Aretha Franklin reigns at the Kauffman Center


The Kansas City Star

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She took the stage draped in a mink coat and to the sounds of regal fanfare, introduced as the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin immediately shed the coat, walked to the microphone and for the ensuing 90 minutes lived up to her royal reputation.

Tuesday night at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Franklin gave almost 1,800 fans an evening to remember. She danced, she told jokes, she played the piano, she waxed fondly about Sam Cooke — “He was my mentor; if only he’d been one of my men” — she honored the memory of Whitney Houston and she sang like the reigning queen of soul.

She opened with the Jackie Wilson classic “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” After “Share Your Love With Me,” she stopped and requested (well, ordered) that the air conditioning be cut or she’d leave the stage. After a few tense seconds, she stepped back up to the mic and delivered a funky, soulful rendition of “Baby I Love You.”

After that came “Think,” which set off the first of what would be several outbreaks of dancing in the seats on the floor.

Franklin, who turned 70 in March, showed throughout the evening that she still has remarkable heft, dexterity and range in that extraordinary voice. She brought with her a 10-piece horn section, a drummer, a percussionist, a pianist, a keyboardist, a guitarist (her son), a bassist, three backing vocalists and a woman who played tambourine half the set. They produced a large, lean, polished sound, although at times it almost overwhelmed her singing.

“Chain of Fools” brought the crowd back to its feet for more dancing and clapping-along. She followed that with a heart-rending rendition of “Ain’t No Way” that was embellished with some impressive falsetto runs by one of her background vocalists. She then gave way to her band and took a break.

There were moments of levity, some planned, one accidental. She told two jokes, one about a dog, the other about a snail.

After the break, she was speaking to the crowd when a bracelet fell off her wrist. “I’m not leaving that here,” she said. No kidding. She gave it to her music director so he could put it back on her, but he couldn’t figure out how. So he asked one of the vocalists to do it. But she wanted none of that so, while Franklin told a story, she gave the music director a quick lesson in how to work the clasp.

When he finally got the bracelet on Franklin’s wrist, he was rewarded with a big ovation, for which he took a deep bow.

She opened the second half of the show with the satiny ballad “Find Me an Angel,” then tore into the rousing gospel tune “Help Me Lift Him Up.”

She sat at the piano to sing a brassy, jazzy version of Cooke’s “You Send Me,” and then delivered a bittersweet version of “I Will Always Love You,” as the video screen behind her displayed some stunning portraits of Houston.

Franklin danced her way back to the microphone as the band played the intro to “Freeway of Love,” setting off more dancing on the floor. Then she said she’d sing just a few bars of one of her favorite movie themes, “The Way We Were,” but she ended up singing most of it.

She then left the stage, as if the show were over, but no one in the place moved. A few moments later, the band blared the intro to “Respect,” Franklin was back up front, and the tony Muriel Kauffman Theatre was rocking.

She got swept up in the mood: As she exited the stage, after her final bow, she stopped at the piano to dance one more time, for one more shaking of the hips — the queen acting like one of her loyal subjects.

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