Bette Gets a Nod From The Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin

Queen Aretha still reigns
Sunday, September 21st, 2003
Mr. Jim Farber
NY Daily News

No one could miss who was running the show at Aretha Franklin’s Radio City Music Hall concert Saturday night. Three times during the first four numbers, the singer instructed her orchestra to repeat an intro until she found the right time to enter with her vocal. In other moments, she held up a song until the stagehands got “all this mist off the stage,” she got her engineers to fiddle with the sound “because I didn’t get the chance to come to the rehearsals this afternoon,” and, when no one inher band could produce the tissue she asked for, she said, “Streisand gets tissues, a facecloth, water, money!”
Call it top-drawer diva behavior, but Aretha not only delivered it all with self-aware camp, she used it to create the spontaneity that has long made her concerts such strangely intimate affairs. For years, Franklin’s shows have shuttled between indulgence and revelation. Saturday’s event had its share of both, though thankfully, it tipped more toward the latter.

In Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” Aretha slid up the scales with slippery ease. In “Dr. Feelgood,” she gnawed on the notes, wringing out every bit of their bluesy juice.

Years ago, Aretha developed a rasp in her voice that has taken some of the beauty from her shouts. So she did better in the softer moments. In many songs, she halted the orchestra entirely to showcase some gorgeous a cappella cadenzas.

Aretha offered them in hits, like “Respect” and “Ain’t No Way,” as well as in an elegant cover of “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot.” She also served up two solid songs from her new CD, “So Damn Happy.”

But in the show’s final third, Aretha padded things badly. She turned “Freeway of Love” into a 20-minute excuse to thank either people who have helped her career (Arif Mardin) or stars in attendance (Bette Midler). She instructed three separate public relations people to take a bow.

It was hardly the silliest thing I’ve seen at an Aretha show. Several years ago, she took time out to thank her dentist. But, from a queen, you have to put up with such things. And when this one snaked through her epic vocal runs, and chilling trills, you’d forgive her anything.

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