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I’m always ready to challenge the person who says there is nothing to do and nowhere to go in Pittsburgh. I’m often curious what are they looking for? Maybe it is something free or almost free. Sometimes you can find free things in Pittsburgh, keep reading and I’ll tell you about one. However this past Thursday I was honored to emcee “A Musical Tribute to the Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin.” It took place May 26 at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. This stellar event was presented by Create-S-Team Academy of Music & Theatre, where Teresa Hawthorne is founder, president and CEO.


Create-S, where the S stands for success is about promoting self-esteem, self-respect, and team work for at risk and underprivileged youth through the use of performing arts. The programs include drama, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, creative movement and self-esteem workshops. This young lady put together a great cast of talent that in two acts performed the songs made popular by Aretha Franklin.

The list of sensational vocalists included: Charelle Munnerlyn, Diane Irvin, Carmen Miller, Karen Arrington, Tammy Faulkner, Katy Cotton, Kathy Haw­thorne-Hammond, Delana Flowers and Teresa Haw­thorne. These ladies were fierce and blew the audience away with their versions of “Think,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Respect” and “Call Me.” The cast came together for the finale and sang “You’re All I Need.” The band was put together by Rodney McCoy and featured: McCoy, Sam Darkins, Rodney McBride, Clayton Powell and Curtis Washington.

It was a wonderful evening and a great start to the holiday weekend. Many people had taken Friday as a holiday so coming out on a Thursday night was not a problem. Each performer seemed to have their own fan club in the audience. The best way to top off a good performance is with an after party. The majority of the cast headed to the Savoy Restaurant in the Strip District to unwind and reflect on a great evening.

This was my first time at the Savoy and the décor is beautiful. I love to look at the little details like wall coverings and lighting. The light fixtures on the top level are unique and the deck is very well appointed. Please check out the lighting as you go up the stairs and the light blue wall covering with the reptile pattern. On my next visit I’ll make sure to give you a full review on the food and the menu. Due to the lateness of the evening I didn’t want to eat anything real heavy, but I’ve heard very good things about the food. I can tell you I was impressed by the service—my hat goes off to Chuck Sanders and his staff. I want to specially thank Gary White. He serves on the board of Create–S and also was our host at the Savoy.

Now about that free event—on June 6 at the August Wilson Center there will be a staged reading of the August Wilson play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” Show time is 7 p.m. and tickets are free. If you haven’t seen a stage reading before, this is when the actors read the play with script in hand. This performance will be directed by award winning actress and director, Rita Gregory.

(Email the columnist at deb­bie­norrell@aol.com.)

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