha Franklin’s “Think” (from The Blues Brothers) and Morgan and Doug Wamble’s “Say the Words” close the evening.

SOULbrette (Puccini to Prince), 7:30 p.m. May 14. Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Florence Baptist Church at Mt. Zion, 642 Mt. Zion Rd., Florence. Tickets $40-$24, age 18 and under 50% off (handling fees: $1.50 per ticket plus credit card merchant fee 3.5%.  Mailing an additional $1.15 if requested.) 431-6216 and kyso.org/soulbrette/

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts