Eight months after rumors spread that the Queen was dying, Aretha Franklin — the Queen of Soul — proved to a hometown crowd that she’s very much alive and well.
The 69-year-old Franklin was in robust voice and ebullient good humor throughout her hour-and-50-minute concert on Thursday (Aug. 25) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre in suburban Detroit, putting to rest all those dire health reports after unspecified surgery in December. Cheered on by fellow Motor City diva Anita Baker, who sat in the third row next to Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, Franklin delivered a 14-song survey of her career, from her spiritual roots (“I Came to Lift Him Up,” “Ain’t No Way,” Juanita Bynum’s “One Night With the King”) through the key hits (“Respect,” “Chain of Fools”) and “How Long I’ve Been Waiting” from her latest album, “Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love.”
And her expansive, gospel-ized take on Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was showstoppingly epic.
Franklin opened the set in tribute mode — though not to any of the music luminaries (Jerry Lieber, Frank DiLeo and Motown luminaries Nick Ashford and Esther Gordy Edwards) who passed away during the week. Instead she entered with an upbeat rendition of fellow Detroiter Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” before paying homage to Curtis Mayfield with “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” and Luther Vandross with “Get It Right,” a 1983 hit he co-wrote for Franklin. She also made mention during the show of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, and her late sisters Erma and Carolyn.
Franklin told the story about Stevie Wonder writing “Until You Come Back to Me” for her before performing that tune and gave some props to her son, Eddie, who was sitting in the crowd and to her grandson Jordan an aspiring contemporary R&B rapper/singer who performed a pair of his songs during Franklin’s lone outfit change.
Franklin was due to perform at this weekend’s unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on Aug. 28, which has been canceled due to impending weather. She’ll perform with Tony Bennett on Sept. 18 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera — she sings “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with him on Bennett’s upcoming “Duets II” — and has shows booked in October St. Louis, Durrham, N.C., and Nashville.
She’ll also be hosting a gospel concert featuring Bynum, Karen Clark Sheard and others on Oct. 28 at her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, and Franklin plans to attend but not perform at the Nov. 5 tribute concert honoring her the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 16th annual American Music Masters series.