On Saturday, March 5, the legendary “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin came to Colgate to perform for a sold-out audience at Colgate University’s Sanford Field House. The 73-year-old Franklin has won numerous accolades, including 18 Grammy Awards, five American Music Awards, four NAACP Image Awards and 12 honorary doctorate degrees. She was also the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has been named the No. 1 vocalist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. Franklin was brought to Colgate as part of the Kerschner Family Global Leader Series, which launched in 2007. Previous Kerschner Series speakers include Felipe Calderon, Shimon Peres, Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton.
Prior to Franklin’s performance, the Colgate University Chamber Singers took the stage as an opening act, performing a tribute to the “Motown Legends” with music by The Supremes, The Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder. Director of Choral and Vocal Activities Dr. R. Ryan Endris said that he was thrilled to learn that the Chamber Singers would open for Aretha Franklin.
“I thought it would be a really great opportunity to not only show the talent of the Chamber Singers, but also their versatility. We’ve gone from the cathedrals of Vienna to Gospel Fest to now, the music of Motown,” Endris said.
Chamber Singer sophomore Michael DiGiorgio noted that opening for such a well-known guest as Franklin required many hours of rehearsal. After Endris arranged the three performance pieces, the Chamber Singers rehearsed twice weekly for two months, incorporating microphones and choreography in mid-February.
Following the performance of the Chamber Singers, Franklin emerged from backstage wearing a long, pink sequined dress which stood in stark contrast to the darkened stage behind her. She was greeted by thunderous applause from the audience. After briefly greeting the audience, she began her repertoire with her 1986 hit “I Knew You Were Waiting,” a song she originally released as a duet with George Michael.
She followed this with “I Say a Little Prayer,” then “Natural Woman.” Another fan favorite was “Think,” the song Franklin sings in her cameo in the 1980 film, The Blues Brothers.
After a short break where she went backstage, Franklin returned to sing a cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” calling upon the audience to chime in during the chorus while she let her powerful voice shift to the harmonies. This song segued into Marvin Gaye’s classic, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which she dedicated to Interim President of Colgate University Jill Harsin.
Following these two songs, Franklin made her way to the piano where she sang and played Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” taking several minutes at the song’s end to sing gospel style ad-libs praising God. While at the piano, Franklin also paid tribute to the recently deceased Natalie Cole with a cover of “Inseparable.”
Several songs later, Franklin paused to announce a “departure,” prompting outcries from the audience. Rather than leave the stage, however, Franklin called over the conductor to help remove her shoes.
“You know, there’s going to be a departure soon. And that departure is going to be me from my shoes,” Franklin said.
Franklin ended the show with her 1985 hit “Freeway of Love” and an encore of her most recognizable song, “Respect,” which received a standing ovation.
The audience was comprised of students, their families, university faculty and staff and community members, all of whom seemed to enjoy the concert.
First-year Peter Torres said he grew up listening to Aretha Franklin, and his favorite part of the performance was the mashup of “Rolling in the Deep” and “Ain’t No Mountain High.” Torres also enjoyed the opening performance by the Chamber Singers.
“I was super excited for Chamber Singers. I have two friends in the group so seeing them open for Aretha Franklin was amazing and I’m really happy for them. I think they did an amazing job,” Torres said.
Senior Alexa Corso was joined by her mother, Lisa Corso, who particularly enjoyed the songs “Natural Woman” and “Respect,” but most appreciated the personal touches Franklin added to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
“Seeing her at the piano speaking about her life was very moving. [Franklin] was delightful and I enjoyed every minute,” Mrs. Corso said.