From their first moments on stage, Masters of Soul, the six vocalists and five band members, warned the crowd last Wednesday evening at Simon Estes Auditorium to “Get Ready.” Get ready for six decades of music from the best icons of Motown, complete with the razzle-dazzle of a wardrobe of sparkly costumes, 36 well-known hits, classic soul choreography, and two and a half hours of non-stop soul-stirring music.
Ronald Smith, Dario Outlaw, and John Hodges, the male trio of Masters of Soul, without pause, launched in to “My Girl” with “I've got sunshine on a cloudy day,” convincingly sung with broad smiles. After “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” the trio left the stage throwing kisses to a pleased audience. Most of the crowd was around in 1960 when these tunes were first performed. Later when I asked Felicia Starcevich what the average age of the audience was, she said 62. But I was sure they were mostly older than me, and I was six in 1960. James Adams said the average age was “gray.”
Then it was the ladies’ turn. Daneen Brooks, Shanee’ Brooks, and Joyce Bowers graced the stage as Diana Ross and the Supremes, still warning us. “You Can’t Hurry Love” and we need to “Stop In the Name of Love.” Their sexy long sleeveless dresses and swaying hips were indeed evocative of Ross and her back-up singers who were the most commercially successful of Motown’s acts.
Drummer Al Hindly served as master of ceremonies for the Masters of Soul exclaiming, “Motown never dies.” The male trio returned in glittery purple and silver suits imitating the Four Tops, a Detroit group who sang together for over four decades without a change in personnel. I especially liked “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” sung in medley fashion. High jinks included one of the performers leaping off the stage, singing to the front row, and sitting on someone’s lap.
In tag team fashion, the ladies, reminiscent of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, returned in short red dresses asking “Are you READY for a brand new beat from “Dancing in the Street.” The ladies sang two more of The Vandellas’ 26 hits with “Jimmy Mack” and “Heat Wave” ending the set.
The trio acts were followed by several solos, a duet, and even a lengthy, mostly instrumental number showing off the fine musicianship of the band who performed without a sheet of music. First came a tribute to Marvin Gaye who the MC called the “coolest guy” . . . ahead of his time” but also known as the “Prince of Soul.” “What’s Going On” questioned war and urged finding a way “to bring love,” ironic in that Gaye’s father fatally shot and killed Gaye in a family altercation. A Tammi Terrel look-a-like joined “Gaye” in a duet, “All You Need to Get By.” Their black and white costumes were stunning as they harmonized and soloed respectively.
The Big Bass, with a three-quarter length gold jacket, imitated Big Barry White about who it was once said, “if chocolate fudge cake could sing, it would sound like Barry White.” White had 106 gold albums and 41 platinum making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Who can’t hear that beautiful bass-baritone singing “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love.”
Then a young Aretha Franklin seemed to take the stage using its entirety to sing “Whatcha need?” Of course “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Then an Al Green want-to-be in pink shirt, bow tie, and shoes pleaded “Let’s Stay Together.” Interestingly, Green was ranked by Rolling Stone as 14th in their list of the 100 Greatest Singers.
The final number before the intermission brought out Issac Hayes, actually Big Bass again, in a caftan, dark glasses wearing a koffe. For the first two minutes, Big Bass directed the band, so we saw lots of Big’s hip action to the synthesized, sexy stylings of “Shaft,” an impressive musical rendering.
No one could fault the troupe for lack of energy in their non-stop singing and dancing. We could hardly tell when one song stopped and another began. The MC often spoke over the resounding applause so that I often missed an introduction or accolade of the icon performing. In fact, I was exhausted after the first half of the concert.
I breathed a sigh of relief from the powerful voices, intense volume, and constant motion emanating from our own Simon Estes Auditorium. At intermission, Yvonne Johnson exclaimed she “knew all the words” and James Adams remarked he loved two kinds of music, Rock, and Roll. Masters of Soul did rock and roll, body and soul.
The male trio returned to the stage as Booker T and the MG's. There was real soul, real can-can, and real grunting in “Hold On I’m Coming,” and frequent spinning and pointing in “I’m a Soul Man.” Even my 92-year-old neighbor lifted her hands high when urged to. There was dancing in the aisles and plenty of audience participation. When the Big Bass who was was pretty light on his feet seemed to fall in the closing lines of the number, he rose slowly and crooned deeply, “I'm an old man” to much laughter and merriment.
Diana Ross rated another appearance. This one in a mermaid velvet burgundy dress but with Ross’s over-sized Afro locks. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles seemed to take the stage in red suits with white, deep v-neck shirts, and gold necklaces. In falsetto voices, the trio sang about a “lifetime of devotion” in “Second That Emotion.” From 1972 came “Oooo Baby Baby” in one of the few slower rhythms. “Mickey’s Monkey” had elements of the twist, the jerk, and the monkey so that Bruce Butell couldn’t help himself any longer. He had to stand and dance too.
No doubt a highlight for many was James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, appearing to take the stage. “Sex Machine” and I Feel Good” were sung with every gyration, spin, hip flexion and hip hop possible. Suspense descended—would he or wouldn't he. At the crescendo, “Brown did, in fact, do the splits, then appeared to pull himself up by his collar. Afterward, he did three push-ups, 1-2-3. I think he got more exercise in that one song than I do in my 45-minute water aerobics class at the Y.
Even disco made the scene with a Donna Summers look-a-like in a sequinned bodysuit doing “Bad Girl.” “Gladys Knight and the Pips” did an uncommon arrangement of “I Heard It Through the Grape Vine” and a soulful and slower “Neither One Of Us” performed barefooted and among the audience who responded with a small standing ovation, people getting to their feet so they could manage a dance step or two. Included in the action were Joe Starcevich, Nancy Bennet, and Terri Clark caught up in the moment.
Warning us of the imminent closing of the show, “Gladys” swayed to “Midnight Train To Georgia” and waved goodbye. Introductions finally came for the vocalists, band members, choreographer, and sound man.
“We Are Masters of Soul,” the voice proclaimed. A moment of local interest came when Adam Vehr from Chariton, Iowa played the cornet skillfully to a tape of Louie Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World.” Two more songs remained in the program. “Dance To the Music” and “Shout” with the audience mostly on their feet, dancing and singing along, a perfect conclusion for Masters of Soul.
Troy Terrones, a career musician raised here in Centerville who performs on cruise ships in the Caribbean, assured me of the troupe’s mastery. He had strong superlatives for Lady D, “amazing” and the lead tenor, “fantastic.”
This was the final concert for the 2018-19 Centerville Concert Series. President Kris Koestner had displayed fliers for all the concerts available next season. Among the performances expected next season are the Sons of the Pioneers, The Everly Brothers’ Tribute, Ball in the House, an R and B group; Beginning, a tribute to the rock band Chicago; and Rhonda Vincent the number one bluegrass female vocalist, raised just south of here in Green Top, Missouri. According to Koestner this is a lineup of $40,000 you won’t want to miss.