As a girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Capathia Jenkins didn’t necessarily aspire to sing at Carnegie Hall. “I just wanted to sing,” she said in a recent phone interview. “And I knew that I would, but I didn’t know to what capacity. As I progressed in my career, I made it an aspiration to sing there. With my third time approaching, I now find myself asking Whose life is this?”
Her life is that of a Broadway and Symphony Hall Diva. On Friday, November 13th, she’ll command the stage, along with her fellow stage star Montego Glover, recording artist Sy Smith, and the New York Pops Orchestra for a night entitled Sophisticated Ladies. Here, the trio will perform songs made popular by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Dinah Washington. The sworn to secrecy Jenkins wouldn’t share any details about the program, but told me that, “they’ve all put together a list of their favorites and are now combing through to determine what the final selections will be.” She also shared some insight into each of the classic singers. “Ella really used her voice as an instrument and part of the band, which is just so impressive. Sarah is my ‘go-to’ singer. Her voice is like molten chocolate. She’s always been my guide for jazz standards because she just sings the ink off the page and makes it her own. Billie didn’t have an incredible range or a beautiful tone, but what she did have in spades was her phrasing. Her emotion, honesty, and soulfulness is really what draws me in. Dinah—I just love the raw sound of her voice.” In addition to these ladies of soul, Jenkins is enthusiastic about one singer in particular. “Gladys Knight is my all-time favorite,” she raved. “She just has it all: tone, range, and soulfulness like no other.” Jenkins also enjoys D’Angelo, and singer-songwriters like Adele, Jason Mraz, and India Arie.
With five Broadway credits to her name, the New York native recalled the first Broadway show she ever saw. “It was The Wiz. I remember that I was 11 or 12 and watching Stephanie Mills thinking, ‘Look at this little black girl from Brooklyn who is just like me’. With great reflection she said, “It absolutely changed my life.” Jenkins is now working for a second time with Mills in NBC’s new reinvented version of The Wiz (the pair first worked together in Children of Eden at Paper Mill Playhouse) and calls the current experience a “full circle moment.”
From her dramatic turn in Caroline or Change to a sassy Vaudeville singer in Newsies, Jenkins has explored a range of characters, but she is especially fond of her time in Martin Short’s 2006 show Fame Becomes Me, where she brought down the house every night with a gospel-inspired song entitled “A Big Black Lady Stops the Show.” Watch it here
“Between Martin and my co-star Brooks Ashmankas, it’s really amazing that we got any work done,” she recalled. “We’d just laugh and laugh from the beginning to the end of the day.” She spoke quite fondly of the comedian. “Marty is the real deal; a consummate comedic actor, but also a very generous and kind human being. It just made for a wonderful atmosphere and we were able to make huge choices during rehearsal. He is just so great.”
Even though she frequently graces the stages of concert halls around the world, Jenkins is well aware of the gravitas of Carnegie Hall. “I’ve been there before , but it’s just everything that anyone would ever dream it to be. It’s like, ‘Oh My God! I’m at Carnegie Hall.’ “, she laughed. “My homework is the same here as anywhere else; Learn the lyrics and tell the story, but for Carnegie, it’s all about preparing for the enormity of the event, to stay within myself, and be present in the moment.” She admits to getting butterflies and having the desire to “run out of the building 60-90 seconds before she goes onstage,” but said that the buildup is more nerve-wracking than actually doing it.
With such a unique name, I inquired about the origin. Jenkins explained, “When my mom was pregnant with me, my Auntie met a little girl in Florida with the same name so she and my mother decided to name me Capathia. It’s really that simple! But Capathia, in spite of my research to find a meaning, is just a name. I joked with her that, loosely translated, it means “bad ass”, and once she opens her mouth to sing with the New York Pops on November 13th, those in attendance are sure to agree.
Capathia Jenkins in Sophisticated Ladies with the New York Pops Orchestra. Friday, November 13th 8 PM at Carnegie Hall (57th and 7th). For tickets and more information, go to http://www.newyorkpops.org/sophisticated-ladies or visit the Carnegie Hall box office