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Aretha Franklin presents A Night to Remember

MIKE McGEE | 9/18/2014, 12:01 a.m.
Royalty paid a visit to Big D Sept. 6 inside the appropriately regal Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House of ...
Aretha Franklin performed at the A Night to Remember fundraiser for CitySquare inside the Winspear Opera House, Sept. 6. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

Royalty paid a visit to Big D Sept. 6 inside the appropriately regal Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Aretha Franklin – The Queen of Soul – and her 22-piece orchestra filled the venue with her unique and spirited sound for the event A Night to Remember, benefitting CitySquare.

CitySquare describes itself as “one of the largest and most dynamic social impact organizations in Texas” according to literature provided by the charity. The group is active in the community through a multitude of efforts that include a food pantry, a health clinic, permanent housing for the homeless and job training.

The Opportunity Center, a one-stop-shop for residents of South and East Dallas, opens in October and will provide a food distribution, a wellness center, CitySquare’s AmeriCorps headquarters and the staging area for their summer food program, Food on the Move. Scott Collier, the co-chair of the event, informed the audience that Franklin’s show sold out faster than any other A Night to Remember event. The event raised $600,000 for CitySquare, he said.

In an audience of supporters that included Tom Joyner of The Tom Joyner Morning Show and Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter’s House it was the queen who was the star of the night. As Franklin marched out onto the stage dressed in silver and crystal and white, from her low-heeled shoes to her diva-appropriate feather boa, the crowd stood and eagerly welcomed the songstress.

From her first song, the Jackie Wilson hit (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, Franklin came out strong, backed by some fierce trumpets, guitars, saxophones, electric organ and piano. During much of the show, in fact, she had members of the audience swaying their arms, singing and occasionally even dancing with the music.

Franklin, at 72, was fairly stationary throughout most of the show. That didn’t stop her from urging the audience to move to her groove throughout the show; she even got in a little dancing herself near the end of the concert. About an hour into her set Franklin took a seat at the piano.

“What would you like to hear?” she queried – and accompanied herself on Sweet Bitter Love.

One of her best-known numbers, Think, united the generations present throughout the Winspear in a way few living artists could. Older Franklin fans were transported by the song to an earlier time in their lives while those in the audience a generation or two younger may have recalled her performance of the same tune in the 1980 film (and cable television perennial) The Blues Brothers. Add in the millennials jamming under the roof of the opera house – many of whom may have been getting their first in-the-flesh glimpse of the legend – and Franklin formed a historic cultural bridge with her voice that night.

On and on she sang: Chain of Fools, Ain’t No Way, Jump to It, Natural Woman. Although Franklin’s voice doesn’t have the same precision it had when she sang at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, it still packs plenty of enthusiasm, flexibility and sexy smokiness. At one point during the show a young man in the audience hollered “Love you.” Her response was “Love ya right back,” followed by a cheeky “How old are you?”

Her voice soared to the upper levels of the Winspear with the exuberance of a younger performer. Franklin called back to 1980s pop with her smash Freeway of Love but also gave a nod to a more current hit with her rendition of Pharrell William’s Happy, both to the loud delight of the spectators.

Franklin’s take on the Barbara Streisand staple The Way We Were was as memorably great as the original, but her older, experienced vocalization brought a sense of maturity and tired regret to the song as well. The queen ended her visit with an encore of Respect, a number that has defined her for many over the years, but still managed to get her fans in the audience excited.

“Thank you. On my way home I will remember each and every one of you that I can,” Franklin announced to those seated in the darkness before kicking off her final numbers. “I’ll remember your faces and all of the fun that we had here tonight.”

A woman shouted from the darken aisles.

“Thank you.”

Yet again the crowd erupted in aplause.