In honor of Aretha Franklin knocking President Obama’s socks off at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors this month, we’ve compiled 10 of the soul queen’s most exhilarating live performances ever recorded (that are readily available online). Here they are in chronological order, in which she moves from 22 year-old variety show darling to elder stateswoman and — let it not go unsaid — reigning D-I-V-A.
“Won’t Be Long” on The Steve Allen Show, 1964
Here the 22-year-old performs her first single to make the Billboard Hot 100, from her 1961 album Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo.
“Respect” at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, 1968
On her first tour through Europe, Franklin sealed the deal with fans abroad by delivering barn-burning performances like this grand finale rendition of her greatest hit.
“Precious Lord” at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, 1968
Franklin had the opportunity to tour the South with Dr. King, a family friend, when she was just 16 years old. Her tribute to him at his funeral was made all the more poignant by her personal relationship with the civil rights hero.
“I Say A Little Prayer” on The Cliff Richard Show, 1970
Almost worth it for the beehive hairdos of her backup singers alone, this TV performance shows Franklin really hitting her stride as she belts the Dionne Warwick classic, which also appeared on her 1968 album Aretha Now.
Concert at the Fillmore West, 1971
The recording from this set at the famed San Francisco venue comprises what many consider one of the best live albums of all time. Here you can actually watch as she brings a surprise special guest from backstage — Ray Charles — to “move with the spirit a little” as they duet on “Spirit in the Dark.”
“Mary Don’t You Weep” on the Soul Train Christmas special, 1979
Here Franklin sits at a grand piano with her hair flowing and angelic voice lulling Soul Train viewers into a merry slumber.
“Nessun Dorma” from Turandot at the Grammy Awards, 1998
When Luciano Pavarotti had to cancel his Grammy performance at the last minute due to illness, Franklin stepped in and did not miss a beat — or note — with this soaring rendition of Puccini’s opera show-stopper.
Not even five of the world’s top divas could hold a candle to the Queen when they joined her onstage during this VH1 special.
“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, 2009
Two words: That hat!
“Rolling in the Deep” on the Late Show with David Letterman, 2014
There’s nothing classier than when the older generation honors rising stars of the next, and watching Franklin perform this song by her heir apparent Adeleis about as classy as it gets in pop music today.