Aretha at Ravinia Review - The Queen of Soul in Concert

On September 3, 2017, in the idyllic setting of the Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, Aretha Franklin, the first female inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the “Queen of Soul”, winner of 19 Grammy Awards and Rolling Stones’ 1st place choice for it’s “100 Greatest Singers of all Time” put on a poignant and marvelous show in what is said to be the last month of her legendary career.


Aretha in the Pavilion at Ravinia; photo courtesy of Ravinia/Patrick Gipson

Flanked by a superb 15-piece  orchestra, and 5-person backup chorus led by renowned bandleader Fred Nelson 111, and joined at times by 3 beauteous and energetic dancers, Aretha Franklin touched the hearts of all. The walk was jaunty if a bit slow, the expansive spirit was the same. Throughout the event she introduced and thanked her band members and pointed out friends in the audience, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, himself a Chicago icon, commenting, “I remember Reverend Jackson came and prayed with me many times”.

At one point of the memorable evening, Aretha told a singing-speaking story of how her physicians treated and cured her of an unspecified illness in 2010. She later took to the piano for a spell, and the projected image of her long and lovely fingers flying over the keys while her shimmering garments and rings flashed against the gleaming Steinway will remain in this reviewer’s mind forever.


Aretha Franklin at Ravinia; photo by Tim Miller

With only a slight break mid-show, during which the band played a gospel-instrumental interlude after the star walked offstage, the legendary rhythm and blues giant sang a dozen + songs and an encore with emphasis, gusto and that instantly recognizable tone and prowess. Sometimes she sat, sometimes she strolled, sometimes she strutted as she crooned or threw back her head and belted out a selection that included early gospel tunes, old favorites, and famous hits.

Aretha and Orchestra; photo courtesy of Ravinia/Patrick Gipson

The setlist included:

- An opening orchestral medley of “Think”, “Natural Woman” and Freeway of Love”;

-A mesmerizing rendition of “Skylark”;

-  “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me”;

- “Sparkle”, from her 25th studio album, written and produced by Curtis Mayfield;

 - Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back to Me”;

-Carole King’s sensuous “Natural Woman”;

-The rousing feminist anthem “Chain of Fools”;

-“Giving Him Something He Can Feel”;

-“Because of You”;

-A sultry cover of B.B. King’s “Sweet Sixteen”;

-A sentimental and thoughtful version of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ “My Cup Runneth Over”;

-A rocking rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”.

 Finally, the audience thrilled to the encore of the unmistakable “Respect”.


The Queen of Soul sings and plays; photo by Tim Miller

This may well be the very last time anybody gets to see and hear this remarkable woman, who began her career singing in her father’s church at 12, outshone and outlasted many cotemporary challengers to her crown, was honored by and performed for a President (Clinton), and whose voice ran the gamut of an astonishing and thrilling range. The tone in the packed Pavilion at Ravinia, which seats 3400, and on the gracious lawns, which easily held twice that many, was respectfully joyous and tinged with adulation  that was bittersweet.


The legend, the band, the audience; photo courtesy of Ravinia/Patrick Gipson

More information about the year round performances can be found on the  Ravinia Festival Website.

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