by Jessica Lane
August 30, 2018
Photo by Steve Mack/FilmMagic
Aretha Franklin left this world last Thursday at the age of 76, after a battle cancer. And we can’t think of a better way to honor our Queen of Soul than taking a look at her best performances over time. Her voice, her range, her effortless stage presence (the epic mink drop? need we say more!) and her genre-blending performances, a legend lived among us. She blessed us with a decades-long career of hits, performances and interviews that left us crying, laughing and waiting on the next deliciously diva moment.
Now, our list of Aretha Franklin’s all-time top performances and after watching these….you’ll remember EXACTLY why we’re calling her the greatest of all time.
5. Aretha Franklin Performs At Bill Clinton’s Inauguration (1993), “I Dreamed A Dream”
Let’s just go ahead and call her the inauguration slayer. We all remember when she strolled to the stage in that, now infamous, hat and gave us a reason to love “America.” But let’s go a little further back, remember her when she sang for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She made “I Dreamed A Dream” from the Broadway musical Les Miserables sound like a hand-waving, testimony-sharing gospel solo, despite all those white people and those stringed instruments. And when that choir came in for the finale 🙌🏿🙌🏿🙌🏿🙌🏿…what’s not to love?! She left the crowd in a standing ovation.
4. Aretha Franklin Performs At Martin Luther King’s Memorial Service (1968), “Precious Lord”
Whew chile, the tears! It’s footage from 1968, so it’s short, grainy and the audio isn’t the best. But in spite of everything, we dare you to listen to this and not get a little weepy. Dr. King was a family friend of her father, Pastor Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, and worked with Dr. King to organize Detroit’s Walk to Freedom. She later replayed this tribute in 2011 during the dedication of Dr. King’s Washington memorial.
3. Aretha Franklin Performs Live At The Concertgebouw Amsterdam (1968), “Respect”
This list would NOT be complete without featuring R-E-S-P-E-C-T! This archived treasure comes from her first European tour in 1968 where she performed this hit as her grand finale. This song, first released when she was only 25, hit the charts and didn’t stop until it reached the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. It epitomizes the spirit of the civil rights movement and our push for love, honor and RESPECT in the racist institutions of America.
2. Aretha Franklin Performs At The Grammy Awards (1998), “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot
Her performance amazing, but the story behind her taking the stage is even better. Opera legend Pavarotti and Aretha Franklin were friends so when the doctors ordered him to rest his voice, she agreed to step in. And no, we’re not talking about weeks of rehearsal to replace him. Imagine standing around backstage two hours before show time, when the opportunity popped up. Legend has it, she listened to his rehearsal tape and decided she got it. Then gave a show-stopping, genre-bending performance in front of millions, live at the 1998 Grammy Awards. When you’re called, you better answer!
1. Aretha Franklin Performs At The Kennedy Center Honors (2015), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
And to think, this night wasn’t even about Aretha Franklin and it’s the moment everyone talks about. Franklin performed a tribute to the song’s co-writer Carole King, who received the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement. She walked on that stage at 73 wrapped in a full-length mink, sat down in front of the piano and began to sing. Her voice just as immaculate and rich as it was in the ’70s.
And to watch Carole King melt in her seat before she even got into first verse is EVERYTHING! But there’s more, around the second chorus she rises up from the piano walks toward the middle of the stage and brings the house DOWN. She belts out the grand finale and promptly comes out that mink coat throwing it to the floor as only a queen could.
TELL US: Did your favorite Aretha Franklin performance make the cut?