Instant Grammy Review : Aretha Franklin Tribute

Widely hyped in the week before the show, the five-voice tribute to Aretha Franklin was mostly a success if something of a mixed bag, as these sorts of diva pileups predictably are.

It’s hard doing to a tribute to the Queen of Soul sans said Queen—and her taped greeting to the Grammy audience showed her upright, if a bit subdued—but the no-contest winner of the night was Yolanda Adams.

As LL Cool J came out to introduce the lineup (with the first cut to Bieber in the audience!), it was revealed that 18-time-Grammy winner Franklin, reportedly suffering from pancreatic cancer, was “in Detroit tonight, getting better.” In no particular order, he called out the all-star, multi-genre lineup: Christina Aguilera, Jennfier Hudson, Florence Welch, Yolanda Adams and Martina McBride. The performance was basically structured around seven songs: two all-sings at the beginning and end, and five single-voice showcases in the middle.

The first all-sing, “Natural Woman,” found all the ladies doing just fine—but Christina’s redemption narrative kicked off early, with a cleanup-batting run. She then segued directly into “Ain’t No Way,” unfurling the runs for which she’s famous and generally recalling the parts of the Anthem imbroglio charitable viewers might remember more fondly.

The middle three were all somewhat subdued: a restrained “Until You Come Back to Me” from McBride that’s, if not twangy exactly, gently rocked up; a respectable “Think” from Florence marred by a problem with the lyric at the start; and an oddly distant “Respect” from J-Hud that’s vibrato-heavy and saves just a few Effie glory notes for the end.

And then, Yolanda unfurled that voice of hers—warming up with a wordless run, as if clearing her throat and giving the other four fair warning. “Spirit in the Dark” was a perfect choice for her, and she showed the other four how it’s done, restraining herself early and then bringing out the growl gradually, winding up with a rafter-reaching series of notes.

The choice of “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” to close is a bit too on-the-nose, and the classic Motown-revue approach is fine if a bit dull. There were limited showcase slots, but Adams punctuated her win with a closing glory note.


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