Madonna honors Aretha Franklin at VMAs

"Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life," Madonna said at MTV's awards show Monday night

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Madonna presents a tribute to Aretha Franklin at the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Mondayn New York.

Madonna paid tribute to Aretha Franklin at Monday's MTV Video Music Awards with a story explaining how the Detroit-bred Queen of Soul helped the Detroit-bred Queen of Pop get her start in showbiz. 

"Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life," Madonna said near the close of the awards show, following a video clip of Franklin performing "I Say a Little Prayer" in a TV performance in 1970. 

With a large backdrop of Franklin behind her, Madonna proceeded to tell the tale of when, as a broke youngster, she auditioned for a "French disco sensation" who was looking for backup singers and dancers for his world tour. 

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Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul

Despite her lack of training or experience, she went for it. "I thought why not?" said Madonna, who was clad in a floor-length black caftan, her hair in braids. "The worst that can happen is I can go back to getting robbed held at gunpoint and being mistaken for a prostitute in my third floor walk up, that was also a crack house."

She had no song prepared, but she decided to sing Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" for the two French men running the audition. "I could see that they did not take me seriously. And why should they?" she asked. "Some skinny-ass white girl is gonna come up here and belt out a song by one of the greatest soul singers that ever lived?"


She didn't get the job, but a few weeks later she received a call saying they had other plans for her. That audition led to her getting her shot in the music industry, and it was all due to Franklin, Madonna said. 

"None of this would have happened, could have happened, without our lady of soul. She led me to where I am today," Madonna said. "And I know she influenced so many people in this house tonight, in this room tonight. And I want to thank you Aretha for empowering all of us."

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T," Madonna said. "Long live the Queen."

Franklin isn't the only superstar Madonna has eulogized at MTV's annual awards gala. She also paid tribute to Michael Jackson at the 2009 show, a few months after the King of Pop died. 

Madonna, who turned 60 on the day of Franklin's death, wasn't the only one paying tribute to Aretha Franklin on the awards show. At the close of his performance, Travis Scott shouted, "Rest in Peace to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin!" Additionally, "Respect" played during the show twice, once coming in from a commercial break and later over the show's end credits.

The evening closed with Franklin's photo and on-screen text reading, "1942-2018."  

During the show, Camila Cabello won five awards, including Video of the Year for her single "Havana." Cabello dedicated her award to Madonna. 

Other performers included Jennifer Lopez, Panic! at the Disco and Logic.