After a successful Mozart to Motown in 2022, Russell Joel Brown is planning another concert for a cause.
At 3 p.m., Nov. 12, Brown will present “Velvet Voices: Then and Now,” a cabaret performance highlighting the music of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Luther Vandross and Gregory Porter. The concert will be at the Adas Yeshurun Synagogue, 935 Johns Rd.
“Those are four of my favorite artists,” said Brown. “Like Mozart to Motown and my Jessye Norman school benefits, I always want there to be a wide cross section of people who will get something. It’s not going to be all jazz standards and R&B. The central idea is these are velvet crooners, all of whom have their own style — style of dress, style of interview, style of singing and style of music they sing.”
Brown said he could sing the songs as himself, but he wants to bring a flavor of each of the singers into the performance.
The show’s theme is love – wishing you could fall in love, being in love, settling into love and falling out of love, And they are sung only in ways these men could.
Accompanying Brown will be The Brownstown Gritty.
“I’m so excited to work with The Brownstown Gritty. I’ve been watching them and seeing the way they work, seeing how committed they are in their own journeys and what they bring together,” he said.
The event will be just over an hour and will be dedicated in memory of Susan Steinberg, who died in July. Brown said she was one of his biggest supporters. The concert is a benefit for the Augusta Jewish Museum.
“It was very important from the beginning,” said Brown, who has been developing the concert for most of the year. “The Augusta Jewish Museum seeks to highlight and celebrate the contribution of Jews in this area. With all the effort made around the country of quashing history and whitewashing history, our historical museums are vitally important.”
In light of the current conflict in Israel, Brown feels it’s even more important to highlight the work of the museum.
There’s a degree of sadness to this concert as well.
“This is my last concert in Augusta. The stakes are very, very high,” said Brown who will be moving to New York City on Jan. 2, 2024.
Brown, an Augusta native, had returned to Augusta several years ago after retiring from the national touring company of Disney’s The Lion King. During his time with the show, he performed on Broadway as Mufasa.
Since returning, he taught in the area and most recently has been working with an outreach of Good Neighbor Ministries called Boys With a Future. And he’s continued to perform. The decision to move was not an easy one, he said.
“I’m leaving what I know. I’m leaving a place where I’m so well celebrated and have all the support I need,” he said.
However, he felt there was something else he needed to do rather than just retire in a couple of years.
“I’d been feeling for about a year that I was wearing a shirt that didn’t fit anymore,” he said.
He tried to ignore it but couldn’t.
“That’s rarely the right answer to ignore what you’re feeling and what your intuition is telling you,” he said.
He weighed his options – moving, staying, finding a different career path.
“I looked at my resume. There’s nowhere that my resume makes any sense except New York,” said Brown, who spent 27 years in the Big Apple.
But he doesn’t want to go back as an actor. He’s done his time on stage, performing in eight shows a week. He wants to be involved in theater but in a different role.
“I’m interested more in people and creating an atmosphere that supports the work,” he said.
He’s spoken with friends who work for Disney, and although he doesn’t have a job yet, he and his friends are certain that he will have one soon after making the move.
“I’m stepping out on faith, and God has never let me fall. Even in very foolhardy decisions, he’s never let me fall. I’ve bumped my head a little bit,” he said.
Brown said a move to New York City doesn’t mean that he’ll never be back. He plans to maintain his house here and would likely perform if the opportunity presents itself.
As for Boys with A Future, it’s transitioning to a program focused more on the entire family unit, he said.
Tickets to the Velvet Voices concert are $50 and are available here.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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