Posted on August 20, 2018 at 7:59 pm

I saw Aretha Franklin perform live only once. In June 1997, probably as my birthday present, my Dad somehow got tickets to the opening night of the JVC Jazz Festival, which was called “Aretha’s Gospel Crusade for AIDS.” In the course of the evening, there was speeching, preaching, and performances by Joshua Nelson and Bobby Jones and The Canton Spirituals, and then, in the midst of all that, there was The Queen.

True to the concert’s billing, there was no “Respect,” no “Freeway of Love,” no “Natural Woman”; this was full-on gospel, with the New Jersey Mass Choir supporting Aretha no matter where she ended up taking the songs – and she took them pretty much everywhere. It’s impossible to overstate the sheer virtuosity and technique that Aretha had – there was simply no limit to what she could make her voice do in the service of her majestic musical imagination.  And as brilliant as she could be in the recording studio, she was a live performer down to her bones, and thrived on the spontaneity of other musicians riding alongside her.

If I recall correctly, Aretha’s whole segment was only about 35 minutes long, and while I was disappointed afterwards not to get more of her, I was also filled with what I can only call a kind of euphoria. You can’t be in the presence of that kind of musicianship, that kind of channeling from the heavens, without feeling a real joy, joy in all its shapes and colors, the bright pinks and the muted greens as well.

She could have done fifteen minutes, she could have done three hours, it would never have been enough. We were all lucky to have her in whatever way we got her for as long as we did.

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Two weeks ago, when Cynthia and I did our Secret SubCulture show, we had no idea that Aretha was dying. We just wanted to sing her music, because it is deep at the core of who we both are as musicians.  In honor of the late, truly great Aretha Franklin, this is Cynthia Erivo performing Aretha’s 1967 hit “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”, live on August 6, 2018, featuring Jimmy Greene on sax, Gary Sieger on guitar, Todd Reynolds on violin, Randy Landau on bass, Jamie Eblen on drums, Justin Goldner on rhythm guitar, and me on piano.

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