Aretha Franklin Gives Surprise Performance At The House Of Swing

A surprise performance by the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, dazzled the audience Thursday night at the House of Swing. Included in the audience was Bette Midler, Michael Douglas with his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reported the Observer.

Wynton Marsalis introduced Franklin during the “Big Band Holidays” concert held at the Rose Theater. It was the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s first concert in the newly remodeled venue. To open the new Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Atrium, Bette Midler hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony immediately preceding the concert. The two-hour performance featured trumpeter Wynton Marsalis playing Christmas classics.

The announcement of Franklin mid-concert brought a rousing standing ovation, during which she walked onstage in a full-length chinchilla coat, reported the Observer. When the clapping died down, she spoke to Marsalis.

“Wynton, I think maybe I’ll change the program just a little bit,” she quipped, before taking her seat at the piano.

She dedicated her performance to Ahmet Ertegun, who founded Atlantic Records and who signed her to the label in 1967. Ertegun was instrumental in helping Franklin achieve the title Queen of Soul. He passed away in 2006.

Ertegun’s widow, interior designer Mica Ertegun, took an active role in the multi-million dollar renovation and provided the main donation to honor her late husband, reports Afro. Marsalis gave a backstage interview, speaking of the building.

“It’s elegant, it’s grand and it has a type of relaxed formality. It’s a more welcoming atmosphere for the House of Swing.”

Billboard described the new design of the building.

“The redesign, with its curving walls of red oak, opens up the public space to the two-story glass windows offering sweeping views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline, adds a raised stage by the windows for performances by jazz ensembles, connects the floors with a glass staircase, and incorporates state-of-the-art technology, including a 26-foot video wall.”

Aretha accompanied herself on the piano as she sang the classic Christmas carol “O Tannenbaum” in both English and German languages. Next up was an outtake from her album To Be Young, Gifted and Black, which was released in 1972. The song “My Cup Runneth Over” was a soulful version of the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt tune.

Franklin joked that “this happens to be my 50th year in the business and I’m feeling it,” adding, “I’m just kidding.”

Aretha Franklin began her singing career as a child, singing solos in church. When she turned 14, her pastor father took her with him on “gospel caravan” tours and helped her get her first recording contract in 1956, states Wikipedia.

Since then, she has recorded 20 number one R&B singles, including the 1967 “Respect,” which earned her title, Queen of Soul. She also has won dozens of music achievement awards during her career.

At age 73, Franklin still leads a very busy performing life. On December 10, she performed “I Will Survive” on Late Night With Seth Meyers. Three days previously, on December 7, she appeared at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, singing in tribute to songwriter Carole King. reported on the evening.

“… Aretha Franklin brought the house down in her closing performance of the song she immortalized, ‘Natural Woman.’ King was visibly moved by the powerhouse.”

You can see the broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors on CBS on December 29.

In March of this year, Aretha thrilled audiences worldwide as she opened American Idol XIV‘s Top 8 with a lively version of “I Will Survive (The Aretha Version)” from her album Aretha Sings The Great Diva Classics.

In addition, Franklin has three concert dates within the first three weeks of the new year. Who knows when her next surprise performance will be.

[Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images]