Ellis Hall may be joining the Memphis Symphony Orchestra to perform a tribute to Ray Charles for the "Kings & Queens of Soul" concert, but Hall, who's been blind since he was a teenager, is nobody's tribute artist. He's a gifted multi-instrumentalist with a five-octave vocal range, and he was already well established when Charles became his friend and mentor in 2001. Few artists on earth can interpret Charles' material as faithfully as Hall can while adding a few signature flourishes of his own. It's probably safe to say that even fewer artists have had a trio of backing vocalists like Joyce Cobb, Reba Russell, and Susan "Honeymouth" Marshall, who, in addition to taking their own turns as soloists, will blend their voices as stand-ins for the Rayettes.
"I'm just honored to be invited to perform with the symphony again," says Marshall, who's slated to perform Aretha Franklin's hit "Natural Woman" in addition to backing Hall and joining her fellow singers in a medley of songs by Rufus and Carla Thomas.
"When that 90-piece orchestra plays, it makes a powerful sound," Marshall says, comparing the experience of a pops concert to a club date. "That sound moves through you."