Aretha Franklin has been talking in her recent concerts about how prayer healed her from a recurring, undisclosed ailment, but for a hometown audience Saturday at DTE Energy Music Theater in Clarkston, she sang about it.
It might be the first time a CAT scan has been referenced in a gospel throwdown, but the Queen of Soul pulled it off, singing and testifying about her medical triumph as her conductor HB Barnum and a stellar 23-piece orchestra followed where she led on a classic, sultry Michigan summer night.
She came out all diva elegance in a strapless red gown, singing “Higher and Higher,” the 1967 signature tune of her North End friend Jackie Wilson, before segueing into the Stevie Wonder-penned “’Til You Come Back to Me.”
Wonder’s melodies have a characteristic swoop, meandering beautifully, and in the hands of such a singer as Franklin, you can enjoy every twist and turn. Franklin said recently that she would like to work with Wonder on some new material, and that should be her next project, after her current Clive Davis-produced album.
After “Baby I Love You” (and a big kiss thrown to the audience) and “Chain of Fools,” there was a brief interlude when Franklin left the stage, and her dancers performed to “You Can’t Keep Running In and Out of My Life” and “Happy.”
She came back out to sing B.B. King’s early R&B hit “Sweet 16,” wearing a new ensemble — a short white coat in a silvery chiffon-like fabric over a beautiful white gown. Next it was a fiery gospel number, “Old Landmark,” from her “Amazing Grace” album.
Another highlight was the self-penned “Daydreaming,” one of her loveliest songs, with its cascading melody and laid-back groove. And after persistent calls from the audience for “Ain’t No Way,” the gorgeous ballad written by her sister Carolyn, she did it, throwing everything into the high notes.
Earlier, to warm the audience up, Franklin’s sons Kecalf and Eddie each did a number; Kecalf had the audience in tune with his rhythm on a brief rap, and Eddie came out in a white stingy-brim for a Billy Eckstine-like take on the standard “Some Enchanted Evening,” unleashing some falsetto swoops.
Franklin basked in the warmth from the crowd, and gave it back with shout-outs to friends and family, including Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, who’s running for Congress. “You will be heading to the polls soon, and you should know, she is a woman of integrity, a woman of the future” Franklin said. She teased: “Hopefully I’ll get my check from her. You know how to spell my name!”
The singer took special note of her niece Sabrina Owens, the daughter of her late sister Erma Franklin. “Sabrina sat with me all last summer, she stood by me and was a very strong shoulder to lean on,” Franklin said.
That voice raised in song is the essence of soul and love, but the Queen of Soul still took the time to articulate it verbally. “Know that I love you and I’ll be thinking of you no matter where I go,” she said.