By Patsy Isenberg
On a frigid Saturday night at The Whiting Auditorium, Flint’s own Lakisha Jones, a 2007 fourth place finalist on American Idol, came home for a love-fest performance with the Flint Symphony Orchestra. It was Jan. 13 and Jones’s 38th birthday. Eugene Rogers conducted and the Michigan Men’s Glee Club added their voices in two special numbers. There was no ice left in anybody’s heart after Jones offered her sizzling torch songs.
In the intro minutes, Rogers told the audience the program planners had chosen several pieces by African American composers to commemorate Martin Luther King Day which is being celebrated Monday Jan. 15. Cathy Prevett, FSO manager, introduced Mayor Karen Weaver who expressed how proud she is of “our hometown girl,” Lakisha Jones. From the hosting organization for the event, Black Classical Origins co-chairs Richard King, Jr. and Lennetta Bradley Coney also were introduced.
Then things heated up, as Jones emerged to offer a soulful “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, accompanied of course by the orchestra. Jones and the orchestra then launched into an exuberant “Natural Woman,” a song covered often but made famous through Aretha Franklin’s familiar recording of the Carole King and Gerry Goffin classic.
Jones then left the stage and the symphony took over without her to perform three pieces by African American composers. One of those, a rousing rendition of “Walk in Jerusalem,” featured the Men’s Glee Club. Jones came back just before intermission to sing “Skyfall,” from the 2012 James Bond film. This song was co-written by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth and recorded by Adele.
In the second half Jones returned to deliver “I Will Survive.” Then, continuing the theme of Martin Luther King Day, the symphony played Anthony O’Toole’s commemoration piece, “Now is the Time (A Song for Hope).” When Jones came back on stage in the third of four dress changes, in a shimmering blue sleeveless and lacy floor-length gown, she sang “I Will Always Love You,” originally recorded by Whitney Houston and written by Dolly Parton. As Conductor Rogers mentioned afterward, “not everyone can sing Whitney Houston!” But Jones was up to the task and the concert seemed to be approaching a climax. Ann Arbor vocal performance artist and mezzo/contralto Rehanna Thelwell was then introduced to accompany the symphony with a powerful reading as the symphony performed “Portrait of a Queen.” It was an emotional tour de force, moving through the African-American experience, the Civil Rights movement and eventually to an anguished cry of “these lives matter” — specifically, victims shot in the back — in the present day.
As the reading wound down and “Portrait of a Queen” came nearly to its end, Jones stepped back on stage to sing “Glory.” Thelwell remained on stage and the orchestra accompanied the two female voices as well as the Glee Club to bring the house down. “Glory” was the last piece listed on the program. But the audience demanded an encore. So Jones and Rogers came back on stage. To lots of whoops and hollers, Jones told the audience she and Rogers had prepared an encore and that she “couldn’t come home without giving you this.” The encore was a riveting rendition of “And I Am Telling You” from the Broadway musical and movie Dreamgirls. As she belted out, “I’m staying, I’m staying, and you’re gonna love me,” the crowd erupted in nonstop cheers.
The evening was clearly a big success, and Jones greeted a long line of admirers and autograph seekers afterward. She said she also got to visit with her mother, who still lives in Flint. Jones also had brought her daughters Brionne and Ava with her to Flint for the concert. But more conversation would have to wait: it was getting late and Jones had to catch a six a.m. flight out of town the next morning.
As part of its mission, Lennetta Coney explained, the Black Classical Origins program has raised more than $80,000 for local scholarships to help African American youth in their pursuit of classical music education.
EVM staff writer Patsy Isenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This story has been modified to say that the person who introduced Mayor Weaver was Cathy Prevett, FSO manager, not Cathy O. Blight as the story said in an earlier version.