Happy Birthday Aretha Franklin: Stepping In For Pavarotti At 1998 Grammys
Today marks what would have been Aretha Franklin’s 79th birthday. The Queen Of Soul was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis but grew up in Detroit. Aretha began her musical journey at a young age singing at New Bethel Baptist Church where her father, C. L. Franklin, was a minister. Not only did she possess one of the greatest voices in soul and rock, but she could sing opera as well, which is no easy feat, especially, as Sting says when he introduces her at the 1998 Grammy Awards, at “literally a moment’s notice.”
Opera singers are well known for practicing pieces obsessively, to make sure every detail, every note is perfect. When Aretha stepped in for Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammys, she sang the famed tenor’s signature aria, “Nessun Dorma,” a piece he undoubtedly performed and practiced many times. But all the preparedness in the world couldn’t slow down Pavarotti’s sore throat, and just before he was set to perform at the Grammys, his doctors advised him not to. Aretha would listen to his rehearsal tape once and said she could do it. While it probably didn’t comes as a surprise, her performance, as usual, was sublime.
“Nessun Dorma” is from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot and translates in English to “Let no one sleep.” No one who saw it slept on Aretha’s performance and while she was already one of the greatest singers of all time, her performance of “Nessun Dorma” cemented that fact. The Queen of Soul did what she does best, she brought soul to the song and one can see why it’s such a fitting moniker. Hearing her sing “Think” will bring goosebumps and her rendition of “Nessun Dorma” is no different.
While it was Pavarotti’s signature song, Aretha would sing it for Pope Francis when he came to Philadelphia in 2015. But it was another audience member who made that performance unforgettable. As she sang, a child walked on stage and embraced the Queen of Soul. She hugged him right back as she belted the song’s final note. You can see him say “I love you” at the end. Aretha Franklin was certainly beloved. Sadly, she died on August 16, 2018. But her memory lives on in breathtaking performances like “Nessun Dorma.”
To celebrate Aretha Franklin’s birthday, watch her sing “Nessun Dorma” at the 1998 Grammys below along with her performance for Pope Francis in 2015 and an ABC video remembering The Queen Of Soul: