At the height of the counterculture movement, Aretha Franklin and Carole King represented two hugely pivotal forces. Franklin was a trailblazing presence amid the civil rights scene and King’s transition from a studio hitmaker to a very natural presence under the spotlight itself earmarked her as a feminist force, not to mention anthemic tunes like ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’.
This King penned song which was covered by Franklin is the most direct link between the two, but the comparisons thereafter are also self-evident. When the respective stars get behind a piano, they simply purr with magnetism and musical majesty. The fact that they used their talents to springboard meaningful change in a truly joyous way is the cherry on top of their mammoth achievements.
“Being the Queen is not all about singing,” the late soul icon, Franklin, once proclaimed, “It has much to do with your service to people… your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well. Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It can take you right back, it’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.”
Back in 2015, the late legend Aretha Franklin celebrated these achievements in a blistering tribute to her fellow trailblazer. Throughout the performance, with Barack Obama in attendance, Franklin taps into the same seamless power that always seemed to be at her disposal. While sometimes an artist can age and lose their vocal prowess, Franklin rattles the rafters like she’s fuelled by an eternal fire of hard-fought swagger in a performance that should have probably crowned women the superior sex on the spot.
All the while, Carole King exhibits the sort of enthusiasm that is usually reserved to the poor tortured folks of a certain chat show being told that there’s a surprise free DVD under their chair. Amid the star-studded audience, King beams with utter exuberance, like a squirrel who has just snuck into the Ferrero Rocher factory, and rightly so. There can be no finer privilege than having Franklin elevate a song you have written to unseen heights.
As Keith Richards once said of his favourite singer: “The dictionary has been used up, there’s no superlatives left, and there’s nothing to read anyway,” Richards said in his muddled speech before bursting into a fit of laughter when inducting her as the first woman in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. “What can I say about Aretha? You’re in baby. My turn next, maybe?”
Indeed, superlatives are hard to come by when trying to describe Franklin’ tribute to King, so I’ll just let King’s awed actions do the talking while you sit back and enjoy the alignment of two icons in a performance that gives meaning to goosebumps if that makes even a lick of sense.