It’s only three weeks until the Grammys, but somehow executive producer Ken Ehrlich put together a smash all star tribute to Aretha Franklin last night at the Shrine Auditorium. The show was taped for CBS and will be aired sometime this spring.
This was the only date that could be arranged so a slew of superstars participated. Clive Davis and NARAS chief Neil Portnow joined with Ehrlich and bent over backwards to make something special for Aretha. I think she’ll be pleased.
The performers are a Who’s Who from Clive’s Rolodex: Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Rob Thomas, Fantasia, Patti Labelle, John Legend, Janelle Monae, SZA, HER, Yolanda Adams, Common, Alessia Cara, Brandi Carlisle, Andra Day, Shirley Caesar, Bebe Winans, Celine Dion, with Tyler Perry as host. A taped piece from Elton John will be added for airing. Smokey Robinson appears but doesn’t sing.
The show is a comprehensive look at Aretha’s career, covering gospel, pop, and R&B. The performances I saw were all thrilling. Special mention to Fantasia who gets better and better, is very underrated. Jennifer Hudson, who will play Aretha in a feature film, of course, opened the night with a killer medley of “Think,” “Ain’t No Way,” and “Respect.” She’s a hard act to follow!
Production values are very high. The Shrine, which can look a little woebegone, was glowing. The set is excellent. Ehrlich keeps the trains running– there was none of the usual stop and start that accompanies a taping.
In the audience were plenty of fans, as well as The Supremes’ great Mary Wilson, Oscar songwriter Diane Warren, and Aretha’s son, grandkids, niece Sabrina and lots of pals. Among those on stage were musical director Rickey Minor and singer Fonzie Thornton, and Aretha would have approved.