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STEPHANIE MILLS AND KENNY WESLEY: THE BIRCHMERE, ARLINGTON VA APRIL 30, 2011
Stephanie Mills returned to The Birchmere for a triumphant show on April 30. With over 35 years in the business, Ms. Mills knows how to take an audience on a journey. Stephanie took the stage with her hit “Something In The Way You Make Me Feel.” The crowd roared approval as soon as she appeared in a glowing white satin gown, after beginning the song off-stage. The voice, as strong and evocative as ever, filled the capacity hall with joy.

Ms. Mills promised to sing all her songs during the show, and she did an amazing job of it , performing 14 songs in about and hour and a half. She covered every part of her career, performing both the hit singles “(You’re Puttin’) a Rush on Me” and a rousing “Sweet Sensation,” and album favorites like “Starlight,” “Jesse” and "Secret Lady."

Of course, one of the highlights was the full blown drama of “Feel The Fire,” where the three male background singers (Sylvester, Rusty and Richard) had an opportunity to really show why they got the job. Those voices were sheer power and supported Ms. Mills magically. The primo 4 piece band continued playing as she exited the stage for a costume change.

Displaying energy that would baffle performers half her age, which she proudly claims as 54, Ms. Mills returned in a cobalt blue mini dress with her first single, "Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin'". She used the hit “Keep Away Girls” as a background to introduce the members of her band which sounded twice as large in the hall. She was the only woman allowed on this stage!

After a sensuous “I Feel Good All Over,” Stephanie reached back to her 1984 LP for what she called her favorite song to sing, the Kenny Loggins’ penned “Give It Half a Chance.” She sang the song with conviction and passion. Then the party kicked off with a rocking version of “Never Knew Love Like This.” She jumped for joy as her guys sang “Never…Never.” She moved from one side of the stage to the other, sharing this outpouring of love with her audience, and wound up dancing on a table before it was over. This was followed by a funky “Put Your Body In It,” which she definitely did, working the stage like a club dance floor. Those were the moves of someone a generation younger!

The emotional highlight of the show was her final number, the modern classic “Home” from the Wiz. In a tour-de-force performance, Stephanie updated the ad-libs in the closing to include her friends Michael Jackson (who told her Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough), Barry White and James Brown to name a few. It was a fitting end to an emotionally packed and first-class performance from a true professional – a show biz legend.

The show was opened by DC based singer songwriter Kenny Wesley who is making a name for himself as one of the most promising independent artists on the scene today. Possessing a resonant and versatile voice, Wesley accompanied himself on keys performing two of his original compositions, “I’m Sorry” and “Clouding Up My View”. He dazzled the audience with his tone and range, sliding into low notes skipping into highs. Remarkably, he has a gift of scat with an uncommon musicality.

He introduced his family members (who had traveled from North Carolina for the occasion) and gave his grandmother, who he credited with teaching him to sing, an early Mother’s Day bouquet of roses and then sang a modern and stirring version of “Amazing Grace.”

Kenny had some remarkable comments to share about the power and durability of soul music which proves he really gets it. He wisely chose to honor the legacy of one of his influences, Luther Vandross by performing a medley of three of his recordings, “Going In Circles,” “Superstar” and “Creepin’.” Kenny was able to really show what he’s capable of by pulling off these songs for an audience of classic soul fans. Then to cap it, he closed with a classy version of “Walk On By.”

This young man has quite a future ahead of him. My words of advice to him: Dream Big!


About the Writer
Michael Lewis is a long-time associate at SoulMusic.com. His industry experience includes Sony Music, Motown and La Face Records, and a tenure at HEAR Music. He is grateful to contribute to sustaining the legacy of R&B and soul music.
  
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