Sara Albertelli, Engagement & Communications Manager, speaks with N’Kenge about an upcoming performance featuring the music of Whitney Houston, community involvement, and more! Read a recap of the interview and watch clips of the video below, or watch the entire interview video on our YouTube channel.
History with the Jacksonville Symphony | What is it like working with the Jacksonville Symphony?
I love working with the Symphony! I had originally come to the Jacksonville Symphony many years ago performing the Baby Boomers concert and had an amazing time. I also have family in Jacksonville, so any opportunity to return to that beautiful sunny state from NYC, especially in the wintertime, I’m like “Yes Absolutely!”
I did my first solo show where I worked with the Jacksonville Symphony for The Legends concert, which focused on the great legends from Dorothy Dandridge to Whitney Houston. This upcoming performance naturally comes out of that original concert.
What is it like performing the hits of Whitney Houston with a live orchestra?
When I was a little girl, I used to sing all of her songs. Whitney was probably one of the larger influences as to why I went into singing. I was so in awe of her performance, her grace, and her “Golden Voice.” As a kid, I was used to singing to the radio, and of course karaoke tracks, trying to get into the groove of it. Transferring this initial experience to being on the stage with a full orchestra is quite different and more challenging, but it is also uplifting and wonderful. When you’re on stage with the orchestra, you really feel that all of the instrumentation has unique amazing roles and, of course, you have the conductor that brings us all together.
These orchestrations aren’t just done on a whim but are done by amazing arrangers that specifically arrange for symphonies. It’s very different, for example, if you have an arranger for a big band, it can be totally different than having an arranger for the Symphony. The way the arrangement is printed is like an absolute work of art.
It was really wonderful making this show my own. The process of choosing pieces, making new arrangements, and deciding what should be said between each piece was so gratifying. The show contains pieces that connect to different times of Whitney’s life and tells a story, so you really go on a journey from beginning to end.
What kind of experience do you think audience members will have? Or what is an experience you hope they have?
I really want the audience to immerse themselves in Whitney and her life. This concert is about celebrating Whitney Houston. Not just her music but all of the awards, accomplishments, and love that she gave to every audience member who experienced her music. It’s really a way of celebrating her life through her music because she WAS her music. We are going a little bit deeper than just hearing a “hit list” of her songs.
I’m always for audience participation, please feel free to interact because this is an interactive concert! This is for the people who love Jacksonville Symphony and who love Whitney Houston’s music.
What are some of your favorite songs to perform by Whitney?
Without giving away the entire program? I would say the first thing that I think of is “I Will Always Love You.” It’s such an amazing arrangement, originally written by Dolly Parton, and Whitney just takes it in a completely different direction. There are so many layers to that song because it is not just a hit song. It came from a movie storyline, and there are so many layers that come from her within that song. So that is definitely one of my favorite songs to sing, especially with a full orchestra because it sounds so grandiose.
There are some upbeat songs I love singing such as “I Want To Dance With Somebody.” That’s definitely a song where if I don’t see people moving, I may be upset! That song just gets everyone up and makes everyone happy and loving life. This song allows me to dance on stage, and any opportunity I get to dance on stage and interact with the conductor and the audience is my favorite.
Outside of performing, can you talk about your involvement as a board member at the AMAS Musical Theatre and the CAAPA, while also being a founding chair of the EDI committee at The Players in NYC?
AMAS Musical Theatre is an organization that has been around for many years, a non-profit organization here in NYC that supports and develops new musicals and plays. It’s a really important organization, especially for me as someone in the Broadway world. As actors and producers, we depend on these organizations who help develop these shows before they end up on “The Great White Way” as a polished and finished product. AMAS is one of the organizations that really helps with featuring new shows and new plays ranging anywhere from one-person shows to full cast musicals. A lot of these shows leave AMAS from development and go onto Broadway and stages around the world.
CAAPA, which is the Coalition for African-Americans in the Performing Arts, is a non-profit organization that specifically supports African-Americans in classical music. We have masterclasses, camps, scholarships, and more that are designed to give back to the community. It’s really about keeping appreciation and the fire alive for classical musicians. Although I’m on Broadway, I am first and foremost an opera singer, and it’s really important to me to be involved with organizations that support young black artists who may not know the direction they want to go. It’s really important that we continue to encourage young artists because they are the future of the classical world. I’m very proud to be a part of CAAPA.
We just started the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion committee that is a part of The Players Club. It was very important to me that people knew the community at The Players supported diversity and equity. We had not had a committee formed, being one of the oldest private clubs within NYC, and I founded this committee to help members ensure that the first steps toward support were taken together as a community. We will continue to do the work and continue to make sure we are being seen as well as appreciated.
What is something coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Besides my Whitney Houston concert at the Jacksonville Symphony? I am very excited to be doing a show at Carnegie Hall called Dorothy Dandridge—The Musical. This is an idea I created many years ago along with an amazing team of writers and a great director. I am producing this show to showcase this music on July 17th and 18th along with some amazing actors for the production.
I am also doing a piece on April 9th at Carnegie Hall called “Suffrage Cantata” by Andrea Ramsey. It’s a new contemporary piece with a choir where I am the soloist as well as a narrator. I am very proud to portray these amazing stories and hold these voices high.
What else should we know about you or your upcoming performances?
Caroline, or Change just closed; however, you can still hear the cast recording album through Broadway Records. There is also an amazing show coming this Fall called DANGEROUS where I am originating a role within this mysterious “speakeasy” type theme. I am also going to be coming out with my own single this season, so keep your eyes out on my website and social media for updates on activities and performances.
Internationaly Acclaimed and Award Winning Broadway & Opera Songstress N’Kenge has been taking the entertainment industry by storm. Described as “Electrifying” by the NY Post in the role of Mary Wells that she originated in Broadway’s Smash Hit “Motown: The Musical”, Legend Berry Gordy calls N’Kenge “the most versatile artist I know”. N’Kenge was recently seen on National TV singing the National Anthem at Madison Square Garden as well as headlining the Holiday Pops Concert for…read more