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Aretha Franklin Sings ‘Natural Woman’
Just moments into the late Aretha Franklin‘s powerful rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, attendee Barack Obama was wiping tears from his eyes.
In a clip of the powerful moment, which has since gone viral with more than 12.7 million views, Franklin — who died on Thursday in her Detroit home — sat at a piano and began to sing the famed lyrics: “Looking out on the morning rain, / I used to feel . . . so uninspired.”
The camera panned to an emotional Obama, seated next to wife Michelle Obama and the evening’s honoree, Carole King. The former president held his head with his hands and cried.
Obama later told The New Yorker he was so moved, because “nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”
The Queen of Soul’s singing embodied what America stands for, Obama said.
“That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings ‘A Natural Woman,’ she can move me to tears—the same way that Ray Charles’s version of ‘America the Beautiful’ will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed—because it captures the fullness of the American experience,” he told the publication. “The view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”
Obama believes “you can hear Aretha’s influence across the landscape of American music, no matter the genre.”
“What other artist had that kind of impact? Dylan. Maybe Stevie, Ray Charles,” he told The New Yorker in 2016. “The Beatles and the Stones—but, of course, they’re imports. The jazz giants like Armstrong. But it’s a short list. And if I’m stranded on a desert island, and have 10 records to take, I know she’s in the collection. For she’ll remind me of my humanity. What’s essential in all of us. And she just sounds so damn good. Here’s a tip: when you’re deejaying a party, open with ‘Rock Steady.’ ”
Barack and Michelle Obama with Carole King (L) at the Kennedy Center Honors on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC.
As Franklin took her emotional Kennedy Center performance to an exhilarating finale, she stood up from the piano, threw her floor-length mink coat to the ground, and ad-libbed vocal runs. The audience went wild.
Franklin later told Vogue she “loved the response from the audience and everyone who has been calling and texting. I’m just very happy about it.”
Obama and Franklin have a longstanding relationship. At his first inauguration in 2009, Franklin sang a beautiful rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” It was a powerful — and proud — moment in American history.
i don’t talk a lot about private conversations me and @POTUS44 ever had but when I started a conversation with him about talent for the first inaugural he cut me off and said “Aretha” #RIPArethaFranklin
— alyssa mastromonaco (@AlyssaMastro44) August 16, 2018
Former assistant to Obama, Alyssa Mastromonaco, tweeted Thursday that Franklin was his first-choice artist to perform at the inauguration.
“i don’t talk a lot about private conversations me and @POTUS44 ever had but when I started a conversation with him about talent for the first inaugural he cut me off and said ‘Aretha’ #RIPArethaFranklin.”
Obama released a statement in honor of Franklin on Thursday. “Aretha helped define the American experience,” he wrote on Twitter. “In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”
Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. pic.twitter.com/bfASqKlLc5
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 16, 2018