A Legend Comes to Radio City

September 21st, 2009

Aretha Franklin – Radio City Music Hall – September 18, 2009

(Photo: Mina K)

(Photo: Mina K)

As we waited for Aretha Franklin to grace us with her presence at the sold-out Radio City Music Hall on Friday, her orchestra warmed up onstage. With a bevy of musicians and backup singers, this was a big production—the only kind befitting the Queen of Soul. When the singer appeared, looking regal in a floor-length black gown, the band wasted no time in vamping up the instantly recognizable opening bars of the Otis Redding classic “Respect.” It may be a jukebox staple, but there’s something magical and mind-blowing about hearing such a classic song performed live. “We’re going back now,” announced Franklin, as her set continued with vintage songs from her catalog including “Call Me,” “Baby, I Love You,” “Think,” and “Don’t Play That Song for Me.”

Franklin’s personality commands just as much attention as her music, and she enjoyed telling stories and throwing out the occasional one-liner. When she requested some water to be brought from backstage, Franklin joked, “And if you see a man back there, you can bring him too!” Despite these larger-than-life antics, there were more intimate moments in the show as well, as Franklin took a moment to acknowledge an old family friend in the crowd, reminiscing about memories they had shared.

Though, at times, criticism has a way of surfacing regarding the consistency of Franklin’s performances, her stage presence and vocal range were captivating, and there were many eruptions of spontaneous applause as she gracefully went from belting out a bright high note to a low, raspy growl. There should be no dispute: Aretha Franklin will always be the Queen of Soul, and it was a privilege to be one of the queen’s subjects on Friday night. —Alena Kastin