At the 2018 Video Music Awards back in August, MTV had the opportunity to honor Aretha Franklin, who had died from pancreatic cancer just four days earlier. But MTV blew it. Instead of putting together a proper memorial, producers shoved Madonna — the only VMAs presenter of the night even close to Franklin’s age — onto the stage to deliver a rambling, baffling, seemingly last-minute speech that was really all about herself. It was hardly a tribute fit for a Queen.
But on Tuesday, the American Music Awards got it right.
Despite the AMAs ceremony — much like this year’s VMAs — skewing very young and very pop/hip-hop (top honors went to artists like Post Malone, Camila Cabello, Cardi B, and XXXTentacion), for the evening’s show-stopping and show-closing Aretha tribute, AMAs producers recruited Franklin’s peer, Gladys Knight, for an all-star gospel medley. And ceremony attendees of all ages were on their feet for this rousing, respectful celebration of the woman who won six AMAs during her lifetime and hosted the show in 1976 and 1983.
Other tribute performers included gospel legend CeCe Winans, R&B/jazz diva Ledisi, veteran gospel duo Mary Mary, minister Donnie McClurkin, and musical director Rickey Minor. And not a single one of them gave a self-absorbed speech. Instead, they honored Franklin’s legacy by interpreting the classic worship music from her 1972 album Amazing Grace, the best-selling live gospel album of all time.
Knight led the tribute by belting Franklin’s epic version of “Amazing Grace,” after which McClurkin sang the recessional song from Franklin’s funeral, “Climb Higher Mountains.” Winans belted “Mary Don’t You Weep,” Ledisi took on “How I Got Over,” and finally, Mary Mary and a full choir took the AMAs to church with “Old Landmark.”
During the AMAs’ preshow telecast, Knight, Franklin’s longtime friend, declared, “I am so very honored to have known [Franklin] since we were both little girls. The fact that her music has been so pure for all of these years — she touched everybody with her music simply because she chose it with her heart. She didn’t choose anything she didn’t believe. I’m the same way in the industry, so we had those things in common, as well. She deserves this recognition, this tribute, all of these things for being around for this long.”
The 2018 American Music Awards took place Oct. 9 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
- Taylor Swift, Cardi B, Carrie Underwood, and more hit the 2018 AMAs red carpet
- Aretha Franklin’s star-studded funeral: Jennifer Hudson’s ‘Amazing Grace,’ Fantasia’s shoeless performance, Chaka Khan’s fan, and more
- Grammy telecast producer Ken Ehrlich on when he asked Aretha Franklin to sing ‘Nessun Dorma’: ‘Yeah, I can do that’