This is how you put on a swingin’ 74th birthday party: come to New York and take over the lobby restaurant at the swanky Ritz Carlton Hotel on Central Park South.
The Queen of Soul, Miss Aretha Franklin, did exactly that last night. Dressed in a gorgeous white mid length gown, covered in a white fur, the Queen didn’t sing but she provided entertainment: Mario Cantone did his hilarious impressions of Liza Minnelli, Manhattan Transfer performed, former Temptations lead singer Dennis Edwards– Aretha’s favorite– crooned for the guests and the amazing Dizzy Gillespie Jazz All Stars played through the night.
The guests? Just Clive Davis, Nikki Haskell, Rev. Jesse Jackson, commentator Michael Dyson, NBC’s Tamron Hall, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash of Labelle, the great singers Lisa Fischer and Vaneese Thomas, producer Narada Michael Walden, former Congressman Charles Rangel and his wife, CNN’s Don Lemon, gospel star and Harlem theater maven Vy Higginsen, “The Wiz” director George Faison, plus late-arrivers like super model Frederique van Der Wal and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, as well as cast members from “Hamilton.”
Plus there was a rare appearance from our beloved pal, Vicki Wickham, the great manager of Dusty Springfield and Labelle, and the lyricist for Dusty’s great hit “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Plus, I met T.S. Monk, the talented son of late jazz legend Thelonious Monk.
Aretha also got a nice gift from British impresario Charles Finch: an inscribed copy of his gorgeous new photo coffee table book, “The Night Before BAFTA” from Assouline Press. (Every year Finch throws the party the night before the British Academy Awards at Annabelle’s in London– he’s inviting Miss Franklin to please join him).
The great Detroit born jazz singer Joan Belgrave (widow of trumpeter Marcus Belgrave) led the group singing the heck out of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.” Aretha’s old friend Tracy Jordan, from SiriusXM and days at Arista Records, brought her mother, jazz singer Sheila Jordan, whose famous 1963 album “Portrait of Sheila” is being re-released soon on Blue Note Records.
The food, music and Champagne may still be flowing. Aretha plays a private gig this weekend before heading to Washington for a White House jazz special being taped next week.