Ladies Night — Carole King, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin Take the Stage in a New Kind of Spotlight

By Karu F. Daniels
27 Nov 2013

NaTasha Yvette Williams
NaTasha Yvette Williams as Aretha Franklin
A Night With Janis Joplin, Lyceum Theatre

Ask the Fayetteville, North Carolina, native about her earliest recollections of being exposed to the Queen of Soul's music and she'll launch into stories of her teenage years when she was bequeathed her parents' vinyl collection. "My schoolmates thought I was crazy," she recalled. "'Why are you listening to this old music?' they would ask. And I would tell them it was all I had... these real songs about real things." Listening to Franklin as a teenager and meeting her as an adult were two very different things for Williams, who made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple in 2007. The day following a backstage visit of Porgy and Bess, the 18-time Grammy Award recipient sent flowers to the cast. "She sent me some yellow roses and I just collapsed when I saw them and opened the card and realized that [they were from] this woman I had been idolizing my whole life."

A year later, she is to portray Franklin on Broadway. (A foot injury delayed Williams's start, but she is expected to re-join the show this month.) "It's absolutely crazy," she gushed. But it almost didn't happen. As much of a die-hard fan as she thought she was, she admitted she never heard "Spirit in the Dark," the show's signature Franklin song. During the audition, she dropped the pages and started ad-libbing. Williams headed home to her newborn twins thinking she didn't make the cut. An hour later, she got the call. "If you want to know the truth, I had to borrow money to buy milk for my kids the week before my audition." She said the uplifting show has affirmed she's on the rightful path. "It's about Janis but it allows the people she says influenced her to be featured... It gives each one of the young ladies — it's four of us — the opportunity to step out and play these icons in music."