Rock Hall tribute concert gives Dr. Aretha Franklin a little more R-E-S-P-E-C-T
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters Series is an annual event for which the museum assembles a cast of performers to pay tribute to one of its inductees. Past honorees have included Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and Janis Joplin. This year, the Rock Hall selected Aretha Franklin, the first woman to be inducted to the Rock Hall. Because her music reaches across so many genres, she was the perfect subject for the 16th annual event.
A week’s worth of events concluded in a tribute concert held last night at Cleveland, Ohio’s State Theatre. The three-hour concert kicked off with a ceremony in which Case Western Reserve University bestowed an honorary doctorate. In accepting, Franklin briefly introduced the members of her extended family who were in attendance many of whom, it seems, are musical.
After a brief video about Franklin’s birth in Memphis and her religious upbringing (her father was a well-known pastor) in Detroit, former Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies frontman Mike Farris came out to deliver a faithful rendition of “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep,” a tune Franklin recorded for her 1972 album, Amazing Grace. (Rock Hall President and CEO Terry Stewart, who served as the event’s emcee explained that the show wouldn’t adhere to chronology because the performers were allowed to select the songs they played).
After R&B/gospel singer Jerry Butler and gospel singer Melinda Doolittle played a couple of tunes each, gospel singer Carla Cook and pianist Kris Bowers honored Franklin’s Columbia years by playing “Skylark” and “Soulville.” Performances by the Isley Brothers’ Ronald Isley, gospel singer Twinkie Clark, and gospel singer Cissy Houston led up to appearance by the Temptations’ Dennis Edwards, who couldn’t have been more sincere but struggled a bit to turn “Chain of Fools” into that anthem that it is.
Soul singer Chaka Khan also came up a little short on “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” before giving way to Lauryn Hill, who revisited “One Step Ahead,” “Day Dreaming” and “A Rose is Still a Rose.” Though she wasn’t originally scheduled to perform, the Queen decided to put the finished touches on the tribute by playing the oft-covered (including once by Aretha) Leon Russell tune, “A Song for You,” accompanied by Isley and Edwards.
Overall, while the line-up of performers was a worthy tribute to the Queen, one of the best performances of the night ironically turned out to be a vintage video clip of Franklin doing an especially powerful rendition of “Dr. Feelgood.”