aretha_franklin_web.jpgIn a show that was long on soul but short in duration, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” thrilled a sizeable but not packed audience at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood.

Decked out in a strapless red gown, Aretha Franklin on Tuesday, March 16 gave fans a taste of her legendary talent, but left before the audience’s appetite for the beloved diva was completely satiated.
Five very capable background singers primed the audience for the queen’s entrance, singing snippets of “Jump to It” and “Wonderful” before Franklin took the stage. Once she took the stage, Franklin’s performance, while good, did not quite pack the complete musical punch that I’d anticipated.

In an interview with the South Florida Times last week, Franklin – just days shy of her 68th birthday on March 25 – said the audience could look forward to “some surprises.” But the biggest surprise was that she performed for less than an hour, and seemed to be holding back, never quite finding the deep rhythmic flow typical of good, live performances.

Franklin’s voice was not the problem. Her voice is incredible. Her range includes a clear, beautifully controlled soprano as well as a smoky, full-bodied tenor that smoothly glides through hits like “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” and “Natural Woman.” And her band, The Aretha Franklin Orchestra, certainly was not the problem. She’s backed by some fiercely talented musicians, her lead guitar-playing son, Teddy, among them.

During a ten-minute break that Franklin took 40 minutes into the show, her orchestra performed a masterful rendition of “Take the A Train” with virtuoso piano and organ solos. The band seemed poised for a jam session, but appeared subdued in deference to its queen.

After her break, Franklin performed for only about 10 minutes before the show ended.

Despite all of the ingredients for a spectacular show – Aretha, an outstanding group of musicians and a string of timeless classics that endure from generation to generation, there was a certain intangible element lacking from the performance.

Perhaps fatigue from traveling on a tour bus from Detroit to Florida, or Ms. Franklin’s level of conditioning were factors. But despite giving good voice and getting the audience on its feet for “Chain of Fools” and “Respect,” the show’s energy level left a lot to be desired.

Franklin told the South Florida Times that in addition to enjoying arias (elaborate melodies sung solo with accompaniment, as in an opera) and other good music, she also enjoys several contemporary artists, among them Keyshia Cole, Jamie Foxx, Usher and rapper Ludacris.  The queen, who has struggled with her weight, provided the audience a glimpse of her fondness for pop when she sang a slightly awkward bit of Mariah Carey’s “Touch my Body.”

A few aspiring singers will have firsthand access to the Franklin magic if they are selected to receive vocal coaching from the queen this fall.

Franklin said vocal coaching is “extremely important” for singers.

“You’ll get the maximum out of what you’re trying to do,” she said.

An announcement offering details about the competition will be made in September, Franklin said.

Photo by Martin Fried. Aretha Franklin