Seated but strong, Gwen Matthews delivered "Natural Woman"


Now that’s what I call a benefit concert!

A who's who of veteran Minnesota R&B and rock musicians performed for three hours Sunday at the jam-packed Dakota Jazz Club to raise money for longtime Twin Cities vocalist Gwen Matthews, who is recovering from two knee replacements (due to arthritis).

Never have I witnessed so many performances at a benefit that were so genuinely heartfelt – whether they came from her students, longtime bandmates, her daughter (with her granddaughter signing the lyrics) or just friends in the music community.

There were too many highlights to list them all (I did miss the first couple of performers but heard the Sounds of Blackness were superb, as usual) but let’s give a shout-out to:

Mary Jane Alm. Her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” made me want to hear Alm do a six-pack of Joni.

Prudence Johnson. Her treatment of Abby Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” landed somewhere between Charles Aznavour and Leonard Cohen.

The Kenni Holmen Trio. Pianist Mark Mueller started some classical piece and stopped: “I was just kidding.” Then his wife, Kathy Mueller, wandered into a dark and jazzy interpretation of “Summertime” before Holmen’s sax started smokin.’

Kandii Matthews and daughter Sage. Gwen' daughter and granddaughter (who was using American sign language) brought this revue up to date with a performance of Rihanna's "Stay." 

Ginger Commodore. She did one righteous sisterly treatment of “Unchained Melody,” nicely understated with jazzy guitar filigree before going all Whitney Houston at the end.

Bruce Henry. With his arresting baritone that eventually gave way to falsetto, he took everyone to church with Daryl Coley’s “My Soul Is Anchored in the Lord.” The standing ovation was another way of saying “Amen.”

Mettabel. The native of Nigeria said that Matthews helped her tune her inner voice. After singing a cappella in Yorba, she offered the powerful spoken-word “I Am She.” The Twin Cities needs to hear more from this internal medicine physician who is an author and poet in her spare time.

Gwen Matthews. Using a walker, the singer with the red mohawk made it to the stage, where she sat and announced that she hadn't sung in a while. Surrounded by the band Synergy (her regular group) and various singers from the group, she started improvising verses and preaching a bit. Then she went into Carole King’s “Natural Woman” – the Aretha version, with one of the most remarkable “ah-oops” choirs you could assemble in the Twin Cities. She tore it up with what was an amazingly moving moment.

Debbie Duncan. How do you follow that Gwen Matthews moment? You send the most versatile vocalist in town to do “The Wind Beneath My Wings” – the best version I’ve heard of that overdone and overwrought song.

Yolande Bruce. Backed by Synergy, she blew the roof off the Dakota with a rock ‘n’ soul interpretation of Duffy’s “Mercy.”

Jerry Eskridge. He’s a killer tenor who turned it out on “Stand By Me.”

Jana Anderson. A former Stevie Nicks backup singer, she stepped front and center for “Take Me to the River,” giving it a rockin’ reading that would make Pat Benatar envious.


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