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Motown Reflections comes to Western Springs

Four singers and a five- or seven-piece band will recreate the music of The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and other Motown luminaries when Motown Reflections performs Nov. 19 at the Theater of Western Springs. It’s a return engagement for the group, which sold out a 2020 performance at the theater.

“The artists will give you that feel of Motown and the sound of Motown,” said manager William Payton, Sr., who founded the group 10 years ago.

Selections will include such hits as “My Girl” and “I Heard it from the Grapevine,” as well as songs performed by Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and many more popular Motown artists.

“Motown is a sound that is internationally recognized,” Payton said. “People gravitate to it. It’s a sound that satisfies all audiences. The Motown era was probably the biggest musical era ever.”

Payton revealed that although the Motown sound is associated with Detroit, it actually started in Chicago. He added, “When Motown released their records, they released them in Chicago first, even though they made them in Detroit. Everybody released their records in Chicago because if it becomes a hit here, it goes all over.”

Cynthia Kyles Johnson has been singing with Motown Reflections since 2017. She’s a big fan of the Motown sound, saying, “It brings back that Motown feeling when certain songs are played. You think about what you were doing at that time.”

Johnson said that audiences always react when Motown Reflections performs. “They just cannot sit in their seats,” she reported.

Johnson has been immersed in music all of her life. “My family played music when I was little so I was always around some types of singing,” she said. “I got more interested in it than I got older.”

That was particularly true when she connected with Payton. “Bill pulls the best out of you,” she declared.

Johnson has to miss some of the performances because she is an inspector for FEMA and is sometimes on assignment for months. “Last year, I was in New York and Philadelphia from September to December,” she related.

When she does get to perform with Motown Reflections, she said. “The songs really put you in that happy-time mood when things were more fun.” She also praised “the closeness we have as a group.”

“I am the new kid on the block,” said singer Francesca Brownlee, who joined the band about a month ago. “When we did the show last month, we had a lot of fun. It was a lot of great energy. I’m a people person so I feed off of energy. I like positive people. I like being around people that like to have a good time and love music.”

Although she is new to Motown Reflections, Brownlee has been singing for a long time. “I do a lot of R&B, I do a lot of soulful music, I even rap a little bit,” she said, noting that singing the Motown classics is a slight change of pace for her. “I’m always looking to experience or do something different when it comes to music,” Brownlee said.

She’s enjoying the Motown sound because, “It’s feel-good music,” the singer said.

Brownlee began singing as a youngster in a church choir. When she got older, she sang with her uncle’s community choir.

“Once I got to high school, it really took off,” she said. “I was in concert choir, I was in gospel choir, I was in a group called Black Harmony.”

Professionally, she performed as Patti LaBelle in Divas of Soul, and has sung at jazz clubs and supper clubs around the Chicago area. Brownlee also sings at many birthday parties, weddings and funerals. She currently sings every Thursday night at a restaurant called Culture in downtown Homewood.

The busy performer also has had a day job as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens for 23 years and has been an Amazon Flex driver for three years.

“Sometimes I hate the fact that I’m so busy,” Brownlee admitted, “because music is my real passion. I absolutely love to do it whether I’m tired or stressed out. Music always seems to make everything better.”

Brownlee, who is a lead vocalist, was still deciding her song list when we spoke. She said that she will be singing some Gladys Knight songs and she may even sing Motown songs that were sung by male artists.

Payton closes every show by singing his only number, “Rapper’s Delight,” as he introduces the band members. “I bring the audience in because everybody loves that song,” he said.

Payton loves being part of Motown Reflections because, “It takes us back to an era that you don’t hear anymore. If you don’t go to an event like this theater, you’re not going to get that look and feel anymore.”

Motown Reflections

When: 7:30 pm Nov 19

Where: Theater of Western Springs, 4384 Hampton Ave., Western Springs

Tickets: $35; $30 for subscribers

Info: 708-246-4043; theaterofwesternsprings.com

Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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