What Josh Groban Learned From Singing With Aretha Franklin at Nelson Mandela's Birthday
As he prepares for the Sept. 21 release of his eight studio album, Bridges, the debut of his new Netflix program The Good Cop as well as the Oct. 18 start of his North American Arena tour, Josh Groban shared memories of his handful of brief, but meaningful and unique, encounters with the late Aretha Franklin.
Aretha and I took part in the same night at the (2006) Kennedy Center Honors. I was honoring Andrew Lloyd Webber and (Franklin) was being honored herself, and we were all at the White House for a kind of get-to-know-you dinner thing. I brought my mom as my date, and of course we're both huge fans of Aretha. So I got my courage up and said, "Ms. Franklin...." And she said hi and was so sweet, "So nice to see you." It was all of two minutes, but nice.
Cut to two years later, when she's up on stage getting her MusiCares Person of the Year honor the night before the Grammys. She's giving her speech and suddenly she looks down at the table I'm sitting at and she says, "Is that Josh Groban? I met his mother at the White House" and then just continued on with her speech. I was absolutely floored. I had to step out and call my mom and tell her. I just couldn't believe it. It meant so much to me for her to remember, and so much to my mom.
I can imagine the amount of people Aretha Franklin met in her life who wanted to come up and kiss the ring, and she had this fleeting moment of wanting to give us that shout out. That's just a testament to how thoughtful and in it for all the right reasons she was. It was just so fun to have had a couple of fleeting moments like that with the Queen.
My most personal experience with Aretha was singing with her for Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday concert (in 2009) at Radio City Music Hall. She wanted to do a duet of "You Raise Me Up," one of my songs, and, oh my God, of course, absolutely. I was in her dressing room and she had the CD on the boom box and we were listening to it, deciding where we're each going to sing, and she was so open-hearted about it. Her whole family was in there, and there was this aura around her that was just about family. There was warmth every time you were around her.
We rehearsed in her dressing room, and when you go out on stage you quickly learn the most important lesson when doing a duet with Aretha Franklin -- when her microphone goes up to her mouth, your microphone drops to the floor. I would watch her, and every time her mic came up, mine went down. I just let her do what she does best, and so well, and in the gaps in between I'd try to catch up.
We didn't keep in touch after that. It was just one of those serendipitous things, an opportunity to sing a dream duet you'll tell your grandkids about. In this business you go on to different things and in different directions, and so be it. But these are wonderful memories I have.