I've known about Aretha Franklin for a long time. How could I not? How could anyone not know about Aretha Franklin???
The Queen of Soul recorded the iconic song "Respect," which I've always loved. And then when I was a teenage, she recorded her hit "Freeway of Love" with a music video to go with it. That song was on MTV's "Top 20 Video Countdown" for any number of weeks, and I remember thinking how cool that a woman who sang what I thought of as an "oldie" had a hit in the 80s. Embarrassing to admit, but true.
A few years ago rumors floated around that Ms. Franklin has cancer, and some of her concert appearances were cancelled as a result. I've subsequently read that the health scare was not as severe as first reported, but I still wondered about what was happening with the Queen of Soul. Thankfully, I found out on Tuesday evening when I watched the taped broadcast of 2015's Kennedy Center Honors.
I love the Kennedy Center Honors to begin with, but then Aretha Franklin came out to honor Carole King by singing "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," and it was all over. Full length fur coat, sparkling purse dropped atop the piano, accompanying herself in the piano to start the song, beaming back-up singers giving her the stage and probably wondering how they were lucky enough to be there with her, and then a downstage stroll that included her coat dropping away, Ms. Franklin shook the Kennedy Center and created an iconic, untouchable performance of a song that was already a classic.
I'm not sure that performance on that evening back in December when the show was taped can ever be topped by anyone. Aretha Franklin performed with humility and grace and complete control. And even though she did something extraordinary, it was still absolutely clear that she knew she was honoring someone by doing it. For me, her performance stands as an amazing example of what it means to be a collaborator and an interpreter, to understand that the writer is the primary artist and gives a gift to the performer. And then it's the performer's job to render it with that in mind. Just watch the reactions of Franklin and King after the song is finished. It tells the entire story.
Because I continue to watch the video of her performance with complete awe, admiration, and respect, Aretha Franklin is the artist I admire for this week, and the first one for 2016!