Behind the Scenes
In the 1960s, Chicago disc jockey Pervis Spann dubbed legendary singer Aretha Franklin the “Queen of Soul.” Yet Franklin isn’t the only artist who has generously contributed to the legacy of soul and R&B music; many women have earned honorific nicknames for their participation in the evolution of these genres. Tina Turner became widely known as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Patti Labelle as the “Godmother of Soul,” and Whitney Houston’s titles include the “Queen of R&B,” “Queen of Pop,” and “Queen of Ballads.” These women laid the foundation that inspired a whole new generation of female music royalty, like Alicia Keys (Queen of R&B) and Adele (Queen of Hearts), who are quick to credit their success to their predecessors.
The creative team from Schirmer Theatrical and Greenberg Artists sought to develop a symphonic experience fusing the powerful female soul singers of the past with the current reigning divas: a production meant to inspire, excite, and comfort. Queens of Soul premiered in February 2019 with the Rochester Philharmonic, featuring solo vocalists Brie Cassil, Melissa McMillan, and Kamilah Marshall.
Since its debut, Queens of Soul has been performed with orchestras throughout the US and Canada, including concerts in Toronto, Virginia, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Dayton, Dallas, Hartford, and Fort Worth.
- Proud Mary
written by John Cameron Fogerty, recorded by Tina Turner
- At Last
written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, recorded by Etta James
- New Attitude
written by Jonathan Gilutin, Bunny Hull, and Sharon Robinson, recorded by Patti LaBelle
- Midnight Train to Georgia
written by James Weatherly, recorded by Aretha Franklin
- Don’t Leave Me This Way
written by Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, and Cary Gilbert, recorded by Thelma Houston
- Rolling in the Deep
written by Adele Laurie Blue Adkins and Paul Richard Epworth, recorded by Adele
- The Best
written by Holly Knight and Mike Chapman, recorded by Tina Turner
written and recorded by Alicia Keys
- I’m Every Woman
written by Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford, recorded by Whitney Houston
- What’s Love Got to Do With It
written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, recorded by Tina Turner
- I Wanna Dance With Somebody
written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, recorded by Whitney Houston
- Touch Me in the Morning
written by Michael Masser and Ronald Norman Miller, recorded by Diana Ross
- You Know I’m No Good
written and recorded by Amy Winehouse
written by Adele Laurie Blue Adkins and Gregory Allen Kurstin, recorded by Adele
written by Otis Redding, recorded by Aretha Franklin
- I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You
written by Ronny Shannon, recorded by Aretha Franklin
- Freeway of Love
written by Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen, recorded by Aretha Franklin
- (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman
written by Carole King, Gerald Goffin and Gerald Wexler, recorded by Carole King
ALL ARRANGEMENTS LICENSED BY SCHIRMER THEATRICAL, LLC
Queens of Soul is a co-production of Schirmer Theatrical and Greenberg Artists, part of their joint Symphonic Experience catalogue. Set list subject to change.
At the age of 15, Broadway (Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hairspray) and international vocalist Shayna Steele’s appearance on Ed McMahon’s Star Search was her first experience performing in front of a nationally televised audience. After losing by a 1/2 star, Steele returned to her hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi to finish high school and pursue a music degree before exposing herself to the cutthroat “reality” of the business. “I was embarrassed and defeated. I wanted nothing more than to go home and crawl in a hole.”
A completely unexpected call in 2005 would drop her squarely in the middle of a genre she had absolutely no experience with: Electronica. Hearing that Moby “needed a screamer” for a track from his new album, Hotel, a mutual friend recommended Steele, resulting in the second single “Raining Again.” Two years later she was back, laying down vocals for “Extreme Ways” (Moby’s theme song to The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Legacy and Jason Bourne films), and in early 2008, “Disco Lies“, the first single from Moby’s 2008 release, Last Night. The song reached #1 on the US Billboard Dance charts and went on to be featured in J.J. Abram’s summer blockbuster, Cloverfield, and The Backup Plan, starring Jennifer Lopez. Her voice has remained highly in demand; she performed on the soundtracks for Hairspray and Sex and the City 2, NBC’s Smash, the 2008 Summer Olympic BBC highlights, and the 2021 motion picture soundtrack release for In the Heights. Steele has also made television guest appearances on HBO’s The Sopranos and she reprised her Broadway role with the “Dynamites” in NBC’s Hairspray Live.
After spending eight years as a Broadway ensemble member in shows such as Rent and Hairspray, and six years in the background supporting artists like Bette Midler, Rihanna, and Kelly Clarkson, Steele stepped out on her own. She released her 3rd studio album, Watch Me Fly, following the huge success of her album, Rise, in 2015 which reached #3 on the U.S. iTunes jazz charts. Her self-penned song “Gone Under,” from the same album, was personally selected by Michael League of Grammy® Award-winning band Snarky Puppy to be arranged for their album, Family Dinner, Volume 1.
Steele has appeared as a soloist and guest artist with over 40 symphony orchestras throughout North America. Her most recent solo concert, Nothin’ but the Blues, written and conducted by Maestro Jeff Tyzik, is one of many highlights in her symphonic solo career.
Drawn to the production by the alluring opportunity to sing Aretha Franklin’s repertoire, Steele lost her father during the initial rehearsals of Queens of Soul, and subsequently missed the first performance. She recalls that “It was bittersweet, but I debuted the program with the Toronto Symphony soon after and it was magnetic. People were hungry for it and Aretha’s passing was still pretty fresh at the time. It was also a time to heal my loss, since I learned everything about music from my Dad.”
Naärai hails from Sarasota, FL, and is a proud Howard University graduate, where she received her BFA in Theatre Arts, magna cum laude. After the release of her first solo EP in 2015, On My Way, Naärai moved to Los Angeles where she’s spent the last seven years making a name for herself as professional singer. She’s had the privilege of providing background vocals for Beyoncé (at the Coachella Music Festival, in Homecoming (2019 documentary film), and for Renaissance (2022 album)), as well as for Tori Kelly, Mariah Carey, and Kanye West (for the albums Jesus is King, Jesus is Born, and Donda).
In 2021 she was featured as a soloist on Elton John’s single “Finish Line,” featuring Stevie Wonder, and in 2022, Naärai released her single, “Perfect,” to rave reviews around the globe!
Brie Cassil is a singer, actor, and composer based out of Chicago, IL. Original from Missouri, Brie moved to NYC straight out of high school, and has since starred in musical productions such as Mimi in Rent, Little Sally in Urinetown, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and Suzy in the Off-Broadway cast of The Marvelous Wonderettes.
Cassil has had the opportunity to perform all over the world. From leading workshops in Brazil, to opening for Adler with her original band, Rebel. Most recently, Cassil had the privilege of performing at the prestigious Carnegie Hall, in the new musical SuperYou. She is very grateful to be able to do what she loves, traveling around the world and singing the music of her biggest influences, with many of the world’s best orchestras.
Jake Navarro is a NYC-based rock drummer who studied Jazz and Commercial music at Five Towns College in Long Island, NY. Navarro was a Music Director for Carnival Cruise Lines and also tours with multiple pops shows, performing with symphony orchestras all over the country. He is also a children’s music teacher, a studio and touring musician for various artists, and performs with several major event bands in the New York Metropolitan region.
Producer & Arranger
Producer & Booking Agent
Schirmer Theatrical is a concert production company specializing in the creation of symphonic experiences, film with live orchestra concerts, and theatrical productions.
Greenberg Artists is an artist management and concert production company striving to bring the highest level of talent and musical integrity to audiences around the world.