"Music's biggest night" opened with a larger-than-life production number: five throaty women singing a half dozen Aretha Franklin hits.
The Queen of Soul was hospitalized late last year for an undisclosed ailment -- she's denied it's cancer, but she hasn't been more specific -- and the Grammys paid tribute to the 18-time winner by booking Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, Florence Welch (from Florence and the Machine) to belt out a few of the legend's signature songs.
The brassy production number quickly devolved into a contest of "I can sing louder and sassier than you can!" with Aguilera winning handily. She finished "Natural Woman" with her trademark inflation of syllables ("You're the key to my peace of mi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ind!"), then tore into "Ain't No Way" with such power and precision everyone should forget her National Anthem goof at the Super Bowl. Hudson looked bored but sounded strong on "Respect," ending with a hand on a hip and an Everest-level run up the scale.
After the performance, Franklin herself appeared in a video, looking shockingly thin but regal in a feathery white gown. (Last month, she told "Access Hollywood" that after the surgery she was "down to a rockin' [size] 16!") She thanked supporters for card and flowers "and most importantly your prayers during my time of hospitalization," promising to attend the Grammys in person next year. [Chicago Sun-Times]
Christina Aguilera showed some respect for Aretha Franklin at Sunday's Grammy Awards.
One week after the pop star's big Super Bowl fumble – she flubbed the words during her National Anthem performance – Aguilera opened an all-female tribute to the Queen of Soul at L.A.'s Staples Center alongside Jennifer Hudson, Florence Welch (of Florence + the Machine), Yolanda Adams and Martina McBride.
Standing in a row, the ladies swapped harmonies, alternating lead vocals during the 10-minute run-through of many of Franklin's hits.
After leading off with "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)" as a collective, Aguilera belted out "Ain't No Way," accenting the tune with plenty of melisma and her trademark vocal trilling. She stood confidently as she sang and ended the performance on a (sustained) high note – literally.
As she finished her song, however, Aguilera almost fell, crouching down so low she needed to be helped to her feet by Welch. "That was a real sexy ending," Aguilera later said, after returning to the stage to present the award for best performance by a pop duo or group.
Welch, a best new artist nominee, gave a fierce reading of "Think," while McBride performed a country-fied "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)." Ever the vocal powerhouse, a slimmed-down Hudson tackled Franklin's iconic "Respect." Adams delivered a simmering version of "Spirit in the Dark."
While she wasn't able to attend the ceremony in person, Franklin, who was home in Detroit recovering from her recent undisclosed health problems, appeared in a taped message after the performance to thank fans for their support and prayers. Sporting a white gown, Franklin, 68, looked noticeably thinner in her face as she addressed the camera.
"I especially want to thank all of you who took the time to send me get-well cards and flowers," she said. "I wish that I could have been with you all tonight [but] since I couldn't, next year, okay?" [People]