The Queen of Soul Receives a Multi-Artist Tribute at Carnegie Hall With 'The Music of Aretha Franklin'
The Queen of Soul wasn’t in attendance, but Aretha Franklin would have certainly been thrilled by the musical tribute paid her at Carnegie Hall on Monday night (March 6). Featuring a roster of estimable musicians performing songs recorded by the 74-year-old singer, who has recently announced her upcoming retirement, The Music of Aretha Franklin shook the rafters of the venerable auditorium.
The evening marked the 14th in a series of benefit tribute concerts produced by Michael Dorf, who introduced the show with an appreciation of its honoree. Dorf noted that a teenage Franklin had been persuaded by Sam Cooke to drop out of school to pursue her musical career, which he admitted was “kind of ironic for an evening supporting musical education.” He announced that the show’s net proceeds of approximately $100,000 would be donated to such organizations as Grammy in the Schools, The Center for Arts Education, and the D’Addario Foundation.
That was pretty much it for the speechifying in the fast-paced evening, during which over twenty acts performed one song each, most of them accompanied by the funky house band, Antilbalas. Not surprisingly, many of the performers were cut in the Aretha mold, delivering high-powered vocals that blended soul, gospel, and R&B. A handful were of Franklin’s generation, such as Sam Moore, of Sam & Dave fame, whose high-energy “Don’t Play That Song for Me” belied his years. Gospel singer Naomi Shelton delivered “A Change is Gonna Come” with rapturous intensity from her wheelchair. Taj Mahal and his daughter Deva Mahal affectionately traded vocals on “Chain of Fools.” Sarah Dash, clad in a purple sequin dress and bright blue fur coat, unleashed her still formidable lung power on “Dr. Feelgood (Love is a Serious Business”).
Don Bryant brought his classic Hi Records style to his histrionic rendition of “Drown in My Own Tears,” and Bettye LaVette ended her stunning performance of “Ain’t No Way” (written by Aretha’s younger sister Carolyn) with a dramatic, diva-style exit, still singing sans microphone while waltzing into the wings.
Many of the younger artists had clearly been influenced by Franklin. Nine-time Grammy nominee Ledisi, announcing that she was doing “a song for the Dreamers,” unleashed her vocal acrobatics on a boisterous “Day Dreaming.” Rhiannon Giddens, accompanied by pianist Dirk Powell, sang Elton John’s “Border Song” with fiercely impassioned fervor, slightly changing the final line to “Can we live in peace?” Ruthie Foster, asking the crowd, “How about some naturalness?,” received a standing ovation for her roof-raising take on “Natural Woman.” Melissa Etheridge seemed to get an ironic kick out of singing “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You).” The raspy-voiced singer also noted how thrilled she was to be finally making her belated Carnegie Hall debut. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” she told the crowd. “And I’ve practiced a lot!”
Other performers didn’t exactly seem like natural fits for the evening. Rodney Crowell brought a country vibe to the proceedings with his take on “The Weight,” which Franklin recorded in 1969, a year after The Band. Richard Thompson’s solo acoustic version of “Hello Sunshine” was fine, but hardly revelatory. Kenny Loggins’ smooth pop sensibility didn’t do much to enliven “Until You Come Back to Me.” Todd Rundgren, wearing an unfortunate sleeveless shirt, was more rock than soul on “Since You’ve Been Gone.” And while CeeLo Green’s “Night Time is the Right Time” was great fun, he seemed to be channeling Ray Charles far more than Aretha.
Antibalas had their moments to shine with “Respect” and “Who’s Zooming Who.” The former was enlivened by three young girls representing “Little Kids Rock, who received a standing ovation for their preternaturally mature vocals. Living Colour closed out the evening with an exuberant “Rock Steady” that had the crowd on their feet dancing, and they took charge of the finale, a reprise of “Respect,” that featured the entire line-up onstage for a boisterous send-off.
The Music of Aretha Franklin Set List
Allen Stone—I Say a Little Prayer
Sam Moore—Don’t Play That Song for me
Sarah Dash—Dr. Feelgood (Love is a Serious Business)
Naomi Shelton—A Change is Gonna ComeAntibalas w/Little Kids Rock—Respect
Antibalas—Who’s Zooming Who
Rodney Crowell—The Weight
Taj Mahal & Deva Mahal—Chain of Fools
Ron Pope—Baby I Love You
Rhiannon Giddens—Border Song (Holy Moses)
Richard Thompson—Hello Sunshine
Ruthie Foster—Natural Woman
Todd Rundgren—Since You’ve Been Gone
Don Bryant—Drown in My Own Tears
Kenny Loggins—Until You Come Back to me
Bettye LaVette—Ain’t No WayCeeLo Green—Night Time is the Right Time
Melissa Etheridge—I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)
Living Colour—Rock Steady