Though the 18,000 fans at the opening free concert of the 25th anniversary TD Jazz Festival may have been somewhat disappointed not to hear Aretha Franklin belt out her signature song the audience certainly showed a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the 69 year old Queen of Soul.
Still recovering from foot surgery Franklin dressed in a one strap shimmering white shoulder to ankle gown and a two string stone necklace was helped to the stage at David Pecault square wearing a 5 inch stiletto on one foot and a medical boot on the other.
Franklin sang for over two hours taking just a five minute break. Her repertoire ranged from gospel, soul, jazz to pop. The audience sang along to such tunes as Say A Little Prayer and Something He Can Feel by Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke’s Baby I Love You, and Jimmy McHugh’s 1935 song I’m in the Mood for Love.
What was very surprising was to observe many 20-something, freshly minted university graduates around me who must have arrived at least three hours before the concert to score a place on the fence that divided the VIP’s from the regular folk, signing along with Franklin.
Franklin who grew up in Detroit, Michigan noted that her hometown was Toronto’s twin city. She started singing in the church of her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin who was a close friend and colleague of Civil Rights Activist Dr. Martin Luther King. Many fellow Americans too had obviously arrived early to score fence side seats and were far more tolerant of the VIP guests who initially obstructed the view of the stage by standing on chairs in the VIP enclosure. The not so understanding Torontonians shouted at the selfish VIP’s till the latter sheepishly sat down.
The all ages crowd erupted when Franklin romanced the audience saying “whenever I come to Toronto,” You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman” before launching into that classic hit. The 40 and 50 something’s were swooning when the Queen of Soul took over the Grand Piano from her regular accompanist and tinkled the ivories playing timeless favourites such as Simon and Garfinkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Sam Cooke’s You Send Me.
Ms. Aretha closed with the 1960 composition of Riley B. King and Joe Josea’s Sweet Sixteen and her own 1995 Grammy Award winning Freeway of Love. As an encore the by then obviously very tired songstress had the audience swaying to Believe.
A perfect act, on a perfect night, with a perfectly appreciative crowd – the dream of any concert organizer and certainly a five star event.
Franklin, who disappeared for a brief 10-minute intermission after performing for a half-hour, also added little flourishes wherever possible like adding the line, “whenever I come to Toronto,” to (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman, a set highlight, and producing a roar from the crowd.
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