By Victoria L. Dammer
On September 2, The Town Hall presented Celebrating the Music of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, showcasing the distinctive Motown Sound in a 39-song line-up that included music by several other artists. Sam Cooke’s youngest daughter, Carla Cooke, Garfield Fleming of the Delfonics, and soul artist and singer Brian Owens, accompanied by Long Island-based That Motown Band, performed a variety of songs.
WBLS (107.5 F.M.) D.J. Lenny Green opened the show by stating, “music is the soundtrack to our lives.” Performers filled the next two and a half hours with top Motown hits from the late 50s and the decade of the 60s. Cooke and Owens planned a special duet for the show’s end that was worth waiting for.
That Motown Band’s lead singer Kevin Morris started the evening with Smokey Robinson’s hit, I Second That Emotion, followed by the Martha and The Vandellas melody Come and Get These Memories. Two massive successes by the Supreme’s Back in My Arms Again and You Can’t Hurry Love came next. Morris has a powerful voice, and by the time those first four songs were over, he energized the audience, ready to get out of their seats and dance to the music.
Cooke, dressed in an emerald green sequined jumpsuit and flowing chiffon cape that shimmered every time the spotlights hit her, performed her dad’s #1 hit song, You Send Me, and then Cupid, considered one of his most famous songs. Next, she crooned her father’s other hits, What a Wonderful World and Another Saturday Night, to which the audience applauded emphatically. The stage screen flashed a photo of Sam Cooke; his daughter resembles him in facial features, and he blessed her with a beautiful voice.
The extraordinary Garfield Fleming, a member of the Delfonics for 25 years and dressed in a black and white Hussar military style jacket and gray pants, sang several hits from The Temptations and Tammi Terrell. His rendition of The Temptation’s My Girl – Wow! Sanford Marten’s sax solo with Fleming during the song Ain’t Too Proud to Beg added vibrato to the music.
Kevin Morris jogged concertgoers’ memories of how much Motown music lovers worshiped Smokey Robinson when he delivered a convincing performance of Shop Around. But he didn’t stop there, reminding the audience of their love for Jimmy Mack, Martha and the Vandellas 1967 hit single.
At this point in the concert, there wasn’t a person in the house who wouldn’t rate the show “mind-blowing Motown.”
After a short intermission, Brian Owens, whose voice is a mixture of folk, soul, and blues, sang a litany of songs by Marvin Gaye, but it was his version of Gaye’s 1968 hit single I Heard it Through the Grapevine that got the audience on their feet and dancing in the aisles. That Motown Band’s sax player, Mikey Vitale, rocked the house during Owen’s version of How Sweet It Is.
The most powerful song of the evening was Cooke and Owen’s rendition of her father’s 1964 civil rights movement song A Change Is Gonna Come. The elder Cooke campaigned for racial equality and used his popularity to champion the cause in the 60s. The message still resonates today.
Cooke’s hit single Twisting the Night Away rocked the end of an extraordinary evening, and the event closed with The Four Tops hit song Can’t Help Myself, with all stars on stage for the finale.
Music lovers of Motown Sound can’t help themselves from wanting to hear more and more of their favorite songs after an event like this. What a fantastic tribute to everyone who participated in the evening, those on the stage and off.
Celebrating the Music of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye featuring Carla Cooke, Garfield Fleming and Brian Owens; music by That Motown Band, featuring lead vocalist Kevin Morris, Natasha McDuffie, Nathina Inez, and musical director Johnny Gale. Special thanks to Logan Metzler at Keith Sherman and Associates Inc. Public Relations.
The Town Hall (www.townhall.org) is located at 123 West 43rd Street. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or on Ticketmaster https://www.ticketmaster.com/Town-Hall-tickets-New-York/venue/24622