It was not until the show was half over that Aretha Franklin offered her salute to her goddaughter Whitney Houston. By this time comedian Jonathan Slocumb had done his opening act that would have played better at the Apollo than Friday evening at Radio City Music Hall.
Gospel singer Bishop Carlton Pearson and the New Jersey Mass Choir had also come and gone before Franklin, having changed from an aquamarine gown to a white robe with silver stripes down the front, took a seat at the piano and accompanied herself on an abbreviated version of “I Will Always Love You.”
As expected, most of the show was Franklin reprising a few of her hits in which audience members felt compelled to join her in song. This was particularly true on “Baby Can We,” “Higher and Higher,” and “I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You.”
Franklin may have shed a few pounds but her voice is just as powerful and melismatic as ever, and that distinctive blues quaver was in great effect on all of her numbers, especially on “Day Dreaming” and “Natural Woman.”
Occasionally her fans would call out some of their favorites and they must have been a wee bit disappointed that she didn’t do “Chain of Fools” “Think” or “Respect.”
She returned to the piano for a lengthy version of Paul Simon’s
“Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” but the trouble was the over
orchestration that both delayed her entry and smothered her when she did.
Between songs, she recognized several notables in the audience, including Clive Davis, who is best known for the so-called discovery of Houston; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Twice she mentioned LA Reid’s name is if she expected him to be there and he wasn’t. Director George Faison was in the house and so were four of his dancers who sashayed during one number.
If Franklin’s latest single barely registered with the audience, her encore performance of “The Greatest Love of All” soared with operatic range and intensity.
The rendition was adorned with all the regal excellence the Queen of Soul could muster.
When she left the stage for the final time, there was a drag to her step as though the shoes she remarked on earlier were making their presence felt.
Or maybe it was something else bothering her because the next day it was announced that she was ill and would not be attending the funeral where she was expected to perform.
Her fans, and none more anxious than those with Saturday tickets for her second night at Radio City Music Hall, are hoping she has a quick recovery.